Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: SouthPeak Interactive
Release Date: March 11, 2008
I stepped out onto the local greenery today, smelled the fresh air, and took in the sights and sounds of the local farmland. The pigs were sloshing about in the mud as usual, and the slaves went about their business building the new house across the street from my farm. Other citizens were roaming about, probably heading to the altar. I took one more deep breath before heading back home to start my morning work. This is Rome … no, this is Imperium Romanum.
Imperium Romanum, the new PC title from Southpeak Interactive and Haemimont Games, focuses on the building the greatest cities of Rome in an almost SimCity style of level design. I'm not implying that this game is a clone of Maxis' city builder, but, rather, that it is shares many of the same tasks and goals. In Imperium Romanum, you are tasked with building one of the great cities of the Rome, but the execution is a bit more different and unique than you'd expect from SimCity or Caesar.
As Imperium Romanum is a city-building game, you probably won't be expecting any sort of story line ? and you'd be right. However, there is a historical timeline that you can follow, which will allow you to play certain scenarios in Roman history. From here, you're able to play through each of Rome's greatest cities, but only after you have completed the timeline up to that point. Want to manage the city of Rome in A.D. 200? Then you must first manage the city of Rome in 100 B.C. While the system is not overly complex, it can still get a bit annoying. Sometimes you just want to get to the good stuff, y'know?
Moving on to the actual gameplay, I was surprised to find a relatively competent city builder. Playing in either a scenario or a freeform game will result in two different types of gameplay. When playing in a scenario, like one of the historical settings I mentioned earlier, you'll be introduced to a rather odd "tablet" system. While doing your usual city building thing, you'll be asked to select up to three tablets, each detailing an objective that requires you to do something specific for your city. For instance, you may be asked to build a clay pit, which is a supplementary task for a future objective, or you may be tasked with reaching a certain population number. Completing each one will allow you to pick up another tablet, until none remain. When you reach the end of that scenario's tablets, then you've won, although nothing spectacular happens, and there are no parades. You can continue to play the level and build the city, but other than that, there's not much else to do.
If you choose to play a random scenario, then you'll essentially be playing a standard city builder. These types of scenarios start you out in a randomly generated map with a city center and a slave pen, and that's pretty much it. It's up to you to build the city ? including aqueducts, farms, houses, military institutions, and wells ? as you see fit. This gameplay style doesn't have any mission-based tablets, so if that feature didn't appeal to you, then this is where you'll probably spend most of your time. It's straight to the point, and fairly easy to manage … although possibly too easy.
While the two gameplay styles might sound like enough to draw you into Imperium Romanum, the actual building leaves a bit to be desired. Placing stuff like farms, houses and other buildings is standard enough, except for the auto-locking that occurs. If you want to place a house near a road but not exactly on the road, the system will automatically lock onto the road and force you to place it there. Additionally, building new roads can become a bit unorganized. Using a simple click-and-drag method of extending roads might sound like a good idea on paper, but in Imperium Romanum, it can be quite the headache at times. Finally, one of the things I just could not understand is why Haemimont Games decided to not allow you to build your aqueduct wherever you want. At the start of each scenario, you'll have the beginning of an aqueduct placed somewhere near a river next to your town. From there, you'll have to extend it to wherever you need an aqueduct. Should you want to build a new aqueduct at a different river, you're out of luck. It's a very annoying way to add onto a primary structure of your city.
In addition to the city building, there is also a military aspect. Depending on the scenario, there will be barbarian villages surrounding your city, and in order to quell them and move onto their territory, you'll have to aggressively "take care" of them. In order to do this, you'll need to recruit some swordsman and archers. Each group has its own building, with requirements of wood and iron. Once your phalanx is trained and armed, you can send them out to take care of whatever unruly business is outside your city walls. While I'd love to carry on about how great this combat system works, it's actually a bit dry. You send your troops outside the barbarian village and watch them fight; there are hardly any tactics involved, and more often than not, your troops will easily win. The combat in Imperium Romanum feels like little more than an afterthought.
Gameplay aside, there are still the graphics and the audio to consider. The graphics in the game were actually quite pleasing. From a faraway scope, you could see much of the city in great detail, and if you zoomed in all the way, you could see your citizens actually going about their business. Farmers would farm, miners would mine, and children would play. While it wasn't the most graphically pleasing game in the world, these small details definitely helped Imperium Romanum's overall image. However, the audio left much to be desired. While the ambient noises were quite nice, the music was bland, irritating, and often didn't suit the game at all.
Overall, Imperium Romanum was a pretty standard Roman city builder. While that may seem like enough for hardcore fans of the genre, the title fails to really bring anything new and innovative to the table. Due to this, I can't really recommend it to anybody who doesn't already love the genre.
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