Civilization and Sim City are two franchises that any gamer will have come into contact with, whether it be through print, friends or actually having the games. The really hardcore will be able to measure the amount of time lost in these games in days, possibly stretching to weeks as they both have that quality that is sparsely scattered amongst games – they can hold your attention until you feel the physical side effects. They both actually make it worthwhile to sink an extra 2 hours into, whether its to watch some commercial shops to pop up in Sim City or to watch your empire expand through culture in Civilization. On the surface to a passer-by, it would seem pointless, a barely noticeable change to the fabric of the game but the gamer knows better. Putting the hours in opens up all new avenues for the game more possibilities, which just have to be explored, resulting inevitably in more hours.
Now, Fireaxis and Firefly thought it would be just dandy to mix both together to create one huge black hole and burn it to disc, ready to eat social lives and reduce household pets to skeletons of their former selves as they search for food, because you just have to reduce unemployment in your city and you will be damned if such a trivial task as feed an animal is going to get in the way.
Yes, there’s a mixture between the two franchises, but it seems to be a 70/30 split in favour of Sim City. The basics of the game are to create a sprawling Roman city, be it in a single mission or in the campaign, where several levels are needed to progress onto the next city while along the way new technologies, resources and research is available.
City planning is essential, as your people can only advance if commodities such as the granary, warehouse, meat and tunic shops, entertainment and religion are within their vicinity, viewable by clicking on a house which highlights a green circle to identify what is available to the people that live there. The circle is however, rather small, and early on you may find yourself struggling to fit everything that is necessary for a city to advance in ever cramping spaces. Thankfully, there is some rest bite provided whereby families can be relocated when they are ready to advance, the higher end of the accommodation being able to be placed over shops saving valuable space.
Immigrants will arrive at your city based on your population’s happiness level, which is controlled by factors such as unemployment, housing, wages, rations etc. Variables such as wages and rations can be increased to try and cancel out some of the negative effects. Let the happiness fall too far, and your people will begin to leave affecting your cities production and having knock on effects in terms of people being able to advance their housing. One of the most important variables is work hours, which can be increased to boost production or decreased of that the people have more time to collect the commodities they need to upgrade their house. Again, too little working hours will reduce production; too many will negatively effect happiness. It’s a fine line that needs to be closely monitored, as each housing level needs more resources than the last.
It’s definitely, on paper, an in-depth and complex way of advancing through the game but a simple click on a house will tell you why it is still stuck at the ‘medium hovel’ level. Simply fulfil the requirements it needs and it will begin to develop. Keep the granaries full of food, and the game becomes much simpler. The process of getting commodities to the people is also simple, such as build a flax farm to farm linen, build a Tunic shop to fashion the linen into…well…tunics. Sell these onto the people. Houses upgrade. That’s pretty much how the game works on that side. Sometimes on the missions the resources needed will not be available, so you must import them, which again is easy as it sounds. It’s not a bad thing that the game is easy to get into, just that it lacks the natural feel that Sim City has when you slowly progress through the game. CivCity is a bit more artificial, telling you exactly why what you want to happen isn’t.
Where simple = better, is the interface and development of urban areas is devilishly easy. The menu on the left requires one click, and then the menu that appears lists all the buildings available in this area, be it infrastructure or commerce. The in game menu also provides you with vital information such as why you’re people seem to be so manically depressed, and can give you a breakdown of housed citizens against vagrants. There is also measure of expectancy from Rome which tells you where they expect your city to rank, and where you currently rank. Research works the same as in Civilization, except this time there is no prompt from the game to commence new research, it requires players input.
There is a battle system implemented, but its nothing too grand. Building forts and garrisons for your troops for deployment are required, and the troops train automatically so that is already out of your hands. Units can be sent to intercept enemies before the arrive at your gates, but all in all it is a little obvious that this was implemented just to give the game a little more depth, a little more interactivity.
It looks and sounds pretty enough though, and you can actually watch your workers take the linen from the farm, and then sit at their machines and watch them weave. Clicking on a citizen will give a little sound bite or mumbling, whether it be the claim that ‘Those priests at the temple are earning a few denarii’, or the painfully plain view of an unhoused person, ‘I hate my life’.
CivCity: Rome is not a bad game, far from it. It is good at its heart, but there is less Civilization than gamers may have been hoping for. Workers simply fill jobs as they are created, you cannot tweak your industries as subtly as in Civ. The biggest chunk brought to the game seems to be a new Civilopedia about the Roman Empire, which interesting and informative in its own right, is not going to be the main drawing point of the game. The relation between buildings may not be complex, but it doesn’t make the game too easy, there are still challenges of city planning and happiness to contend against. It may not fit the hopes and expectance that a Civilization-meets-Sim City game could have offered, but it is still a city building game worthy of your interest.