Publisher: Aspyr Media
Developer: Related Designs
Release Date: October 30, 2006
1701 A.D. is a historical, economical simulation of the Europeans' quest for dominance among the tropical isles of the Caribbean. At the command of the Queen, you are sent from an unnamed European super-power to build a thriving port city. You land on an empty island with a ship containing only the bare minimum of supplies and some eager colonists. Once the colony has been built up enough to be self-sufficient, you can declare independence on its behalf. This is a fun concept, but how does one accomplish this? 1701 A.D. is a game that lets the player answer that question.
The interface and controls for this title are simple enough that, after playing the helpful (and brief) tutorials, a new player can easily jump into the game. The gameplay mechanics have been built upon the lessons learned from previous titles like 1503 and 1602. At the core of the game, you simply need to settle an island and build its industries so that you can support a large, affluent population. You can do this by using resources found on your island. However, if you don't have the requisite resources for producing much-needed luxuries as tobacco, then you'll have to colonize new islands or trade one of the other powers for it.
Most games begin with the player in control of a single ship in the middle of the ocean. The player then has to find an empty island to make his home; you can even see what resources are available on the island before you colonize it. As stated before, the selection of resources is an important one, but there are also resources that exist on every island, such as wool and wood. These resources are then used to build houses for your citizens and produce their creature comforts, and you can also build things like theatres and churches to fill their cultural needs. This is fairly standard city building/economic simulation fare, but one unique structure is the village center, where you can see interesting events like special visitors to the island or gauge the overall mood of the populace.
Along with random maps where you can set certain variables and winning conditions (such as achieving independence), there are also some scenarios through which to play. My personal favorite begins with a volcano that will erupt on the island at a predetermined time. The scenarios definitely add some spice to the random maps that get repetitive fairly quickly. Sadly, there is no map or scenario editor for players to utilize.
In a perfect Caribbean universe, everyone would play nice; however, there are pirates and over-ambitious European factions at work in the world of 1701 A.D. It is obvious that the combat system is not very well implemented or thought-out, like a number of games in this genre. The combat is simple enough, but therein lays the problem: it is very shallow. The only interesting aspect is that you can harass enemy supply lines and wreak havoc in their cities. The flip side is that you have to protect against the same occurrence, which means you need to have an extremely expensive and monotonous military force. Luckily, this isn't a big part of the game, although it would have benefited from a more streamlined system. Ship-to-ship combat is easy, as it is a one-click process, after which you simply wait for one ship to lose. Land combat is different in that it is a hellish mess of poor pathfinding. There is some variety in the land units, but trying to actually execute a cohesive strategy is an exercise in futility.
Perhaps the best part of 1701 A.D. is watching your creation grow. Structure by structure, you create the colony as you see fit. What starts out as three hovels and a fishing hut will eventually be a burgeoning metropolis complete with everything affluent citizens could want.
The graphics are some of the best around for a city-building title. The water itself looks simply amazing and all of the details down to the sheep are visible in beautiful, slightly cartoony 3D. Watching the colony evolve and grow with these visuals is truly a unique experience. Hopefully other developers in the genre will take note and add this level of detail to their visuals.
The sound in 1701 A.D. is easily up there with the graphics. Hearing the crashing of the waves or the crack of cannons from a galley's broadside is a definite pleasure, and if you zoom close to your colony, you can also hear little details, like people chattering and church bells ringing. The songs are all light and fit the environment very well, and while the voice acting is well acted, it is, unfortunately, poorly written.
There is a multiplayer mode available in this title, but it turns out to be fairly slow for the average gamer. Most matches were fought between huge navies and poor, starving colonies that couldn't afford to upgrade their military because of costs or broken trade routes. It is an interesting feature, but 1701 A.D. really lends itself to the single-player experience. However, I do give it points for adding a multiplayer mode, which should be attached to every title in the strategy genre.
Overall, 1701 A.D. is a really good economic sim, especially when compared to recent offerings. There are a large number of things to manage, so there is always something to do. The races for new islands can be intense and fun, but unfortunately, combat is anything but. The graphics are amazing and definitely deserve special recognition, as does the sound. The multiplayer seems a bit slow at times, but taken with the pros and cons, the pros definitely win out in this game.