Publisher: CDV Software
Release Date: Summer 2006
Historic city building games have experienced something of a hiatus since Tilted Mill's 2004 release, Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile. That trend will change in 2006, which has become the unofficial year of the Roman city builder. Along with CivCity: Rome and Caesar IV due out in the summer, CDV Software is set to join the fray with their title, Glory of the Roman Empire. Instead of focusing on the bloody conquest side of empire building, you take the back seat as a city-planning bureaucrat tasked with maintaining order and building up great towns and cities. Your job as a governor is to turn the sleepy countryside into a bustling cityscape, replete with all the trappings of a truly majestic Roman city: public baths, coliseums, ornate villas and theaters.
While the graphics are pleasant, they truly shine when you take a closer look, since the designers have been meticulous with the level of detail. You'll see citizens getting measured by the tailor for a new toga, the baker removing a fresh loaf from the fiery kiln, and the farmers pausing to wipe the sweat from their brow as they collect the flax harvest. Elsewhere, children skip around playing with yo-yos, and old men and women dodder around complacently. As your city grows and the population increases, you can really feel the hum of commerce and the lively rhythms of daily life. Clearly, a lot of effort went into giving the cities vitality, and this pays off in terms of the depth of character apparent in the game.
For green-thumbed gamers and those with an eye for aesthetics, Glory of the Roman Empire has a wealth of eye-candy building options to get your settlement looking just right. Your population has daily routines including work, prayer at a local temple, and good times at the local tavern. In fact, the tavern is a great place to check up on the needs of your citizens as they sit beneath the ivy-clad trellises quaffing and complaining. By clicking on any citizen, you'll get their two cents on how they think you're doing, with opinions ranging from the miserable slave's "I haven't eaten peat in a long time," to the overjoyed ego-masseuse's "Like the gods, you have provided us with everything governor!"
The sound effects add a lot to the game's rich texture. The delicate snipping of the tailor's scissors and the dull stamping of the winemaker's feet on grapes are just two examples of this. If it moves, it probably has a fine matching sound effect. The music ranges from classical pastoral tunes that conjure up rural Italy to the full brass orchestra playing a pompous fanfare that makes you feel you stepped onto the set of Ben Hur.
Unlike other strategy building games, money is not a central asset. Buildings are free of charge to lay down, and the only cost is in terms of resources, such as wood, marble, stone and clay. These can be acquired by building the appropriate mines and quarries, assuming your settlement is close to a source. Otherwise, you can build trading posts to swap goods with barbarian civilizations, or other cities in the empire. Gold is used to purchase slaves who are the backbone of your society, helping with all the important tasks, including ferrying goods and resources from A to B.
Instead of managing finances, the gameplay challenge is a careful balancing act. Build too many houses early on, and you'll find yourself with a lot of idle people itching to riot. Conversely, if you build more farms than you have workers to run them, they simply won't function. To avoid catching fire, each building requires upkeep in the form of raw materials, so over-extending in this way is not a good idea. In addition, you have to carefully manage your slave population since they are the first to suffer when your city grows beyond its means. Overwork them, and their health will deteriorate, perhaps even leading to a plague or riots. Getting the balance right and making most of the people happy most of the time is certainly a challenging undertaking that can take quite a while to master.
The sandbox mode comes with a range of difficulty settings which changes the level of barbarian activity and the number of resources in your vicinity. In addition, there is a challenge mode where you fulfill objectives with various restrictions and bonuses in place. The main campaign mode directs your gameplay by giving you a number of goals that need to be achieved in each town. Eventually, you get to leave Italy to travel all over Europe from one Roman city to another, rescuing disease-infested towns, quelling slave riots, stamping out fires, and generally contributing in your own quiet way to the glory of the Roman Empire. In addition, you return to the cities you built before, which forces you to think twice about rushing to achieve a scenario goal. Those houses you slapped down haphazardly to achieve a population goal will come back to haunt you in a different scenario. While there is no such thing as "game over," you can build your way into a dead-end, which is hard to recover from. When your buildings are all aflame, unemployment is rife, and slaves are dropping like flies from pestilence, it might make more sense to simply restart.
Every building you put down has an area of effect and will only benefit those who fall within its radius, meaning your citizens will only commute so far to work or to the nearest tavern. Temples improving the neighborhood are essential if you want to upgrade your housing from a humble Magalia to an impressive villa. They also double up as a means of gauging general levels of dissatisfaction in your populace. Uniquely, in a temple, you can also indulge your inner megalomaniac and pray to the gods for eternal day or night if it happens that the daily cycle irks you.
Glory of the Roman Empire is largely a peaceful affair, but there inevitably comes a time when barbarian heads need bashing, and the game gives you the ability to build barracks and weaponsmiths for such an eventuality. Combat is as simple as pointing your equipped fighters in the direction of the offending barbarian village and letting them loose. You don't get the option to control their formations or actions, but instead get to sit back, cross your fingers and watch the fracas ensue.
Glory of the Roman Empire should appeal to pacifist gamers who always knew that the truly serious work of building an empire lay with the city planners and bureaucrats, rather than the blood-soaked warriors on the front. Expect it on store shelves this summer.
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