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Meet the new Caesar, same as the old Caesar -- though thatís not a bad thing.
True, Rome wasnít built in the day, but the nearly seven years since the last installment in Vivendiís Caesar series does seem like an awfully long time in game design terms. (Somebody told me once that one game design year equals seven human years -- or maybe that was dogs.) While the new title promises cutting edge graphics, expanded gameplay and all the bells and whistles one could hope for in a 2006 release, it also emerges into a field much more crowded with competitors than last time around.
The much-enjoyed Caesar series took the classic Sim City concept back a couple of millennia, resulting in a combination of challenging planning and addictive micromanaging with some strategy thrown in. Players were free to indulge their inner politician / general / god / sadist while overseeing a provincial Roman city which could be grown from a wee hamlet to a megalopolis of astonishing (and at times maddening) complexity. While some players complained in the last Caesar release about being forced to worry inordinately about fires and pesky demands by that unreasonable emperor, it was a successful concept well executed.
In terms of the premise and basics, the new Caesar doesnít mess with success, choosing to beef up the aesthetics instead, with advanced day / night simulations, realistic weather effects and a hundred new unique buildings, all rendered with state of the art specular and bump mapping and HDR lighting. As for the lovable little plebes to
populate your city -- the designers promise 75 unique character
types, whose appearance and behavior will be strikingly authentic. From available screenshots, the game does appear staggeringly attractive with a distinctive design and look.
Caesar IVís gameplay also seems expanded rather than fundamentally changed. Beyond the joys of building up and tearing down and spending way too much time thinking about sewers, the game offers expanded fun with trade, with over 30
tradable goods, 10 industries and 4 markets. And then there is, of course, combat -- those merciless barbarians will arrive sooner or later to try and wreck all your hard work. For this,
Caesar IV offers direct control over legions with modeled combat experience and training. The designers promise a career mode, standalone competitive scenarios and sandbox mode, combining into over a hundred hours of play. We can only hope the quality of these hours matches the quantity.
Now for the competition Ė while not nearly as ubiquitous as WW II games, a healthy crop of games set in the Roman age have emerged since Vivendiís previous Caesar release, including Rome: Total War, the Praetorians titles, Glory of the Roman Empire, Nemesis of the Roman Empire, Legion Arena etc. But Caesar IVís most formidable rival could be, of course, Take 2ís upcoming CivCity Rome, which boasts the same general premise and a strikingly similar set of features. While this wonít necessarily be a battle to the death Ė both games could conceivably do well -- they are fighting for the same market niche, and it will be interesting to see who gets the thumbs up and who gets the thumbs down.
In all, if it lives up to its promise and to the inevitable high expectations that come from long delays,
Caesar IV might be a very worthy continuation in a very worthy series.