Sometimes, people start to imagine what it would be like to live in a different time, in a different place. Alot of games're born from such ideas. One of these games is born from one of the more popular times and places. Pharaoh takes us back to the days of pharaohs, pyramids and chariots. Indeed, it takes us back to ancient Egypt.
In Pharaoh (aka Nil – The Living God), you take the role of the real successor to the pharaoh, but were kidnapped as a child and got adopted by working-class parents. One night, you get a dream in which you're told you are the real pharaoh and that you have the task to defeat the usurpers. For this, you'll have to climb the social ladder, until you're at the top: Pharaoh.
That's as far as the story goes. After that, you can create your character. You get to choose your name, name of your boat and home town. After that, you're assigned one of the random faces, one even uglier than the other. From there on, it's all up to you. There are quite a few things you can do from here on. One's attacking neighbouring countries or defending Egypt from invaders, building more chariots (which serve as hitpoints in the attacks) or ships, betting on camel races or, once you have gained a certain standing, start major constructions, like a storehouse, a temple or a pyramid, pray, create a harem and quite a few other things.
Now this all sounds like good fun, but once you actually start playing, you see that even the best of concepts can turn into horrid, frustrating games. For a starter, when you're in the main menu, the time that passes isn't exactly paused, so it can happen that when you're just about to choose something to do, you get a random event that disturbs it all. Now if it's one of the disaster random events (like locust plague or an earthquake in this or that town), it's not such a big deal. Too bad that it's pretty much always invasions instead of disasters. That means that you get taken to the invasion game immediately, whether you want it or not.
The invasion game on itself has a great, simple concept that could be loads of fun. Mind you, it could be. The whole idea is that you're in a chariot, and have a couple of spare chariots which serve as powers. The enemy's lined at the background and throws spears at you. It's up to you to shoot an arrow in a certain amount of enemies to win while you avoid their spears. Now here is the problem. You can shoot arrows, but you can't move the chariot, so if you see a spear flying straight at you, you can only pray that the crappy collision detection doesn't call it a hit, even if it hits you straight in the back, as you can't move the chariot out of the way. The collision detection's awkward as well. One time, you're hit when the spear ends up between your horse and the front of your chariot while you're off the hook when it lands in your head or your back, sometimes you're killed when it hits you in the back, but off the hook when it's inbetween the horse and the front of your chariot. This all, but especially the inability to dodge spears, makes this one of the most frustrating parts of the game.
One thing has to be said about the invasion game, though. There are two environments it can be played in, depending on which one of the three tribes (yes, two environments for three tribes) it is you're fighting. One of them has a single blue pixel near the right which makes aiming your bow especially easy. Just shoot when the enemy passes over that pixel and you'll have an instant hit. This takes away a slight amount of the frustration, but it adds a feeling of repetitivity and dullness.
Enough about the invasion game, though, as the game has plenty of other things to offer. One of them is trading. When you defeat an opponent in the invasion game, you get some goods as reward, along with the increase in social status. You can load these into your ships and sail to other towns to trade, or, if you have enough building material, build more chariots, major constructions or an entire fleet.
The idea of being able to build a fleet is great, as the storage capacity of a ship is incredibly small. This makes the idea of building more ships to increase the amount of goods you can transport very appealing. Don't be mistaken by it, though. You can't group ships into a fleet. Each ship sails separately. Ok, fair enough, you'd say, until you see that random events happen after each move with the ship, which makes it just as useful and requires just as much time for ten ships to go to one place as it would take one ship to go to that place ten times, making the entire possibility of making new ships useless.
Moving a ship brings another game up. This time, you see the front of the ship in a rowdy sea and you have to navigate through various boulders that float towards you. Three hits and your ship sinks, along with all cargo on board. If you don't have any other ships left, it's game over. Nothing wrong with this part. It's quite fun, but can get repetitive and tiresome when you've been playing for a while and have to go through the same sequence yet again to get some goods or construction material.
Sometimes, your ship will get attacked by thieves while you’re sailing. This will take you to a new game. This time, you’re standing at the side of your ship and the thieves swim to your ship. You got to hit them back into the water with your oar before they get onboard. Once they’re on board, they either steal goods, grab your ankles so you can’t move temporarily, or just dive back into the sea. This minigame’s a challenge (for me personally, the character moves a bit too sluggish, but that might just be me) and can sometimes be a nice change from the repetitivety of the entire game.
The good you can trade with, are on a supply and demand base and're influenced by the random disasters, which tell you: "There has been an earthquake in this or that town, and they now have a shortage of building supplies". Sometimes, you also need to hunt down specific goods to give as an offer to a god, or when courting for a bride. This is where the trading system goes wrong. Those messages say what you need in text, but the trading screen only shows icons, and for things like gems or copper/bronze, you simply can't tell what's what. It's just a minor annoyance, but it adds up to the total. The grey stones you'd think is silver, is the currency. You can fit plenty of that in your ship. The maximum amount of other goods varies from good to good, as each seems to take in a different amount of space, which's a nice touch. Another thing that would've been a nice touch, was to see how much room you have left, and maybe how much room each good takes.
The amount of goods you have in your ship can also be used for something else. You can use it to gamble on the camel races. If you do so, you first have to choose a ship which cargo'll be either lost or doubled, and if it's got enough in it, the wager will be accepted. You'll then be taken to the racing game, where you and an opponent wobble around on a camel. Here, it becomes painfully obvious that the game was designed to be played with a joystick, as you got to race by increasing speed by moving left and right. The mouse doesn't work in this game and I can assure you that, unless you have a joystick, it gives great workout for your fingers. That is, until your third or so race, when no matter how hard you mash the buttons, after about two third of the track, your opponent will run past you and leave you behind him. I haven't been able to avoid this, no matter what I tried. It seemed to be scripted in... So, major downer on there as well.
There're quite some other features in this game I'll list all at once. This's for the simple reason that... they do absolutely nothing for the game. These are appointing an advisor, creating a harem, building major constructions (by the time mine are finished, I've finished the game, even though you get a message you need a pyramid before being able to finish it... never did finish that pyramid) and offering to the gods. If anybody knows how any of these actually influence the game, and not just in theory, aside from using up your resources, I'd be more than happy to know.
All the previously mentioned problems, the lack of indicator how much more you need to go before the next rank and the lack of main menu (which means you have to start a new game each time you die, before you can load your previous game), the game isn't all that bad, though. It has many little things that make it nice to check out. For example, when you gain a rank, your attire changes. The graphics themselves are enjoyable too, and the game has nice cutscenes. The music gets you right in the atmosphere and the many different games and general concept will keep you occupied for a bit, and if you have an iron will, you might even finish the game. The concept on itself's reason enough to download it, even with all the flaws. It has the potential of being a legendary game. It's just a shame it didn't live to the full of it.
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