CivCity: Rome PC DVD-ROM

Published by 2K Games
Developed by Firefly Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

CivCity: Rome, an introduction.

For fans of ancient history city building games it’s been fairly uneventful over the last few years. Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile was about the only title to arrive in recent times. However 2006 is about to go ancient history city building game crazy with not one but three games arriving this year. If you’re a fan of Roman flavoured games then 2006 will be particularly memorable as all of the games to be released this year will be based on ancient Rome. Of course the title that stands out most of all is Caesar IV. The third in the series was a true gaming classic and it’s only natural city building fans eagerly await the fourth in the series. Glory of the Roman Empire has already arrived and it’s an enjoyable city building game that does things a little differently. Here we have the dark horse of the three, CivCity: Rome, a game claiming to be set in the world of Sid Meier’s Civilization.

What’s the game about?

Out of the three Roman city building games to arrive this year perhaps the one most people knew the least about was CivCity: Rome. The promised Sid Meier’s Civilization elements certainly aroused our interest and we couldn’t wait to play the game. Having played the game for a week now it’s perhaps a little surprising the game is a city builder in the same vein as the Caesar series with some new additions thrown in for good measure. Like the previous Caesar games it’s a single-player only title (as most city builders are) but this is certainly no bad thing. The game may seem, and to some degree feel, like a Caesar game but thanks to the research and the impressive number of accurate looking Roman buildings on offer, CivCity: Rome definitely has its own unique charm.

What’s good about the game?

Glory of the Roman Empire has been criticised in some quarters for its rather weak Roman flavour with some critics claiming it’s more of a generic city builder. We certainly wouldn’t go that far but we have to admit CivCity: Rome has a far stronger Roman flavour to it. Even when your cities are in their infancy they look and feel much more like how you would expect a Roman city to be. The game is also more reminiscent of Caesar III than Glory of the Roman Empire. There’s more urgency in the game play although it’s not quite the juggling act that Caesar III was. Thankfully the campaign offers more of a challenge than the one found in Glory of the Roman Empire and just like Caesar III the campaign includes a few missions to let you get used to how it plays, before splitting off into economic and military branches and it’s completely up to you which route you move forward with. As well as the campaign there is a nice collection of standalone missions and you also have access to a map and mission editor so you can create your own missions.

Comparisons aside though CivCity: Rome is a very enjoyable game with some innovations of its own.  Residences can be moved whenever you want so if you decide that one would stand more of a chance of evolving in a different location you can simply move the home to wherever there is space for it. In fact as your residences evolve to specific stages, you will be required to move them. A large hut, for example, has to be placed on top of a shop when it’s ready to evolve to an Insulaee. A Domus will also need to relocated before it becomes a Villa. An upward pointing arrow indicates that a residence is ready to be relocated. As in Caesar III your residences will evolve and devolve according to the amount of goods and services that are available to the residents. Residents will only walk a certain distance for goods and services so you have to be careful how you lay your city out.

It says on the game packaging that CivCity: Rome is ‘A city-builder game in the world of Sid Meier’s Civilization !’ The only connections with the legendary Civilization series are the method of research and the placing of wonders in your city. This doesn’t matter though as in my opinion these two inclusions work really well and compliment the traditional city building game play. At the top of the screen there is a research bar that when clicked will allow you to research one of the technologies on offer. As in the Civilization games, these technologies not only increase performance they unlock further, more advanced technologies. Researching Mathematics (which increases tax revenue by 10%) allows you to research Engineering (which gives smoother roads and makes citizens move 10% quicker on them) and eventually you’ll be able to research Mosaic Working (allows you to build aqueducts and cisterns for free) which is quite a big bonus. Tool Making (increases wood output by 20%) eventually leads to Lead Working (which allows a single cistern to pump clean water all around your city). Naturally the more advanced technology you research, the more expensive it is but they offer greater advantages to your city. Another advantage of research is that specific technologies allow you to build wonders. These large structures, that mostly require oodles of stone, give benefits such as permanent increases to your populations happiness rating and also to your civilization rating.

