Age of Empires III

It's not often you get a mobile game and a history lesson all in one, but Age of Empires III manages to deliver just that. If the years 1500 to 1850 are a little hazy, you'll soon have played through several of the period's most important battles. And hopefully emerge from it feeling like you understand it a little better.

Of course, it's more likely you'll just want to build up armies and go off to pillage from other poor villages. And if you do, the game can certainly accommodate plenty of that, too.

For those not in the know, the Age of Empire games are massive on PC. They're the ultimate in resource management – enabling players to travel through countries, build settlements, live off the land, then trade and fight opposing armies and villages. On mobile, it's obviously a scaled down affair, but the core elements are identical.

Each mission starts you off on some barren land and with limited resources. By instructing your settlers to gather wood, food and gold, you build each of these resources and can use them in turn to construct buildings and train up soldiers.

A town centre makes it possible to create more settlers, while barracks deliver more infantry, from pikemen to buckaneers and mounted guardsmen. You also need to ensure there's enough housing for your settlement, then consider building optional constructions such as a market – where you can trade the plentiful resources you have for scarcer items, or more immediately useful things such as an armed outpost which will automatically rain fire down on invading armies.

While you build and expand, there's always a constant threat of invasion, not to mention pressing objectives to fulfill. You begin occupying a small area which opens out as you explore, although you can never be sure of what's lurking in the darkness as you advance.

The resource management side of the game is very well implemented and extremely well balanced. It's also very easy to control, considering the quite complex array of choices at your disposal. A thumbstick will enable you easy diagonal control, and selecting anything on the map is as simple as clicking on it to bring up a sub-menu, or highlighting the square you want a character to move to.

Unlike Age of Empires II, character AI isn't a problem here. But the combat is still a minor sticking point and can descend into a messy affair. Once enemy soldiers enter the screen, the best tactic is generally to select a division from your army – by clicking on a soldier twice – then choosing an enemy for them to attack. Continuing to select enemies seems to keep your soldiers on them, otherwise they seem to just stop fighting. Which is somewhat disconcerting.

One nifty feature is being able to pause the game and strategise your fight from there. So you can order your soldiers, and they'll carry out the order once you un-pause the game. It's the best way of stopping three-quarters of your troops being slain before you've registered what's happening.

Another new element is the Home City screen, which simply gives the game another layer of strategy. As you progress, your Home City becomes more powerful and able to support you with item drop-offs. At the start, you can mostly select from essentials such as food, but advancing through the ages upgrades these bonuses to cannons and musketeers.

As well as its lengthy Campaign, playable as either a veteran or recruit, there are 31 Skirmish missions to play through, which place you in various situations with timed objectives to carry out. You can also choose to side with an AI team, or play against one or two AI opponents. In terms of longevity, then, Age of Empires III certainly isn't lacking.

It's only the combat that's a bit of a letdown but it's hardly a deal breaker. When looked at as a whole, this is one impressive strategy game for your mobile, and infinitely more fun than any history lesson you'll have had.

Age of Empires III

At last, mobile gamers get a decent Age of Empires conversion. Fine resource management and a game so lengthy you'll be engrossed for weeks
Kath Brice
Kath Brice
Kath gave up a job working with animals five years ago to join the world of video game journalism, which now sees her running our DS section. With so many male work colleagues, many have asked if she notices any difference.