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     " They want so badly to stand up above the RTS. They scream out 'We've got Samurai! And Geisha!' "

      Title: Battle Realms from Crave Entertainment

      Format: RTS for the PC

      Reviewing Monkey: Chimpan-A

      The Hype: Gather your resources; build your army and fight, fight, fight! We've got an RTS with a little more Asian flavor here. With features such as "unit alchemy" and scores of one of a kind units (anybody else think that's an oxymoron?) Boasting four clans and major multiplayer mayhem, the game claims much. What does it deliver? Read on gentle monkeys, read on.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: The graphics for this game are fairly good. All of the units are put together in 3D. They don't come off too blocky, which is too the good. Each clan has their own distinctive flavor and this is held together very well. The buildings look great though, each appropriate for their clan. The environments are good looking as well, very colorful. All of the exposition scenes are done with the in game engine, nothing fabulous there. 4 out of 5

      Sound: The sound effects come off rather well also. The battles clash appropriately, swords clanging, rockets firing, undead exploding. You know, the normal everyday sounds of battle. The voice acting isn't painful and it can be turned off. The music is unremarkable battle music. 3.5 out of 5

      Game Play: How to make games more Asian. Step 1- give the peasant's funny hats and make them harvest rice. The game functions pretty normally for the real time strategy genre. Harvest your resources (in this case, rice and water), build your army and attack your enemy. Although the basics are the same they've tried to add in enough to take it above the average title. Unit alchemy consists of sending your peasants to different buildings to learn to become different warriors. There are fewer buildings though, so the alchemy comes from sending your warriors between your unit training buildings to create different combinations and thus different warriors. By engaging in battle you gain Yin or Yang points (Yang for the good guys, Yin for the bad), which allows you to upgrade your soldiers. You can also summon heroes to aid you with their extraordinary powers, or just use the special powers of your units. Most of the maps you'll play on have a limit on the number of troops that you can bring into the mix. Also, since your army is dependent on peasant production, which slows down the more units you have, the focus of the game is on using your army efficiently (over building an enormous army). I, of course, have always been a fan of the "There is no such thing as overkill" philosophy, but a good unit mix works fairly well. The units are fairly varied in what they do and cover a range from Lycanthropes to walking, exploding corpses, to the contractually required samurai. One can choose from one of four clans, but the clans play very similar to each other. Each clan having corresponding units. The control scheme is fairly easy to use, although it may take a while to get used to telling them to do things with right clicks instead of left. 3.5 out of 5

      Level and Environment Designs: The levels in the game are designed well. Plenty of strategic high points and choke points to be had. The environments are good looking. The trees of the forest look great (with a very nice fade effect when you need to walk under them). The grass is green and the water blue, it all looks nice. The multiplayer maps cover a good area, allowing for good tactics as well. 4 out of 5

      Multiplayer: Multiplayer functions well. Of course, the fastest builder usually wins, but equally matched players should have a good time with it. The variety of types is pretty limited; the only one that is really different is "famine". This one starts you off with a unit cap full of peasants and full rice and water. There's no more rice to harvest, so you end up with a very fast game. Otherwise, the multiplayer doesn't offer any truly interesting fare. 3 out of 5

      Replayability: There are only two story modes, but each of them can follow different paths. You may be interested enough to find out where the branches go, but probably not. The multiplayer simply isn't interesting enough to keep you attached to the game. Once you've defeated it, other shinier packages will present themselves. 2.5 out of 5

      Story/Dramatics: A long time ago, these really bad things happened. Who really cares what they were. Point being, they caused the end of the Dragon clan and started today's sorry state of affairs. Enter Kenji. Banished for poor fashion sense and allegedly killing his father, he has returned to take the reigns of power once more. You have two options to take; one takes you down the path of righteousness to rebuild the Dragon clan. The other takes you down the darker path of the Serpent clan, to subjugate all before you. Of course, no matter which side you take, the ever-handy geisha are there at the end of the day, for a little "healing". The story isn't particularly interesting. It does provide a nice backdrop for the battlefield mayhem, but otherwise can be completely ignored. 2 out of 5

      Instructions and Learning Curve: The instructions give an adequate description of game functions and a useable description of the units. The unit alchemy charts are likely the most useful things in the book. There is no description of the multiplayer functions of the game, whatsoever. You just have to play to find out. Luckily the learning curve is pretty small. Harvest and build, that's about all there is to it. Learning proper unit alchemy and where to send peasants to get what unit may take a little while, but experimentation won't lead you astray. 3 out of 5

      Installation and Real System Requirements: The box asks for 400 Mhz celeron, Win 98 and up, 64 Megs of RAM, 3D accelerator and 600 Megs of hard drive space. The installation was a simple one-disc procedure. The game ran fine on the test system, with only an occasional slow down. 4 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       They want so badly to stand up above the RTS. They scream out "We've got Samurai! And Geisha!" In the end though, it's not going to do much more for you than any of the other RTS games out there. They've added a few nifty ideas and they implemented it well, it's just nothing to put it above the glut of games out there.

      The Good: Unit alchemy allows for customization of your battle force, some other nifty ideas

      The Bad: A firm grip on average gameplay

      The Overall Ugly: If you're looking for something to tide you over until Warcraft III comes out, go for it. Otherwise, just keep playing what you're playing.

      What it's Worth: I'd say about $35.

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