City happiness is very important in CivCity: Rome. Should it fall below zero you’ll have citizens packing their bags and leaving so you have to try and keep them happy. Lack of housing, high unemployment, lack of technological advancement and bad news from elsewhere within the Roman Empire are just some of the factors that will upset your citizens and cause you problems in balancing their happiness. In fact balancing your citizens happiness rating is one of the game’s main challenges and even though you’ll have a variety of objectives that you have to complete in order to  complete missions, keeping everyone happy is more often than not the biggest challenge.

What’s not so good about the game?

There are a few problems with CivCity: Rome at present. Perhaps the most troublesome one is the bug that occurs when running the game at resolutions above 1024×768. When playing at screen resolutions higher than 1024×768, you can’t just click on buildings. You find yourself hovering the mouse pointer a few inches away from the desired building and watching for the building you want to be highlighted before clicking. This feels very awkward and makes deleting buildings and roads a nightmare. It also makes directly selecting citizens virtually impossible. There is no undo button so if you mistakenly delete a building (which is quite easy to do in resolutions above 1024×768) it’s gone forever. The game has some of the annoyances of previous city building games. You might have a baths next to a residence which for some reason won’t evolve because its occupants have no access to any baths. This can be annoying when the residents in the homes right next to this ‘deprived’ household have complete access to the baths. The camera angles don’t zoom out enough to allow you to effectively place buildings once your city becomes heavily populated. I would have also liked greater control over warehouses and granaries as well as the ability to have more than one item traded at the trading depots and ports.  Keeping unemployment problems to a minimum also feels awkward. Providing more jobs and homes leads to more vagrants arriving in the city. It’s a situation that seems to keep you constantly over supplied with workers and thus unhappiness problems due to unemployment  are never far away in CivCity: Rome.

How does it look?

I daresay ancient history city building fans will draw comparisons between Glory of the Roman Empire, CivCity: Rome and Caesar IV and on this basis CivCity: Rome is probably the weakest of the three in terms of its graphical quality. That’s not to say the game looks poor though. In fact the game looks more than good enough for a game of this nature. CivCity: Rome allows you to see inside your buildings. Simply zooming in close enough will cutaway the building walls and allow you to see your citizens going about their activities in their homes and bathhouses etc.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

CivCity: Rome could be better for deaf gamers. Mission briefings are delivered verbally before going to a screen where text for the essential part of the dialogue is displayed. Thankfully you can skip the verbal briefing but it’s a shame the text isn’t on the same screen. Mission objectives, tutorial messages and hints are shown in text. Occasionally between missions you’ll have small movie clips and these aren’t subtitled, so you’ll miss out on these completely. Thankfully though they aren’t too important. During missions there is plenty of speech that is unsubtitled. Verbally you’ll be warned when your finances are running low, when people are leaving your city, when there is no more granary or warehouse space, none of which is subtitled. From time to time you’ll receive verbal messages  from the likes of Nero, Attila the Hun, Brutus and many more and none of these messages are shown in text although you can get the gist of what’s been said from looking at your city happiness report screen. Clicking on your citizens results gives you a line of dialogue which again isn’t subtitled. None of these omissions harm the game in any serious way but it’s a shame these comments couldn’t have been subtitled.

Final thoughts.

There’s no doubt in our mind that CivCity: Rome is a better game than Glory of the Roman Empire although they are quite different experiences. The campaign is more focused and challenging, the game has a more authentic Roman look and feel to it and the ability to research Civ style, to improve the performance and productivity of your city all adds up to a very enjoyable gaming experience. Unfortunately deaf gamers will miss out on a lot of the dialogue within the game and that’s disappointing. The lack of an undo button and the problematic selecting of buildings when playing the game at resolutions above 1024×768 is also unfortunate (although it appears Firefly Studios are going to rectify this in the game’s first patch). On the whole though I’ve really enjoyed CivCity: Rome despite the few issues I have with the game.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

We’ve now played two of the three Roman city buildings games that are due to arrive this year and CivCity: Rome is the best one so far. Despite a few issues such as the lack of an undo features and problematic selection of buildings at resolutions above 1024×768, CivCity: Rome manages to be an addictive experience. The few Civilization features that are here do manage to add to the experience. It could have been better for deaf gamers though.