Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firefly Studios with Firaxis Games
Release Date: Summer 2006
A People’s Peeping Tom’s History
When’s the last time you built a civilization from the ground up but still managed to be on drop-in-whenever terms with the average folk that populate your dominion? Coming soon for the PC, CivCity: Rome promises to span that intimacy gap between Civilization-like empire-sprawl and the city-building minutiae of SimCity, all the way down to glimpsing through the walls of individual houses to see what your citizens are really doing with their spare time. The team of developers at E3 described CivCity: Rome as a building game at heart, but one that engages the historian, the gladiator and the voyeur in you as well as the great municipal visionary.
Visuals, said the developers, will be your conduit into the daily lives of city-dwellers, as CivCity will let you zoom up close and personal-like to all the monument-building, glassblowing and olive-pressing that makes a city successful. That, of course, means your cities are going to have to look great and pack in much detail, and the developers said that the graphical treatment will be sufficiently detailed to maintain the sense of developing actual living cities. Indeed, what I saw at E3 was promising in that regard, from an overhead view of the entire boot of Italy with its variegated terrain to a busy market street with colorful awnings shading the merchants as they go about their business. According to the press materials, you’ll even get a look inside the Roman bathhouses, where presumably you’ll witness a different sort of business altogether.
As civilization progresses, dusty huts will evolve into busy ports serving sea-borne trade that brings more prosperity into your city. You’ll build monuments, colosseums and other huge structures to show off your advancement as well as to make sure your city remains a happy one. Claiming more types of structures than any other building sim, CivCity promises to reward your dedication with plenty of spires, pillars and chariot-racing tracks among the hundreds of available buildings. All this will be more than a simple backdrop, too; as your citizens will have different routines during work and leisure hours, they’ll need places to go and things to do.
Pretty streets or not, your citizens won’t hang around for your entertainment if you don’t succeed at the central city management tasks. Placing your buildings alongside rivers and near olive groves will be easy, said the developers, as you get your city going, but nurturing growth and maintaining a solid infrastructure will be a challenge (again with the “easy to pick up, but tough to master”!). You’ll have over 70 technologies to research -- like using a compass and building a ship’s keel -- to keep progress on track and make sure your people fulfill their grandest possible destinies.
You’ll also need to pay attention to issues beyond the machinery, researching religious ceremonies, for example, to save citizens the hassle of waiting in long lines to get blessings, and providing plenty of gladiator and assorted beast combat to keep folks entertained. If you slack on providing services or entertainment, concerned citizens will let you know, telling you what they thinking of your city and how it’s affecting their health and happiness. Historical figures will even show up to critique your leadership skills and offer challenges. If you do a good enough job, you may even get a pat on the back from Caesar himself.
CivCity: Rome won’t be too pushy with the overt educational content, but it won’t shy away from it either, letting you explore Roman history with the CityPedia feature whenever you feel like a little more backstory. There you’ll learn all about toilets in the kitchens and the deadly, lead-filled cosmetics that poisoned the vain. In-game edutainment will include scenes like senate debates and temple ceremonies to create the impression of a rich economic, political and religious experience for you and the Romans who populate your creations.
Other than Harvest Moon with its aggressively cute cows, I can’t say that I’ve ever thought of emotional engagement as the primary appeal of simulation games, regardless of how satisfying they might be from a strategic, educational or other intellectual point of view. If CivCity: Rome captures some of the historical drama of Roman city life -- from your trials as a civic overlord all the way down to the minor domestic sagas playing out behind closed doors -- it’ll boast a unique appeal, especially for Sid Meier fans who fancy the idea of putting some familiar conventions of Civilization to use in the context of city-building. Look for CivCity: Rome to hit this summer.
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