When in Rome, go someplace else.
Urban planning first became a nationwide pastime in 1989 with Will Wright’s unlikely hit, SimCity
. Legions of deranged, desensitized gamers surprisingly stopped shooting things just to spend hours quietly laying out lovely tree-lined promenades. Not to be outdone, Sid Meier thought bigger and two years later, the first Civilization
game was born. Peace reigned throughout the land, and the next generation of world leaders began their training.
So what do you get when you combine a little bit of Will with a little bit of Sid? Apparently, you get Simon Bradbury, who, although less well known, has also been making simulations since 1992. Or I should say re-making them, because he’s made his latest game, CivCity: Rome
, several times before.
The first time, it was called Caesar. In that game you placed buildings and laid infrastructure while working toward some measure of Roman prosperity. For example, you might construct farms and support them with mills and warehouses, then build shops all to get people to buy a certain amount of cheese. Once that goal was met, you’d work toward another similarly lifeless quota, all the while dealing with any unpredictable problems. It was fine and dandy but kind of boring, even in the 90s.
And in CivCity: Rome you do the exact same things, but in 3D. People still crave taverns, amphitheaters, combat arenas, and temples to the gods so they can feel genuinely penitent for their hangovers. If the rest of the game had as much personality, CivCity: Rome might be such a boring rehash. But instead of becoming a colorful Roman Emperor and doing imperial things, you just meet numerical goal after numerical goal while pondering landscapes and zoning policies.
Balancing wages, rations, unemployment, housing, civic services, trade, and taxes is the key to a happy (and profitable) city, and the reward is found in the happy little people walking around. They all have jobs and houses and travel around tilling the fields, making wine, and shopping for olive oil. Click on any one of them to get their name, find out what they’re doing, and hear them cheerfully comment to you about the state of the city. Of course, they may also just want to bitch at you about the taxes or how there’s no temple to Diana. Ingrates.
After a few training cities, the lone single-player campaign branches into either a peaceful or military path. The peaceful campaign lets you build cities with only the occasional natural disaster to contend with, whereas the military campaign features all the city building plus the occasional attack from the outside. Unfortunately, the combat is almost strategy free, the units are retarded, and the battles look like sequences from a Benny Hill Show. All that’s missing is yackity sax. And fun.
Once you finish your campaign, there are only about ten one-shot scenarios to play with, several of which are just free sandbox building. With such sparse options, this Empire quickly falls apart. You find a city layout that works, and you just keep rebuilding it, kind of like Bradbury does with his games.
And after all this time, you’d think he would have included some multiplayer options. Gamers love destroying each others’ cities and there’s nothing like a little competition to keep a game interesting, but no such luck. This one is all about self-rule.
For a game based entirely on building up an awesome city, its structures, terrain and people are all based on simple, boring models. When you get a huge city going with bustling traffic on the roads and all sorts of people coming and going to and from their farms, homes and business, the game looks impressive. Even better, it avoids the slowdown issues that have burdened other 3D sim games like Zoo Tycoon
. But really, the graphics are a non-issue, failing to impress or distress.
The same goes for the music and sound effects. The orchestral score is fine, although sometimes it gets a bit over the top, as if you should be leading an army of dwarves against the minions of Sauron and not deciding whether to put trees or flowers around a fountain. The voice-acting for your citizens is fine, but the voice you hear most often, your city advisor, is really annoying and repetitive. The only way to get rid of him is to turn off the game, which is never a bad idea.
Although CivCity: Rome is just as good a game as it was fifteen years ago, it’s still an almost direct port of Caesar II with 3D graphics and the sly marketing gimmick of sharing a name with one of the all-time greats. We recommend sacking another town.