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History lesson

As nice as it is to have autonomous characters, some games lose their charm when you can go make a sandwich and watch TV while your villagers aquire resources and build their colonies.

I don’t know much about history, so I suppose that means I’m doomed to repeat it. Given a choice of epochs, I’d chose to repeat the Roman Empire during the reign of Caligula. Knowing my luck, I’d be forced to repeat the year 1503, but after spending a month with the game “1503 A.D. The New World,” I feel as though I’ve spent an eternity reliving that year already. Not a bad game by any means, “1503” simply isn’t a very good one, and it is mostly inaccessible to any game player who isn’t a fan–or perhaps even an expert–of the genre.

Empire-building games shouldn’t be easy, but I knew I was in trouble after I got stuck 10 minutes into the tutorial. A tutorial should be logical, intuitive, and easy to follow–not so difficult you have to read the manual just to figure out the next step. The manual wasn’t very informative either, nor were the in-game help menus, both of which simply defined the buttons and functions instead of actually explaining what you’re supposed to do or how things work. I finally gave up and jumped directly into the game, if only because I figured the main campaign couldn’t be more vague or difficult to muddle through. I was wrong, of course, but I did have slightly more fun and felt as though my frustration was toward a better goal than just trying to figure out the controls or objectives.

The game finally became (mildly) enjoyable after I realized there were no objectives. You begin with just enough supplies to start a small colony, while slowly working your way from there, growing outward and setting up trade relations with other cultures and colonies. The only real objective is to keep building your empire and acquiring resources. This open-ended style of play is both a blessing and a curse. I was often frustrated and annoyed with the game after realizing I had no idea what to do next, but the leisurely, slow pace of the game was very relaxing and accommodating to a player who likes to sit back and enjoy the scenery. I often had my villagers acquire resources while I made a sandwich and watched an episode of “S Club 7.”

The graphics and sound lent “1503” a sense of humor and personality it otherwise lacked. The graphics themselves are perfunctory and nothing special, but become more detailed, varied, and lively as your empire grows.

Unfortunately, the menu bars weren’t as well thought out as the graphics engine for the towns, as they were unattractive, unintuitive, and rather difficult to navigate. The soundtrack, while sparse in the effects department, has some wonderfully orchestrated (albeit cheesy) music, such as “Scarborough Fair” played on what sounds like a panpipe and harp.

The game has no clear objectives, a distinct lack of action, and feelings of accomplishment are too few and far between. I can only recommend “1503” to diehard fans of the genre, those who enjoyed developer Sunflowers’ previous game “1602,” or anybody who wants to hear a really weird version of “Scarborough Fair.” Other than maybe Art Garfunkel, I can’t think of anybody who’d fit that description.

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