Many ages ago, a small village was founded alongside the Tiber river, in an area where seven hills rose from the marshland. This village would grow to become the most important capital of the ancient world -- but only under the guidance of a wise and just governor. By developing infrastructure, managing the economy, and protecting citizens, players can build a Rome of their own in Caesar IV; one mighty enough to rival the great metropolis of history and myth.
Will Wright's SimCity gets credit for establishing the "city-building" genre of computer games, but Impressions Software's original Caesar (along with the many Impressions-brand sequels and spin-offs that followed it) is fondly remembered for placing Wright's municipal-management premise in a fanciful, historical context. The Impressions studios have since disbanded, but some of their artists and programmers went on to found Tilted Mill, the creator of Caesar IV.
Caesar IV boasts a number of improvements over its immediate predecessor, which was originally released eight years earlier, including state-of-the-art graphics, more sophisticated citizen artificial intelligence, and greater control over combat. There are more goods to trade and more structures to build. Longtime fans of the series may relish the return of charismatic features such as the story-lined single-player campaign, the open-ended sandbox mode, and the chatty individual citizens who are more than willing to provide opinion regarding their governor's competence.
Caesar IV is a mixture of fun and ultimate length. Perhaps the most accurate comparison is Roller Coaster Tycoon only instead of building a thriving theme park you build a successful Roman city and have pixels criticize you no matter what you do.
Let's start off simple: in the scenarios given you're being tested as a governor, as Rome is looking for someone to take on larger projects (the later scenarios). You start off each one in pretty much the same way: a random road, a stock-pile of denarii (currency), an objective to complete, and a board of advisers who never let you forget the things you don't care about. So you pause, build up your city to what you think would be beneficial and could work. You'll need to make homes for different classes and make sure there's water available throughout the city, offices to prevent building collapse, fires, theft, and to collect taxes. After the essentials your people need entertainment; temples for the gods, bathhouses, education, jobs, and clinical help. You'd think that this would be pretty tedious, but in fact it's the greatest part of the game because of the challenge.
Well, after you've built everything - a bit much to take on for the beginning of a game if I say so myself - hit play and let the people walk on in. There are three different classes to account for: plebs, equites, and patricians (to be honest I find the partisans incredibly useless and the economy can be built without these people). Plebs are your miners, your loggers, your farmers - the laborers if you will, and the equites are your potters, your wine-makers, your clothing manufacturers - the skilled tradesmen. All of these goods be they raw or manufactured are sold in markets and through trade. The final class is that of the patrician who is incredibly wealthy and is angry unless they get the best of the best - again I found them quite useless and often best not to have in my city. I mentioned earlier that there's a board of advisers. These crafty fellows just eat away at your self esteem. Think you're doing well? These jerks will find at least twenty things wrong with how you're running your city. In the rare occasion you'll find a happy one - usually the trade member when you're utilizing all available trade routes. Of all, your Ratings Advisor will probably be your most useful influence as he is the one who holds your current standings and goals (Culture, Security, Prosperity, Rome's Favor and Population).
Everything about Caesar IV is lengthy, from the excruciating loading times to the beard you grow waiting for those loading times to finish. But that's not all - after much thought and pondering on what the point of the game is (besides making your city flourish in the eyes of Rome) I've come to the conclusion that the objective is waiting. Think about it: you're waiting to finish - you're waiting to make that city flourish. I mean, besides building the city at the beginning and maintaining it every so often as its needs and appointments increase, you're sitting there twiddling your thumbs and staring at the screen until you're faced with a problem - often solved by a couple of clicks of the mouse.
I guess that brings me to my point - a short game will leave you deeply dissatisfied. Yeah, you've completed the mission in an impressive amount of time, but what was the point in that? True, advancing to the next level is a plus, but that's more of the same - all you've done is put yourself in a position where you're tackling a different industry, different needs, different trade, and the same situations. Fine, you may not have a group of armed men run through your town rioting in some circumstances, but frankly I'd welcome them in if only to mix things up a bit.
There are a few things that will liven up your times though: certain things and revolutions will happen within your city, and to be frank I'm unsure if they're meant to. Sometimes my trade partners would stop trading with me and would just send ships back and forth between the cities. It was an odd phenomenon that kept me thinking while waiting to win. Another little quirk was the moving habits of the equite. The equite is a satisfaction whore. I say this because unless the equite is totally satisfied, they will leave your town. For example when my equites craved entertainment and left in mass numbers, I'd build an odeum and they'd flock into my city, build up their homes, stay for a few months, and scatter again until I decide to build another entertainment building. This charade continued for several hours until I finally won. Now, while these are weird, they tended to directly affect the actual game: when trade and equite labor plummeted, so did my prosperity and favor with Rome.
One thing I was quite impressed with was Caesar IV's graphical adjustment interface. It had pre-made settings (such as best performance and highest quality) and offered custom settings for shaders, water reflection, and all that other jazz. Visually I noticed a large change when messing with the settings although it tended to cause a bit of slowdown and sometimes freezing while playing even the lowest settings. That said, the highest quality while not the best out there, is quite well done and looks great. My only regret is being unable to play in those settings without choppy animation.
The game's sound isn't anything special: I consider the efforts mediocre. The background music fits and doesn't get old no matter how many times it loops - always a good sign. The voices of pretty much everyone on the other hand get old after hearing them twice. When I go into my board of advisers, I don't need to hear the same things said again and again - the red text does it enough for me. In addition, the people say things when you click on them which is a great feature. Again, their comments, however funny they are, get old quickly.
Overall Caesar IV is an interesting game to say the least. The gameplay is well-thought out and not confusing, but perhaps some more variety and gradual progression should have been elements as at the moment it's very limited. This game isn't for the gamer that enjoys a lot of action or a quick pace - you'll be sitting at the computer desk for a decent amount of time. A plus is that it doesn't really cause any frustration - it's a very smooth and calming game, and while it doesn't have the flashiest graphics or most mind-blowing audio effects, it's a quality title that I wish I had more time for. That said, there are many improvements and features that I would have liked to do in the game.
People who downloaded Caesar IV have also downloaded:
Caesar 3, Age of Empires III, Pharaoh and Cleopatra, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, 1701 A.D., Axis & Allies, Anno 1503: The New World, Age of Mythology
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