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There Is This great word, 'synergy1, which, although it has been hijacked by marketing people who gesticulate unnecessarily and drink too much double espresso, describes perfectly the events and decisions that very probably led to the release of CivCity: Rome. Fittingly, the concept probably arose out of some brainstorming meeting by marketing executives looking to capitalise on established brands, in light of the fact that the Rome dollar is real big right now.1 The name first pops into the head of one of them and, bingo, a perfect example of brand extension is bom. "Hey, don't we own Sid Meier now? asks 2K Games' hip marketing dude in the peach turtleneck and sandies. "And those Firefly boys aren't doing much, are they?"
So Firefly get an email to dust off the Stronghold 2 engine. Sid gets a diplomatic envoy telling him, "The console changeover necessitates we resource brand harvesting in light of the technology flux,' or something, and the design document is written: 'Put together a city-building resource-management game, stick a Civ-style Civopedia in there and get Sid to talk about it in press interviews.' Job done.
"Dude, that name is so cool," salivates Hip Dude's minion. 'Civ... Between SimCity and CivCity. It's perfect Where d'you get 'em from?" "They just flow, man. Let's lunch."
What's In A Name?
OK, so that may not be an accurate history of CivCity's conception and development, but what I have here on my hard drive is a city-building resource-management game set during the Roman period, with a trademark Civ-style Civopedia neatly tacked on. It's one of a veritable legion of similar games asking you to do the same thing: build a shack on the banks of the Tiber and finish up 20 hours later (or 200 - depending on how difficult you find such things), with a sprawling network of farms, houses, shops and various places where animals and humans are slaughtered in the name of entertainment Initially, the appeal is the association with the great Civilization, but really you'd have to be pretty gullible to be suckered into thinking this is anything but a Rome-flavoured sequel to Firefly's own Stronghold. That in itself is no bad thing (and let's not forget Firefly had a hand in the venerable Caesar series), because if there was one aspect Stronghold excelled in, it was building cities. CivCity does too, and it goes a step further by letting you in on the daily lives of your citizens. This voyeuristic approach is nothing new, and while you wouldn't really want to watch Gaius Pompus hacking up sheep and buying bread for too long, it's a calming facet of the game that helps foster a degree of care for your CivSims. (Hang on a minute, there's another game right there. I'm in the wrong job.)
All the erection options one expects in such games are present and correct and I'm not going to maul through all the things you must do to win (since placing a well so that it services a maximum number of houses is pretty much universal). Suffice to say that while the process might appear rather mundane and the interaction between buildings and people pretty much Standard, it's to the credit of the developers that getting on with business is a piece of piss. The 3D camera zooms and rotates as 3D cameras should, icons are well placed and perfectly sized, and information is easy to dig out to help you gauge whether people ire happy. Moreover, where other games force you to build extravagant cities on less than solid foundations, so as to have the whole lot come crashing down when one toilet cleaner decides to downsize, here you can insist Romans change jobs and therefore make sure the olives get picked - even if it means there's one less barber in town.
Scene It Before
Of course, being part of an empire means there are other towns and cities about the place, and trading with them Ba necessary part of the game. A trading centre will allow you to set up routes with nearby towns, while a port is required to swap goods with those on other shores. You don't get to see much, but you at least feel part of a Browing empire rather than an isolated governor sitting in a bedsit playing a computer game.
The same 2D map is required when sending troops out of town to defend against barbarian incursions. Again, there's not much to gawp at, but should the unwashed, ill-tempered ranks of your enemy ever reach the city gates, you can at least call out your legions and deal with them. Combat isn't on a par with Total War, or even Stronghold 2 for that matter, more akin to the process of putting out fires, but then if you were into blood and guts, I doubt you'd have read this far.
To The Lions
Talking of blood and guts, CiVCity is rather sterile and having built a Colosseum in which to stage gladiator duels, it's disappointing not to have claret flowing through the streets, as was often the case back in the day - at least that's what it says in the Civopedia. Perhaps for the typical Roman, the arenas were just places to watch a bit of reality programming -but in more modern times we expect them to be the epicentre of heroism and romance-fuelled action. Damn that Ridley Scott.
Synergy aside, CivCity: Rome is a wonderfully engaging game; striking in its ease of use and rewarding in terms of depth. Stronghold offered a wider menu of gameplay styles, but all too often fell apart in trying to pull so much together. By comparison, CivCity is quite lightweight. Rarely should you have to read the manual, yet rarely will you feel detached. Away from the Easy difficulty setting there's always some matter that needs attention, and in that regard maybe Caesar Sid had more of a hand in the game than we might have given him credit for.
Download CivCity: Rome
CivCity: Rome is an attractive package that hints at a connection with the mega-selling Civilization franchise. Right off, it should be said, there is no game play connection. How could there be, really? This game is a pure city building exercise with more in common to Pharaoh, the Caesar games, Tropico and Sim City than with the epic turn-based, clash-of-civs strategy game.
CivCity: Rome includes a tutorial campaign, some free-form Single Missions in various pre-built terrains and a Map Editor. The files created with the straight-forward Map Editor go right onto the Single Mission menu list, so it's easy to whack up your own map and start a game on it ASAP.
Graphics, of course, are excellent. Audio is perspective-governed, depending on what you're near and how close you are to it; and there's the expected heroic orchestral and choral soundtrack music. All in all, in these areas there's not much more than previous efforts in the ancient city building genre.
The main Campaign introduces concepts as you make your way up the promotion ladder in the service of Caesar. As governor of various provincial towns, you'll build some from scratch and step in to improve others. All the while the in-game messages hint that a shot at the Big Town may be in your future.
Progress is measured by, it soon becomes apparent, the level of lifestyle improvement of your individual citizens, as signified by upgrades to their house, which starts out as a Shack. Housing in an area will improve if it's within walking-distance to goods and amenities. For instance, to make the first jump from a Shack you need well water, and the occupant of the Shack must be able to walk to it. Click on the Shack and a green diameter circle will aid in placing a well. Place the well itself and as soon as the resident walks to it and back home with a jug of water the improvement happens. The Shack becomes a Small Hovel. Add a source of meat in the diameter and the Small Hovel becomes a Medium one. This is the way all the improvements work. You can place an amenity, but until the citizen actually uses it, the improvement is only a potential one. Also, if it's a shop, it must have some of the product it offers on hand.
There is a basic user interface design flaw that should never reach a product in this day and age. The software has no autosave setting that we could find, and on the Game Menu is an Exit button. This button gives no opportunity to back off an inadvertent click. It immediately exits, and you lose all progress since your last manual save. Hopefully this will be corrected in a later version, but in a game where progress is all, losing it all so suddenly is a big discouragement.
Sadly, its similarity to earlier titles and it's somewhat mechanical game play, this one gets a Fans Only for fans of city sims and fans of all things ancient or ancient Roman.