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CivCity: Rome (PC) artwork

CivCity: Rome (PC) review

"With your first attempts at construction, you can only make tiny huts barely suitable for habitation. Residents demand a well, but they’ll only travel so far to reach it (apparently, crossing the entire city is just too much of a hassle and will prompt them to move to a city other than yours for the sake of eventual convenience)."

It’s kind of difficult to review CivCity: Rome because it’s taking two great things--Civilization IV and SimCity--and mixing them, yet not really resulting in anything particularly remarkable. The game is neither astonishingly good nor bad in any noteworthy sort of way. Instead, it’s just one of those experiences that you’ll probably enjoy if you give it a shot, but that you won’t particularly miss if you don’t.

Essentially, the game works like SimCity. You’re given control over the development of an entire city with a finite amount of space. In this case, you’re on the Italian peninsula and you’re trying to build the next great civilization in the form of a single metropolis. You’ll start with a town center and build up around that, so that you quickly move from making use of resources like marble, stone, timber and iron to just collecting taxes while deciding what buildings go where.

The only two things that really prevent this from being a straight SimCity clone are the time period in which everything takes place, and the fact that as you build, you’ll be able to research technologies that help your city grow more conveniently (you know, like in Civilization IV). That’s either good if you liked the games that serve as the obvious source material, or bad if you’ve played them so much you’re sick of them.

In the event that you fall into the former camp, well, that’s when CivCity: Rome becomes your game. That’s when you’ll enjoy placing housing close to the mines so that the workers have a place to ply their craft while you see to everything else. That’s when you’ll consider whether you have enough space to place a vineyard within range of the warehouse so that nearby wineries can grab some grapes to make their elixir. On and on it goes, with every choice you make building on the next.

The need to build everything up is paramount, of course. That’s where things become a little bit of a see-saw. With your first attempts at construction, you can only make tiny huts barely suitable for habitation. Residents demand a well, but they’ll only travel so far to reach it (apparently, crossing the entire city is just too much of a hassle and will prompt them to move to a city other than yours for the sake of eventual convenience). So you build the well, but you’re not getting enough taxes from the pathetic shacks nearby and then you see that residents want someplace nearby that they can shop for sexy tunics. Only you can’t just build a tunic shop, or else where would the fabric come from? So you have to build a place where you can grow the flax first, and you have to hope it’s near enough to the vendor to be of use, and that—well, maybe you’re starting to get the idea.

CivCity: Rome is full of moments like that, which you must keep in check while you’re also making sure technology is sufficiently researched. And if you don’t, then you don’t collect enough in taxes and suddenly you can’t build. And because you can’t build, your population reaches an unnatural plateau and suddenly fate is conspiring against you while your city turns into an ancient ghost town. The very real possibility of that happening at any second is what adds tension to an otherwise slow-paced game. It can be downright exciting.

With that said, the game falls short of the mark in other areas. While it’s fun to look at your city and the way the residents wander about performing their basic duties, the bustling feel you might expect isn’t quite there. It’s more like an old game of Populous, where you see a few people wandering around and they’re indicative of the city’s health as a whole. There’s something to be said for that and the detail in some of the attractions (like how the geese play on the goose farm before they are slaughtered to feed your city’s most wealthy inhabitants), but at the same time there are moments where disappointment settles in. You look at an arena and a slain warrior melts into the ground, or you zoom in on a building and the textures look washed out. This is true even on “High” graphical settings.

The audio department does about as well as its visual brother. Digitized voice work sounds British, not Roman, and there are annoying reminders every time something changes within your city. You’ll be told whenever there’s an upward swing or a downward one in the happiness among your city’s residence. That should be useful, but it frustrates more than anything. The last thing you need when you’re trying to focus is a chipper voice telling you that your efforts are doomed and you’d dang well better do something about it. Rousing music provides more acceptable aural representation, but even that ends up feeling like the Roman equivalent of elevator music, and it doesn’t seem to be linked to the on-screen action for the majority of the time.

Even so, CivCity: Rome ends up being a rather fun experience despite its faults, if only because it chose the right games to mimic. It’s difficult to recommend it at a full-price purchase, but it’s also true that there aren’t an abundance of simulation titles with this obvious pedigree. CivCity: Rome might not deserve to be the first game on your shopping list, but excluding it entirely would be a grievous oversight indeed.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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