Publisher: Myelin Media
Developer: Tilted Mill
Release Date: November 8, 2004
Buy 'IMMORTAL CITIES: Children of the Nile': PC
A little while back, Impressions Games loaded up my hard disk with titles from their City Building series. I donned my olive branch crown to hobnob with Caesar III, drank from the Nile with Pharaoh, and lusted after Cleopatra. These games took the Sim City theme (planning, designing, building and maintaining a major city), and made it a historical sim. The gameplay was mostly the same between titles, however, so if you mastered one, you needed only to learn a few new skills and tweaks to master the others. We played them for hours on end, but in the final analysis, they were too predictable. They were like a crossword puzzle you had already solved and lacking that certain oomph to put them over the top.
My main gripe with those flawed, but great games was the fact that it all eventually boiled down to mathematic equations. As I scanned the net to find ideas for town-building, I ran across more and more Excel spreadsheets. The denizens of the Impressions games were locked into an algorithm and they would not deviate from it. All you had to do was figure out their movement ranges, their needs, and how they reacted to obstacles, and it became fairly easy to build modular city blocks. Once that skill was mastered, you needed only to plan out where to fit those blocks on the world map, and the sky was the limit. But what would happen if your citizens were more self-sufficient, but by the same token, infinitely more demanding? What if you never had to build a farm, but had a motivated, self-starter who always wanted a raise? What if you let the populace roam to whatever they wanted whenever they needed it? Well, “what if?” no more. Along comes Tilted Mill’s next-gen histo-sim, Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile.
Put on your thinking caps, children, it’s gonna be a bumpy night. (Sheesh! Talk about a mixed metaphor! Miss Sally from Romper Room meets Bette Davis from “All About Eve.”) Robert Burns once said,"The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft astray." He must have played a city-builder at some point. “Respond” and “adapt” are the key words here. Each time you plan out your strategy, your thoughtful denizens decide that they want to do something totally different from your goals.
Let’s take a look at this game from its main points. First of all, there's nothing fancy about the interface, but all of the necessary information is a single click away. No longer are you stuck on an invisible, but relentless grid. Your buildings can face in any direction you desire. Roads, paths and plaza no longer cost you anything to build, as they are simply aesthetic improvements. Food is your currency now, so there is no need to send out minions to pan for gold. If you build a pottery shop, the shopkeeper will go out and make sure that he has the proper materials to peddle his wares. In essence, you initially just need to plan out where you want everything to be, and then put it there. Sounds easy, no?
Just when you think you are doing well, your people start complaining. To be fair, they are merely asking for amenities nearby. Like any sim-populace, they need food, jobs, recreation, education, sanitation, religion, and so on, and they look to you for guidance and assistance. Your regular run-of-the-tilted-mill peasants aren’t sufficiently bright enough to carry out your plans all on their own. You’ll need educated graduates, noblemen, and priests to begin your true task to conquer the Nile.
Three detailed tutorials take you by the scepter and give you a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics. It boils down to prerequisites, so just building your city all at once and waiting for your culture to catch up is a recipe for instant failure. The initial backbone of your burgeoning society is the Graduate. These learned men can become Priests and Scribes, who respectively tend to churches, healthcare, education, embalming religion, tax assessment, import tariffs and the like. Without educated people, you have a village of idiots. Fun idea for a sitcom, but no good for a civilization looking to claim dominance over the world.
Like its gaming predecessors, CotN gauges your peoples’ satisfaction by how good their access to amenities. There are many different shops available, each selling a specific item, or, you can allow your shopkeeper to decide what he wants to sell. The common shops carry the basic needs, while luxury shops cater more to your nobles. Unlike the earlier Impressions games, however, your people will go to get what they need, no matter how far, but as a result, they won’t have enough time to do the work they must do for your city to remain balanced and profitable.
You must also keep an eye on your own Royal butt. The game will inform you of Pharaoh’s birthdays; pay attention! Remember that the life expectance in Ancient Egypt wasn’t what it is today. Pity the poor Ramses who dies before he has built a suitable tomb for himself. As matters of fact, all of your nobles are concerned about their afterlives, so be sure to build enough mustabas (gravesites for the uninitiated) to house their corpses in. Noble families will become very disenchanted with your city if they dear departed loved ones are just dropped in a hole to rot. But be certain that YOUR tomb is the biggest, grandest most sublime in all the land because prestige is a very valuable commodity in this world.
Then there’s the military. You must build a city guard, and also amass armies to quell raiding parties, or expand your empire. They must be led by a Commander, equipped with weapons, chariots and the like, trained, and housed.
You can build remote mining operations that will function just as small satellite cities, provided you equip them with the basic amenities. These are crucial for building the large structures you will need in order to garner more prestige. More prestige equals more graduates who will take orders from you. Oh, and make sure all of the Gods are happy.
You also have access to a World Map from where you can open trade routes to neighboring cities to help you amass some of the resources you don’t make at home, send diplomats to create political alliances, and send your armies for conquest or defense.
Graphically, this game’s a real winner. The camera controls are simple to master, but sophisticated enough to seamlessly scroll from a view 100 feet in the air to a close-up of an individual’s face. All of the buildings are rendered in meticulous detail, and improve upon themselves in time. It’s fun to watch a single nobleman’s house start sprouting swimming pools and fountains. Your Palace can also be improved upon with the addition of fountains, walls, a personal Granary, and other luxuries.
The music is standard Egyptian fare, but not annoying. Voices are really good here, if a bit anachronistic. By listening to what your villagers are saying, you can gain valuable insight as to what is lacking in their lives, and how you can make them happier. However, they tend to speak with a very modern vernacular. While this adds a bit of humor to a very serious game, it does tend to be a little jarring.
In the final analysis, Tilted Mill games has come up with a City Building Sim that follows in the rich traditions of its predecessors, adds new depth and complexity, a superior graphical presentation, and a more realistic AI model. I’m not the biggest fan in the world of Building Sims, but there's no question about it, pick it up!
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