The Wargamer

22 December 2014

PC Game Review: Ben Hur or Crash Test Dummy?

We review Qvadriga, Slitherine's chariot racing game

Published on 30 APR 2014 6:26am by Nik Gaukroger
  1. roman empire, real-time, north africa, europe, mid-east, introduction, turn-based wego, pc, top down, english, 1, yes, no, online, single unit

For those of us of a (ahem) slightly more advanced age, mention chariots racing and we immediately think of Ben Hur, the classic sand and sandals, cast of thousands movie from way back in 1959. In fact, such is the fame of the movie that even mere youngsters have heard of it. One of the iconic moments of the film is, of course, the chariot race which even over 50 years later is the inspiration for many games – indeed at wargaming shows chariot racing participation games are a regular feature. Now Slitherine have released a PC game of Roman chariot races. So will it be an award winner like the movie, read on …

The basics of the game are pretty simple. The player is the “manager” of a team of chariot racers aiming to become the most successful and popular chariot racing team of the Roman world. To do this you have a team of charioteers (auriga in Latin), horses and chariots which you must develop and enhance as the game progresses. Initially you start the game in a provincial backwater, racing on the lesser circuits, but as you improve your team and become more successful (and famous) you can progress to more prestigious races and circuits, ultimately aiming for the Circus Maximus and the adoration of the fanatical crowds in Rome. At the start you get to pick which of the 6 racing factions (Red, White, Blue, Green, Yellow and Purple) you wish to belong to – each has its own strengths – as well as which province you will start racing in; the choices here are Galia, Italia, Macedonia, Hispania, Africa, Syria and Aegyptus. The province will determine which arenas you will get to race in; these are based on the real circus’ known from the provinces and come in a variety of styles, not just the famous oval track of the Circus Maximus type we are familiar with. The reality of the various tracks is a really nice touch for the historically minded, and the variety is good for everyone. The various provinces also affect how you will develop your team as the cost of kit can vary between them – for example starting in Africa means your chariot purchases are 25% cheaper.

As an alternative to the campaign mode there is also a single race option where you just dive into a race. You still get to pick your faction and some skills and capabilities for your charioteer, but obviously there is no ongoing development of a team or story. You do, however, get to choose a circus to race in. The single race option is, in my view, and excellent addition to the game. As a single race can be run inside 10 minutes this is a great way of passing a spare few minutes between doing other things – I’ve found the single races quite addictive. Also, because there is no campaign there is no downside to bailing out of the game if you screw up – and I screw up all the time, I’m a bad charioteer …

For the races themselves you will be pitted against between 3 and 7 other teams. Depending on the arena you may find with the higher number of teams that you start in 2 rows of chariots, which can lead to a hectic first corner with all sorts of carnage happening. The races can be run using the (normal) turn based structure where the action pauses from time to time for you to issue an order, or the harder to get into dynamic option where you have more flexibility of when you can issue orders. I must confess that I have not really got the hang of dynamic mode and stick to the turn-based approach. Orders are straight forward and include driving actions such as accelerate or decelerate your chariot, move left or right (think changing lanes), as well as offensive actions such as whipping the chariot next to you to try and disable it’s horses or auriga, or even crashing into another chariot. There are a vast number of combinations of orders you can use over the course of a race and whilst simple on the surface bring a huge tactical and strategic depth to running a race. It is a classic easy to understand but hard to master situation. Ideal. One thing you learn about really quickly is the need for stability in the corners. Fail at this and your chariot will overturn and your auriga may well end up dead. The damage to life and equipment has an effect on the ongoing campaign and needs to be carefully managed.

One nice feature of the campaign is that as your aim is to get to the Circus Maximus it is not always necessary to aim to win each race – although that has advantages in winnings, etc. Nursing a damaged chariot so you actually finish can in itself be a good thing in the long term, and if your chariot does crash your auriga can make a run for safety, although you do need to time that right. This all adds to the depth of the game, and is not immediately apparent.

Another feature of the game I found that grew on me over time were the graphics. Let’s be honest, these graphics are not going to win any awards. We get a top down view with the chariots, etc. represented by simple, slightly cartoony animations. There is no crowd animation for example. However, the graphics do work. The give you all the information you need and in some indefinable way are, in fact, right for the game. The more I’ve played Qvadriga the more engaging I’ve found the graphics. Couldn’t tell you exactly why though. Anyway, the bottom line here is don’t judge the game on first appearances – dive in and play it and like me you may well find the graphics are fine.

 

Conclusion

What looks like a very simple game when you first look at it turns out to be a surprisingly deep and challenging game in practice. The combination of the choices to you have to make and the campaign structure forces you to make decisions every step of the way all of which impact on your goal of reaching Rome and eternal glory. Similarly the actual races, which are the real core of the game, are easy to get going with but scattered with pitfalls along the way and it will take you quite a time to master the tactics needed to win races regularly – the developer has really matched risk and reward very neatly in the race section of the game.

So overall I’d say that Qvadriga is a success. OK, the graphics are not that good, but they do the job, but the game play is really quite addictive and I keep going back for just one more race to develop my team, or even just jump in for a single race in a quiet moment in the office. That for me indicates a game worth getting hold of.

Slitherine are now looking to port the game to the iPad and I reckon that if they can get the marketing right to appeal to those who don’t normally look at anything based on history, they could have a real success story with a mobile platform version of Qvadriga – in many ways it looks even more suited to that platform than the PC.

TL:DR addictive game, well worth buying.

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