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Imperium Romanum (PC) artwork

Imperium Romanum (PC) review

"This very entertaining RTS gives you the chance to manage one of the many cities that prospered under the Roman Empire, or even Rome itself, with the added advantage that nobody even tries to assassinate you."

Rome was not built in a day, but in Imperium Romanum you can pretend it was! This very entertaining RTS gives you the chance to manage one of the many cities that prospered under the Roman Empire, or even Rome itself, with the added advantage that nobody even tries to assassinate you.

The first thing to note, and one that I personally couldnít be happier about, is that for a RTS game Imperium greatly downplays the role of combat. Wars and battles have always been for me a chore I put up with in order to enjoy the rest of the RTS game in question, so as soon as you give me a realistic option of never even building a set of barracks itíll take me all of two seconds to shrug and move on to building another housing district. This is just as well, because Imperium does not do war very well; your control over your army is basically reduced to whether you have one or not, and actual combat interaction boils down to tell one or more of your squadron the general direction in which you would like them to attack, you know, if itís all right with them. I suspect some of the developers here agreed with my distaste for RTS battles. It was probably a company executive pushing for the warfare; ďCímon, guys, give me something I can put on the coverĒ.

Saying that by taking away all the army stuff weíre left only with the city management is like saying that we only get the fun. As a city-building sim Imperium is satisfyingly deep, and as complex and as neatly organised as the clockwork of a Swiss watch: great thought must go into city planning, as the placement of water resources, housing, support structures and leisure centres will heavily affect the development of life in any given area afterwards. The gathering of resources here takes a second place to how you refine them and what you do with them.

But your work does not end when you finish the last building in a nice, tidy neighbourhood. Your mission, far from over, will then have to do with managing the cityís human and economic resources to ensure that your community does not break into riots, crime, or simple inefficiency. Prosperous cities will need more services (such as bakeries), which will need resources (such as wheat), which will have to come from certain structures (such as farms) which will need new workers, who will need new houses, which will need to have sufficient supplies of water, sanitation and entertainment. Juggling all these things together requires skill, patience and concentration. As your citizens become more sophisticated, they might start demanding more wine; you could build more vineyards, but that would imply building more houses for the workers, and you just know that youíll end up building a whole new neighbourhood as a result. So you can simply go to your trading post and, because youíve slowed down your expansion, stop buying marble and start buying wine instead.

Believe me when I say that itís very easy to become immersed in building, expanding and then micro-managing a single city. Itís happened to me to start a city during daytime and have the sun set on me while I planned where to place the Coliseum. Okay, so here in London the sun can set on you during a game of solitaire, so youíll just have to take my word that I played that single stage for a couple hours. For proof of this depth, look no further than the mode that simply lets you play in your city without any objectives whatsoever. For a more engaging game, though, you can choose from a wide range of missions that in turn have a series of objectives to fulfill. In one mission the challenge may lie in the physical placement of the city, whereas another mission may give you all the space you need and even extra resources but burden you with difficult per capita wealth benchmarks. Barbarian-conquering missions also exist, because there are certain things in the universe that cannot be made to change.

Imperiumís presentation, much like its gameplay, is solid and effective. All buildings look detailed and realistic, to the point where itís occasionally difficult to distinguish certain production structures from others. You know how other games will strive to differentiate buildings and go as far as having the butcherís shop built in the shape of a merry pigís head? You wonít find that here, and while the result is a sober and historically accurate aesthetic it also becomes a bit repetitive with time. That aside, itís a pleasure to see a residential neighbourhood progress from a collection of wooden houses with dirt tracks to blocks of stone-walled villas connected by clean-looking cobblestone roads.

Those who are looking for hot sword-wielding action and arenít particularly interested in classical history will probably be bored playing Imperium; for me, this is as good as RTSs get. Iím more than happy to trade a squadron of elven archers fighting goblins for a growing city whose economy I can see evolving from primary resource collection to a service-centred well-being state.

MartinG's avatar
Freelance review by Martin G (March 06, 2008)

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