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Political assassinations, provincial strife and pivotal battles in “Total War: Rome II” bring back the familiar empire-building game play that drew critical acclaim to the series more than 10 years ago. But “Rome II” falls prey to its own ambition, with too many disjointed elements ruining an otherwise polished game. 

Mixing turn-based strategy with real-time battle tactics, “Rome II” requires players to master their chosen faction on a macro and micro scale. Whether it’s mustering a legion through a mountain pass in the dead of winter or besieging an enemy stronghold in Northern Africa, “Rome II’s” sense of scale sets it apart from rival games like “Civilization.” 

The campaign mode, which includes a rim of territory to be conquered around the Mediterranean Sea, is still the bread and butter of the “Total War” experience. After playing through a brief tutorial prologue, “Rome II” allows gamers the chance to choose their military faction and expand aggressively. This can mean garnering political backing as a Roman family or assembling the Celtic Gauls across Northern Europe. Regardless of which faction players choose, controlling new provinces means conquering four cities at a time. Spacious terrain and urban combat then provide a decent assortment of skirmish scenarios.

Despite its title, “Total War” also emphasizes the player’s role in maintaining order and peace across an empire. Attention spent solely on military-related activities will likely foment internal disarray and invite enemy invasion. Peasant revolts, food shortages and roving marauders add a separate layer of managerial complexity and historical accuracy to “Rome II,” so players need to pay close attention to public order and imperial infrastructure. 

From a technical standpoint, “Rome II” completely falls short of its idealized talking points. User interface, the spine of every real-time strategy game, happens to be the game’s biggest blunder. Overseeing an expansive political entity requires a set of simplified micromanagement tools, but developer Creative Assembly somehow managed to undo its previously intuitive design. Now players will have to endure disorienting camera angles, boring enemy turns, and inefficient overlay menus. 

Cinematics would be much more impressive if it weren’t for "Rome II’s" incredibly choppy graphics engine. Gamers not equipped with a top-of-the-line PC should prepare to weep as they continually lower their graphics settings. But for those among us who are blessed with high-end gaming rigs, watching a battalion of elephants collide with enemy infantry never seems to get old.

If players are looking for a stimulating battle, it’s more likely to occur in online play than against the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) software. “Rome II’s” built-in AI is still not quite up to snuff, since a small group of cavalry is enough to draw out and flank enemy forces. Online matchmaking servers will likely remain stocked with eager opponents for some time to come, but the excitement of one-on-one battles is short lived since it doesn’t incorporate broader elements of the campaign mode. 

On day one of the game’s release, Creative Assembly sought to assuage grievances with a general software patch. If there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s that players need to delay their purchase of “Total War: Rome II.” In six months’ time, the game will include the necessary patches to make it a more enjoyable game at a lower price point. 

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative Catholic church.

Known until Wednesday as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags in St. Peter's Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening," he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world's Roman Catholics .

Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage," Bergoglio told his priests. "These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, "this Church of 'come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don't come in, don't belong," to the Pharisees of Christ's time — people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.

This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. "It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome," Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict's successor.

Bergoglio's influence seemed to stop at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernandez, took over the Argentina's government. His outspoken criticism couldn't prevent Argentina from becoming the Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, or stop Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

His church had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

This kind of demonization is unfair, says Rubin, who obtained an extremely rare interview of Bergoglio for his biography, the "The Jesuit."

"Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He's no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes," Rubin said.

Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Rubin.

That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship's abuses after the 1976 coup.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn't forget that side," Rubin said.

The bishops also said "we exhort those who have information about the location of stolen babies, or who know where bodies were secretly buried, that they realize they are morally obligated to inform the pertinent authorities."

That statement came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations of the Kirchners' era.

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.

Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio's later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.

But Bregman said Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn't know anything about it until 1985," said the baby's aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother Alicia co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies. "He doesn't face this reality and it doesn't bother him. The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Fernandez. Their relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what's wrong with society.

During the dictatorship era, other church leaders only feebly mentioned a need to respect human rights. When Bergoglio spoke to the powerful, he was much more forceful. In his 2012 address, he said Argentina was being harmed by demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power. The message resonated in a country whose president was ruling by decree, where political scandals rarely were punished and where top ministers openly lobbied for Fernandez to rule indefinitely.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ROME — The United States and some European allies are edging closer to direct involvement in Syria’s civil war with plans to deliver meals, medical kits and other forms of nonlethal assistance to the rebels battling President Bashar Assad.

