IGN Review of CivCity: Rome
Back when SimCity and Civilization were released, my buddies and I used to imagine how cool it would be if someone could combine the cool empire building concepts of Civilization with the urban planning model of SimCity. While gamers probably still aren't ready for an MMO where an elected president manages an empire of various cities, each run by separate players, the gang at Firefly have brought the two games together with CivCity: Rome it doesn't incorporate enough of the franchise's concepts to set it apart from other ancient-city builders on the market.
In brief, CivCity: Rome lets players take charge of an entire Roman city, either in a progressive campaign that starts you off with the basics, or in a number of single missions that present the player with a specific objective or opportunity. The campaign has a nice flow to it and even allows players to branch off in new directions. Peacetime missions typically present you with a growth challenge, tasking you with gaining a certain population or level of housing. Military missions throw in the added challenge of fending off enemy attacks as well. There's also a rather substantial editor for players who'd like to create their own challenges.
At the start of most missions you'll have to place your town center. This forms the hub of your city and the starting point for citizens looking for jobs and housing. As new citizens arrive, you'll have to provide them with employment and a place to live. Once you've managed to meet your city's more commonplace needs for farms, water and textiles, you'll have to provide them with education, relaxation and entertainment. As with most city builders, making sure each neighborhood has access to all the commodities it needs is the primary challenge. The variety of items required by the most advanced households will require you to fit a wide variety of services into a very compact area.
The transition from raw material to useable commodity usually only involves one step. Only in rare cases will you have to manage anything more complicated than a two-step process. Even the early wheat farm-mill-baker chain seems a little thin. The only really complicated process is getting chariots ready for the circus but that doesn't even come into play until fairly late in the game. At least it's more complicated than the scheme in Glory of the Roman Empire.
While it might have been nice to see a few more steps in producing some of the commodities, the real challenge of the game is provided by the rather limited range that most citizens and traders will travel to get the goods they need. Selecting a house or shop will reveal a green circle that shows which other buildings are within range. The good produced by your shops will be delivered to nearby houses. Once a house has access to all the resources it needs, it will upgrade to the next level of housing and acquire additional needs. Since higher quality houses require more goods, they'll be served by buildings in a wider radius. The highest-level buildings will even buy their own slaves to help out with the resource collection.
To help you accommodate everyone's changing needs, CivCity Rome even allows you to relocate houses. This way you can put families closer to their jobs and the goods they need. In fact, you'll actually have to relocate families once they reach certain housing stages. When a Roman family is ready to trade in their current housing for insulae or villas, you'll be notified by a small green arrow. Just click on the relocate button and you'll have a chance to move them to a new area. This gives you a chance to rethink some of your neighborhoods without requiring you to demolish and displace existing structures.
In Civilization, your population grows in proportion to your food surplus. New citizens continue to appear as long as you're producing more food than you currently need. Things don't work that way in CivCity. New citizens immigrate to your country based on your city's overall happiness level and you'll have to adjust your food production to meet the needs of the increased population. To be sure, a surplus of food will increase city happiness but you'll need to order your citizens to consume more rations than necessary in order to enjoy the increased happiness.
You can also boost happiness by adjusting the proportion of work and free time for your citizens. While it would be nice to be able to shut certain industries on and off (like closing down olive presses when you need to staff up at the more essential services like butchers or weavers), adjusting the overall work hours is probably one of the most important decisions you'll make.
With more free time, your citizens will have more opportunity to collect the items they need to upgrade their houses. Of course, if people spend less time at their jobs, the production of goods will decrease while the consumption will increase. Finding the right balance between labor and leisure requires careful observation and, since each new housing stage requires more resources than the last, it's something you'll need to stay on top of throughout the game.
A variety of summary screens give you a good sense of the overall health of your city. While checking on your revenue and prestige is required from time to time, the most meaningful screen in the whole game lets you see what factors are affecting your citizens' happiness. Changing the tax rate or the rations for your people offers a quick way to change things around but there are plenty of other factors to consider here, from the creation of wonders to the level of housing.
Like most recent city building games, CivCity: Rome comes with a nominal military element. Far from being Total War, the military aspect of the game merely requires you to build forts to house troops and the armories to equip them. The forts automatically train and garrison troops whom you can then direct around the city with a minimum of clicks. Unfortunately, the mouse interface doesn't really allow for accurate clicking of mobile enemies, so you'll often find yourself frustrated in your attempts to clear enemies out of your cities. Even worse, the game doesn't allow you to center on enemy activity when it occurs so you'll have to scour the map trying to find the bad guys.
Troops can also be sent out into the wider world to intercept enemy forces before they arrive at your doorstep. More importantly, troops can be sent to conquer certain enemy cities and bring them into the Empire. Not only does this give you a bit of prestige back at the Senate but it also opens up new trading partners.
CivCity: Rome is definitely full of Roman flavor, something that can't be said for the recent Glory of the Roman Empire. While the latter felt generic, CivCity: Rome is undeniably Roman through and through. Not only are the structures and commodities designed to heighten your appreciation and understanding of Roman life, but even your citizens will mouth off now and then to give you insight into topics as diverse as makeup and warfare. If you crave more information, the Civilopedia and the manual offer some interesting commentaries on the buildings and activities of a Roman's daily life.
While it gets the Roman subject matter right, CivCity: Rome just doesn't take full advantage of the Civilization franchise. First, I was a little disappointed that the game didn't allow for more Civ-style labor management. In the Civ series, you had to assign your citizens to plots of land and that would determine your agricultural, industrial and commercial outputs. There's no such labor assignment here. While it makes sense that people will fill the specific jobs as they're created, it seems like the developers are missing out on a opportunity by not allowing you to weight the labor force towards a particular industry. While we're on the subject of citizen jobs, the developers have managed to include Civ standards like priests and entertainers but seem to have left out the tax collectors.
The Wonders also work a little differently than they do in Civilization. I was expecting the Wonders here to confer specific and practical benefits to your city. Perhaps the Great Lighthouse would generate a steady stream of resources from all your trading partners. Maybe the Great Library would fulfill all your city's educational needs. Instead, the great Wonders merely increase your city's prestige.
The interface is relatively clean and simple to use. Buildings are grouped by type on the left of the screen and you can grab and drop them with ease. You can only rotate the buildings in 90-degree increments so your cities will be very structured but there are enough variations in terms of hills and coastlines to break up the grids.
Taller buildings tend to get in the way from time to time, so I'd really like to have been able to tilt the camera up or down or simply have the walls of the obstructing building temporarily vanish when the cursor moves behind them. Tall buildings also make it tricky to select the right buildings from time to time. It seems as if the buildings occupy a small area around them so, even if you're clicking on part of a structure, you may still end up selecting the building in front of it.
The graphics are very pleasant. Some might not like the bright and colorful style but it adds loads of life and character to the game. Watching the shopkeepers go about their day, stocking their tables as citizens come by to collect goods definitely gives the game a human scale that just can't be appreciated from the zoomed out perspective that you'll use to plan the layout of the city.
The game purports to offer a window into the Romans' daily lives, but the camera angle prevents you from looking down into the huts and villas so you'll really only be able to observe what goes on in the streets and the larger buildings. Even then, there's not much activity.
A wide variety of sounds increase the sense of life and activity here. While it's nice to hear subtle ambient sounds scattered here and there, the real star of the sound design are the wonderful comments offered by your citizens. Whenever you select a citizen, you're sure to hear something that rings true to the Roman character.
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