Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Developer: Tilted Mill
Release Date: Q3 2006
Caesar IV is the latest in the distinguished Caesar line of city-building sims that rose to great fame as part of the late, lamented Sierra Entertainment. Even though it's been a good eight years since the last iteration came out to positive reviews and much love from simulation fans, Vivendi Universal has allowed developer Tilted Mill to bring back the franchise for one more outing on the PC. What's special about this title is that the development team includes many staffers who've worked on previous Caesar titles, going all the way back to the original. The game is shaping up to be a love letter to a genre whose fans have long memories and truly hardcore gameplay demands.
You might think fans of whatever-building sims would be completely deluged with more games to play, given the success of the Tycoon series and the SimCity line. Au contraire, says Tilted Mill. Most city-building sims are, when you get down to it, building-placement sims. Once you arrange your turf just so, success falls into your lap. Caesar IV puts itself a step ahead by introducing some RTS-like elements that give the game a genuine storyline, complete with mission-oriented goals that force players to apply some genuine strategy to their gameplay. It's not enough to make a good-looking city; you need to make a city that attracts the right kind of people, resources, and industries to convince Caesar himself that you're a successful administrator. If you fail, then you'll end up getting fired. This involves an interaction with the business end of Caesar's army. Don't bother getting your resume in order first.
Exactly what Caesar wants you to do varies considerably as you progress through the game's mission structure, but it's inevitably a question of meeting some economic goal. Perhaps Caesar wants you to give him so much lumber, or produce so much food to feed his armies, or maybe he just wants you to build up a city of a certain size somewhere. Achieving these goals involves carefully managing what you put in your city and who you attract. As in the real Roman Empire life, your potential populace in Caesar IV is broken up into three social classes: plebians, equites and patricians. Plebians are your worker classes, able to accomplish manual labor and requiring little more than adequate food and shelter. Equites are your middle classes, who you have to turn to for skilled labor and accomplishing trade with foreign ports. Patricians don't work, but do bring a lot of wealth and prestige to a town if you can meet their demands for resources and luxuries. To accomplish Caesar's goals, you need to have enough of the right kind of person living in your town, which forces you to balance several factors at once while trying to complete a mission. You can't play with a single-minded focus on the mission goal, but must instead try to figure out how to grow your entire city such that it can fulfill the goal while still remaining self-sufficient and thriving. Some missions later in the game extend this principle, with goals that simply can't be fulfilled unless you've built your city (or cities) with an eye toward long-term sustainability as your primary goal.
The world of Caesar IV is one that is as historically accurate as one would want a video game about Roman times to be, so part of building a thriving city is creating structures that a modern city might not have a use for. You'll want temples to honor the various gods, coliseums for entertaining the populace, and other amenities, like marketplaces and public baths. Tilted Mill wasn't ready to tell us about all of the various benefits which buildings like this conferred, but was willing to go into the finer details of using temples. While Caesar IV is a mostly realistic world, the gods there influence what goes on in the way the Romans believed they once did. So if you build a lot of temples to Ceres, you'll get boosted agricultural output, while failing to build enough temples to Jupiter gets you lightning bolts hitting buildings. Each of the Roman deities grants a range of bonuses, although Jupiter mostly just sticks you with penalties if you let him slide too far down the list of gods you're honoring. You can use your temple constructions to concretely influence other aspects of the game both directly and indirectly, which is a typical example of how resource management in Caesar IV works.
Obviously, the graphical emphasis in Caesar IV is on being able to show the towns you build in enormous detail, with startlingly realistic atmospheric effects and a range of camera angles. You can watch your citizens go about their daily work and actually make a lot of your management decisions based off of the details of what their daily routine looks like. Happy citizens going about their work have what they need, while empty buildings signal trouble. Each building can be examined both inside and outside, and larger structures, like coliseums, tower over your other creations enormously. Building huge structures near water results in gorgeous reflection effects. Details of the landscape and building style change dramatically as you move to different areas of the Empire, ranging from Italy to Britain to North Africa. All told, it is a very pleasing, detailed set of visuals that perfectly match the deliberate style of gameplay, and requiring little more than a Pentium IV 1.5 processor and a GeForce 3 or better graphics card.
The ultimate goal of the game in Caesar IV is to get so good at running the Empire that you eventually displace Caesar himself. It's a fitting end to a game that is entirely focused on a cerebral, individual experience in an era when most games are growing increasingly frantic and dependent on multiplayer. Simulation games are still a mostly one-player affair, though, and Caesar IV is staying the course with the fundamentals of this genre. The interface may be a little RTS-ish and the emphasis on strategy and economy is a little different, but the rest will be nice and comfortable for simulation fans.
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