The U.S., Britain, France and Italy aren’t planning to supply the Free Syrian Army with weapons or ammunition. But moves are afoot to significantly boost the size and scope of their aid to the political and military opposition. Such decisions could be announced as early as Thursday at an international conference on Syria in Rome.

Britain and France are keen to give the rebels the means to protect themselves from attacks by Assad’s forces, officials say.

For now, the Obama administration is advancing more modestly. It is nearing a decision whether to give ready-made meals and medical supplies to the opposition fighters, who have not received direct
U.S. assistance.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to announce the new contributions at the Rome conference, in addition to tens of millions of dollars intended for rule of law and governance programs.

The shifts in strategy are part of a step-by-step process that could lead to direct military aid to carefully screened members of the Free Syrian Army if the nearly two-year conflict continues.

Kerry said Wednesday in Paris that both the U.S. and Europe want a negotiated solution to the crisis and would speak to the leaders of the Syrian National Coalition about that. 

“We want their advice on how we can accelerate the prospects of a political solution because that is what we believe is the best path to peace, the best way to protect the interests of the Syrian people, the best way to end the killing and the violence,” he said.

Finance senior and concertmaster Darwin Weng plays the violin under the direction of conductor Tim Laughlin during the University Orchestra's final performance of the year Tuesday evening in Bates Recital Hall.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

With the works of famed composers filling the air, listeners on campus were taken on a musical journey that led them through Rome and London.

The University Orchestra held its final concert of the school year yesterday, performing pieces from Italian composer Ottorino Respighi and English composer Sir Edward Elgar. The concert included two works from each composer, with Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome” as well as Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 2” and “Serenade for Strings.”

The show began with Elgar’s crowd-pleasing compositions, said Alejandro Gutiérrez, co-conductor and music director of the University Orchestra.

“The enchanting ‘Serenade for Strings’ and the pridefulness of the march by Elgar complement a great night,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez said he was particularly pleased to perform both of Respighi’s pieces because it is a rare occurrence to hear two of the composer’s pieces back-to-back.

“It is not common to program two of Respighi’s symphonic poems together,” Gutiérrez said. “Tonight [was] a great opportunity for students and faculty to appreciate two of the most famous pieces of Respighi.”

Although the majority of students in University Orchestra are not music majors, Gutiérrez said the group fosters a strong, competitive environment for music majors as well. He said the number of skilled performers who have joined University Orchestra is allowing the group to perform such high caliber works.

“The great musicianship and attitude of these students have motivated a good number of music majors to join the orchestra,” Gutiérrez said. “It allows the conductors of the orchestra to program music of very high artistic content and difficulty.”

Pope Benedict XVI attends his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ROME — A top American cardinal on Monday defended Pope Benedict’s handling of sexual abuse cases by clergy, saying he should be praised not criticized, as advocates for abuse victims demanded that the Vatican release its secret files on pedophile priests.

Cardinal William Levada told a Vatican-backed symposium on safeguarding children that Benedict had been “instrumental” in implementing standards to crack down on pedophile clergy as well as supportive of U.S. bishops’ efforts to fight the abuse.

Before becoming pontiff, Benedict held Levada’s job as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church office ensuring doctrinal purity and, in recent decades, also shaping the Holy See’s policies on handling abuse cases involving clergy.

As the symposium’s keynote opening speaker, Levada lamented that the pope “has had to suffer attacks by the media over these past years in various parts of the world when he should receive the gratitude of us all, in the Church and outside it.” The Vatican released copies of the speech.
SNAP, a U.S-based support and advocacy group for those abused as minors by clergy, was dismissive of the four-day, closed-door gathering.

“True change and child protection comes through accountability from secular authorities,” a SNAP official, Joelle Casteix, said in a statement. “Until we have that, we must see Rome’s meeting for exactly what it is: cheap window dressing.”

She contended the Vatican “still cannot do the simplest, cheapest, and most child-friendly action possible: Make public decades of secret files on clergy sex offenders and enablers.”