Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom
|a game by||BreakAway Games Ltd.|
|User Rating:||9.0/10 - 2 votes|
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|See also:||Simulator Games|
The last person to walk into the middle of a field in China, plant a flagpole and declare: "I will build a great city here," was probably subjected to eight months of intensive anti-bourgeois conditioning and Maoist revolutionary indoctrination. But it was not always so.
In fact, it was precisely this kind of urban entrepreneurship that elevated China, the Middle Kingdom in question, to the position of the pre-eminent power on the Asian continent. And it’s from this humble starting point that you must construct a series of sprawling, thriving conurbations in this, the latest city-building extravaganza from the people who brought us Zeus and Caesar.
As anyone familiar with said predecessors will tell you, this particular dynasty of townplanning behemoths is at the intricate end of the God game spectrum. You are charged with constructing and running a city, while at the same time conducting diplomacy, trade and espionage with neighbours. It's an RTS with virtually no combat. Something like a hugely complex, though pacified version of Age Of Empires.
The game spans 3,000 years from around 2000BC to 1000AD in China, tracking its emergence as a powerful empire. A typical mission starts with you the master of nothing more than a plot of unclaimed land. From here, you must erect the buildings and create the conditions necessary to entice legions of settlers to flock to your new town to live, work and pay you taxes.
This process generally begins with the humble road. Next to this you will then set up some housing space. Wells for water, lookout towers for safety and hunters’ lodges and fishing huts will soon follow, as will a mill and a market place to process and distribute the foodstuffs you are rapidly gathering. From here you go on to setting up farms, warehouses, workshops, schools, shrines, and finally great monuments such as wondrous temples and expansive palaces.
But getting from a bunch of humble hovels to a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis of princely pagodas is no walk in the park. In fact it’s a painstaking though thoroughly absorbing process that will steal hours from under your very nose.
Attempting the tutorials gives you an idea of what you’re up against, as these elaborate and extensive training missions take longer to complete than some entire games. Sure, those familiar with the other games in the series will be able to wing it and skip them, but for anyone new to the whole thing, there's no other way than to bite the bullet and learn the hard way.
There are many factors at play in your metropolis, including everything from the influence religions and differing seasonal crop types on your people, to the variety of food available. Residents get pissed off if their neighbourhood is too close to busy markets or warehouses, and watchtowers have to be maintained to prevent fires or civil unrest. And that's just the tip of a Titanic-sinker of an iceberg.
This being feudal China and all. superstition and magic play a large role in events. Before you construct a building you have to consider feng shui and check to see if it will be in 'harmony’ with its surroundings. Wandering mythical heroes can be enticed into your city to spread prosperity and aid with its defence should you offer them enough gifts. And you even have to keep an eye on the Chinese Zodiac to see when you are due a year of good fortune. All the buildings are nicely drawn, and the animations are full of character. It’s easy to whittle away the time waiting for your emissary to return from a far off land by watching peddlers flogging their wares, fishermen struggling to land their catches and farmers sowing and harvesting their crops as they come into season. It’s not going to give your graphics card any problems, but it does the job well enough.
Love Thy Neighbour
It’s not only your own, precious city that you have to worry about out here in China’s vast hinterland, as a click of a mouse takes you to a map of Asia where neighbouring cities are shown.
The first thing you’ll want to do, naturally enough, is invade the damn things, but pretty soon you realise that not only is putting together an army easier said than done, but there are other, more fruitful ways to interact with them. Try trading, for example. You could buy in the wheat that is not sustainable in the harsh desert clime of your own town, or import the expensive jade that your artisans need to craft into trinkets to satisfy the elaborate tastes of your more affluent residents.
Your military options are limited, and the combat system is pretty facile. The saving grace is that military matters are only a sideshow here, and the economic and town-planning strategies at the heart of the game more than make up for the lack of military tactics.
With seven historical campaigns containing almost 50 missions, Emperor boasts more longevity than the Great Wall itself. And that's not mentioning the skirmish mode and the all-new multiplayer mode allowing up to eight players to attempt to out-build each other. So if you're a builder, not a fighter, and you’ve got a spare couple of weeks, then this is one of the best God games we’ve seen in a long while.
Download Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Breakaway’s long standing City Building Series now stands at three Caesars, a Pharaoh and a Zeus. Next up is Emperor, and it has a distinctly oriental flavour, taking place in China between 300 BC and 1000 AD, just before the invasion of Ghengis Khan.
So why the continental shift? According to producer Jon Payne: "We’d had a lot of fans asking for it. Also it seemed like a good move to change the setting out of the Mediterranean, somewhere a little more exotic, new and interesting for a lot of gamers. It’s a period that people are less familiar with so therefore there’s a little bit more education to do. Everyone’s familiar with ancient Egypt, the pyramids and whatnot, whereas with China, aside from the Great Wall, people aren’t as familiar with a lot of things that the Chinese did, despite the fact that their civilisation probably had more innovations and inventions than almost any other civilisation that started at the same time period."
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha
Ancient China certainly offers a lot visually, and Impressions is taking advantage of this. As Jon says: "It's great because it’s a new direction, a lot richer, more vibrant. We're trying to get away from the whole columns look that we had, especially with Caesar III and Zeus." It still looks like it’s using the same engine though. Come on man, this is the 21st century. "It’s new... er... We modified the graphics engine so we get about 30 per cent more pixel real estate per grid now." What? "It just allows a higher level of detail."
Right. It also allows the debut of multiplayer components, with up to eight players duking it out, or even collaborating on such projects as The Great Wall. Jon isn’t promising an orgy of violence though, claiming "there will be some element of combat in it, but it’s more about the world level, with trade and diplomacy. Trying to get alliances, do a little backstabbing and spying." Believe it or not, Emperor will also feature Feng Shui, quite possibly a first in gaming. Fortunately this doesn’t extend to arranging scatter cushions in an eyecatching manner - it means you’ll have to give your city design some thought. The harmonious arrangement of objects in relation to their environment must be taken into consideration, and efficiently designed cities with beautiful structures will give you a higher Feng Shui level.
And if that’s not barmy (or meaningful) enough for you, players will also get to choose an animal to represent themselves while they play, and will subsequently receive benefits based on that creature’s role in the Chinese Zodiac. Bagsy the monkey.