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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Talonsoft

Ups: Good-looking, deep gameplay, great multiplayer--a lot like AoE with magic.

Downs: Nothing really new here.

System Reqs: Pentium PC, SVGA Graphics
16 MB RAM,
4X CD-Rom

As Darkness approaches the beautiful land of Keanor, all is at peace in the world.  The peasants sleep soundly knowing that their lives, while hard, will continue to be reasonably fulfilling under the King.  Heroes celebrate their liege in the keep, toasting his nobility long into the night.  But with the coming of the morning sun, a strange mist permeates the land.  Crops begin to wither, animals sicken and die, children begin to disappear.  Soon the entire kingdom cries out to the king, begging for him to protect them from the dark magic afoot.  As the cries of the people grow louder and more mournful, the king, determined to protect his subjects, rallies his finest warriors and wizards to defeat the rising darkness.

On the morn that a large party sets out to investigate, the king is found murdered in his bedchamber.  Arcane markings everywhere, the king’s chamber looked as if it were a portal to hell.  Savage runes of all sorts are scrawled throughout the room, all in the king’s blood.  Runes of summoning, runes of power, runes of travel, and some even more dark and unknown.  As the peasants mourn and the mages puzzle over the meaning of the of mystical symbols, powerful tremors strike the castle.  Tremors so powerful that the entire castle begins to tremble and heave.  One by one the runes in the king’s chamber begin to ignite as the floodgates of hell open.  Welcome to Keanor!

Thus the torch of command passes to you.  In Tzar, you must command the king’s army of peasants, warriors, and mages in battle.  You must protect all that is good and defeat the evil forces that have aligned to destroy you.  If you fail, then the world will be plunged into an eternity of darkness and pain.  If you succeed, then you might live to see the beauty of another sunset over your kingdom.   Tzar “The Burden of the Crown” is an extremely well done RTS (real time strategy) game.  As you have probably already guessed it is an epic tale of good vs evil and there is only one chance to for victory:  The complete annihilation of the dark powers that would enslave your people, nay, your entire kingdom.

Tzar consists of 20 solo missions against the dark forces that threaten the land.  These missions are quite good.  They are well developed, and are an excellent way to get acquainted with the game and its hierarchy of buildings, characters, and weapons.  While I hate to make a bunch of comparisons in my reviews, the closest game already out (and a big success in its own right) would have to be Age of Empires I and II.  So if you're still not quite sure what the game is like think of those… just add a fair dose of magic and a whole lot of “evil” forces.

As with many RTS games, the solo missions provide a good introduction to the game.  But to truly appreciate it, and to get the most out of it, you simply HAVE to play with other people.  And Tzar is ready, willing, and able to do just that as soon as you feel ready to take on your best friend or sibling in a fight to the death.  You can multi-play with up to eight people, and once you’re in the game you can begin to form enemies and allies.  It is possible to declare alliances (which prevent your troops from attacking allies)  and to “sweeten” the pot you can also send “gifts” of food, lumber, stone, or gold to friends or enemies.  But without question, my favorite option in multi-player combat is to team up with a trusted ally and select the allied control feature.  This allows allied players to control each other's troops.  So if your friend stations a small battalion of troops near your town for support and you are attacked, you can send them into battle if your friend has problems of their own to deal with.

Play control is done almost entirely by mouse.  Like many of the RTS titles that have come before it, Tzar uses an easy point and click approach to construction as well as controlling the movement of troops.  The hierarchy does take a little while to master, especially if you have taken a small break from the RTS genre.  It takes a little while to figure out what exactly you’re doing wrong when A: You can’t build something you think you should be able to, or B: you're not gaining any food, gold, lumber, etc.

The graphics are very well done.  The camera is stationed fairly high above the field of battle, but it is still easy to identify troops.  Throughout the game you can control knights, wizards, jinni, and a dragon or two might just make a special appearance, if you're lucky.  It is clear that a great deal of time was put into the design of the structures as well.   Each is unique and designed to fill its small niche in the kingdom.  The oceans, forests, deserts are all beautifully rendered.  Even night and day along with seasonal changes affect the game.  Thankfully, all of the play controls are set to one side of the screen so that they do not obstruct the view of the field of battle.  Nothing is worse the playing a game that has so many things cluttering up the screen that it’s impossible to see what’s going on.

The music is good, but the sound effects are great.  The sounds of clashing steel will soon be ringing forth from your speakers as you wage your holy war against the forces of evil.  The music, however, left a little something to be desired.  While it was good, it did get to be annoying after a while.  But the solution to that problem was easy enough… turn off the music and just listen to the sound effects. 

Tzar seems to be the next sleeper hit to shelves of the RTS genre.  It is another excellent game to hit the market with a “luke warm” reception.  This of course doesn’t mean anything, other than that people just don’t know about it yet.  Once they do though, this will become a more mainstream game.  While Tzar doesn’t really bring anything new to the table it is an excellent addition to a strategy fan’s collection.  Since this game is relatively and unfairly unknown it shouldn’t be hard to locate a copy for yourself.  And there will probably be enough copies for all your friends to get one as well.  That way you and your allies can set forth to save the world from the advancing forces of darkness--before it’s too late.

--Ben Moore