Since November last year, Valve’s ominous gaming platform ‘Steam’ has been in public release on the majority of Linux systems, primarily focusing on Ubuntu 12.04 and it’s derivatives. Many within the field of FOSS development marvelled at this release, speculating that it would bring gaming on Linux to a whole new level. Pardon the pun.
And honestly, it would be difficult to claim that this has not been so. Team Fortress 2, Portal and Counter-Strike have all been released on Linux now, allowing many gamers to make the bridge to using a free and open source alternative to Microsoft Windows and, more recently, the controversial Windows 8. However, many users may have overlooked games which were available on Linux long before Valve even considered developing a native Linux platform. One such example of this, is the ex-mod of Age of Empires II; 0 A.D.
In short, 0 A.D. is a game aimed towards fans of Microsoft’s attempt at a civilization building RTS, Age of Empires. It follows similar aims and goals in it’s development, and the game plays out much alike it’s closed-source and proprietary neighbour. The game starts out by placing your city’s ‘Town Hall’ in the middle of a well populated and, I must say, spectacularly rendered map. The textures and animations built for 0AD are some of the finest available in open source gaming to date, and one would find it difficult to equal the clear dedication and corporate-like funding that has gone into this game. The textures are also diverse enough to provide a realistic world to play in; this leads to various animals and plants found throughout the vast plains and open seas of the game world, many of which have little use other than to be marvelled at by the player. On the same topic, the music supplied with the game is of a similar standing. The compositions used are of a high standard, and feel very much like a proprietary game with the level of polish applied.
Moving back to gameplay, the game is centred around developing your own city, and then using the gained wealth and resources to attack and defeat other players. The context of the game is foremostly set in Ancient Greece, however more recent updates have expanded this to include Celts, the Roman Empire and even Indian tribes in the latest release, Alpha 13. The gameplay is easy to pickup, though difficult to master, leading to many games simply to perfect technique and game mechanics. One issue with this area of the game is the significant lack of guided tutorials and adjustable settings. While the game has an in-built manual detailing mechanics and valuable information to a new user, this may be difficult and frustrating to use for someone new to the RTS gaming front. Similarly, the game currently lacks a dedicated settings menu, which prevents adjusting of the Display, Audio or even Gameplay variables, leading to difficulty in customising the game experience to suit each individual user. However, it must be remembered that the game, despite it’s prudent level of polish, is still only in Alpha, and these features are listed to be added in future updates. The same can be seen in the current lack of plot driven campaigns, which is also planned for a future release
A point that must be made here is regarding the level of user input to the game in general. Whilst the vanilla release contains numerous well designed maps, factions and settings, some users may want even more. And that’s where the Pyrogenesis Engine Editor comes into play. This system allows the typical gamer to create their own maps using the default textures supplied, and even to add their own textures to the game through the easily accessible and open Pyrogenesis Engine. This vastly increases the lifetime of the game, and means that, through community forums, the experience can be expanded beyond the initial release. It should be noted that these maps are easily available through forums on the game’s website, at play0ad.com
A final point to make about 0 A.D. as an overall experience in open source gaming is the multiplayer aspects of the software. Multiplayer games of up to 6 characters at a time, and works flawlessly across different platforms over LAN. The only area of improvement to be made here, in my personal opinion, is to provide a central server base for users to connect to and to host multiplayer games across networks. This may seem unlikely for an open source game, however the concept has been recently introduced into Hedgewars, an open source clone of the popular Worms franchise, and has been proven to work in this context. However, again, it must be remembered that this game is STILL in Alpha, and so these features may be made available in the future
To conclude; 0 A.D. is a necessity for any Linux, or even Windows/Mac gamer. The project provide a polished and well worked out gaming experience for any user, regardless of ability or experience in RTS games. It functions well, provides an expansive level of content and, damn does it look good. Whilst the game still has some issues, the project has come a long way throughout the past few years, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.
Usability: 7/10 (Some key issues with introducing new users to the RTS game mechanics, however easy to pickup, and has a great community backing it)
Aesthetics: 9/10 (Looks fantastic, and offers an unparalleled experience in terms of rendered textures and animations. The OST provided is also well-polished, and available under a Creative Commons license)
Performance: 8/10 (Can be unstable on lower-end systems, however generally offers good performance on the typical user’s system, and works well over LAN multiplayer)
Overall: 8/10 ([Feels like 9/10] Easily one of the most polished FOSS games available for download currently, offering an unmatched experience in many areas)
Only two more words are needed: download now
Note: This review was written after having used both the Windows and Linux releases of 0 A.D. in it’s 13th Alpha, codenamed Magadha
Written by Chris. Edit this review here (not live): https://github.com/Ads20000/fossreviews/wiki/0-A.D./_edit