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Posted on May 31, 2008 in Electronic Games

Imperium Romanum – PC Game Review

Jim H. Moreno

Imperium Romanum. SouthPeak Games, Kalypso Media, Haemimont Games. $39.99.


Passed Inspection
: Balanced gameplay; city-building interface and game mechanics work well; interesting historical facts.

Failed basic: Placing structures needs tweaking; needs more employment and trade options.
 
 

Friends, pixelated Romans, fellow PC gamers, lend me your ears. For far too long has the Caesar series reigned over the ancient Roman city-building strategy genre. Yes, the series has made a most impressive show of engaging and gratifying gameplay, lending no cause for reasoning why Caesar IV remains seated on that vaulted throne, now two years past. Let no one speak ill of what Sierra and Tilted Mill Entertainment hath created, for to this day does it still hold an honored presence upon my computer’s hard drive. 

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Alas, honored though it is, it is not without fault. Other games have attempted to correct what faults they, too, felt evident within the Caesar series, most notably CivCity: Rome and Glory of the Roman Empire. While they were not as successful as they could have been, they gave notice to Caesar that its’ reign was not to go unchallenged!  And time has come for the next challenger to be announced, another game built with the same purpose and ambition as the Caesar series, and holds the promise of many hours of fun and enjoyment for present and future generations and fans of the genre. I present to you, Imperium Romanum!

Imperium Romanum is the latest in the imperial line of strategic city governing PC games set in the ancient Roman era.  Released to the North American public this past March, Imperium Romanum is the fruit of a collaborative effort from SouthPeak Games, Kalypso Media, and Haemimont Games, the latter also having had a hand in creating Glory of the Roman Empire.  Where other games of the genre have players striving to construct their own Roman Empire from the start, Imperium Romanum sets itself apart by setting players in a later time where the empire is built, and tasking them with the duties of keeping the Empire alive and well. Players are confronted with what is expected during the era – war, slave revolts, geographical problems, city management – and not too different from other ancient Roman city-building games. What Imperium Romanum does do differently is package the usual genre-specific gameplay with a fresh interface and a new (and better) way of laying out and governing each city.

IR offers much the same modes of gameplay found in others of the genre. History mode allows players specific missions as governor of Rome or another colony in the Empire, and follow a historical timeline. The first three missions in this 16-mission mode are open, but the rest must be unlocked by successfully completing the mission prior to it.  Scenarios are the ‘sandbox’ mode missions in IR, offering the most freedom I’ve seen available in any game of the same type, allowing me to just simply build with no concern toward accomplishing any game-required goal. Lastly, Rome mode gives you a pre-assembled Rome and goals of constructing a city wonder, such as the Circus Maximus or the Coliseum, all the while handling the myriad other day-to-day  tasks that crop up within the city.

Standard strategic play comes in providing water, food, jobs, commerce and security, and deciding in what order possible buildings should be constructed. As time flows and the city grows, more building choices become available, but players must ensure resources are on hand both for the new building and for the upkeep of present structures.  With the physical growth of a city comes the task of providing the population with goods and services they require, along with jobs and an income they may use to purchase said goods and services. Of course, like present day societies, the citizens of IR also want entertainment and luxuries, such as theaters and baths.

A new game element is the use of mission tablets, found in History and Rome modes. To complete a mission, players have to accomplish all the tasks given via these tablets within each mission. Players are given the ability to control the pace of their game by drawing and resolving as many as three tablets at a time. Most tablets do give a required objective, while others provide an optional task, notification of a natural or man-made disaster, or give a beneficial bonus. Some just tell a Roman historical fact. I’m not particularly pleased that the game designers chose to place these tablets so largely at center left of the screen. Making them a smaller size and placing them in the lower left would have worked just as well.

Imperium Romanum is a definitive improvement over both its predecessor, Glory of the Roman Empire, and Caesar IV.  I got the impression from IR is that the creators are probably also fans of Caesar IV and similar games. It seemed like more than a few specific items that can be a stumbling block in Caesar IV were addressed in IR. For one, IR is not as intensely micromanaging as Caesar IV, a feat I feel the designers pulled off without removing any of the fun factor that comes from the challenge of directing and governing a population of toga-wearing sprites. Some may see this as meaning IR is not as deep a game as Caesar IV, and I tend to agree, but I think it also means that players may not get so bogged down in the depths of micromanaging a certain aspect of gameplay that they totally miss out on the fun of building their city.

For example, one of the items of contention for me with Caesar IV was laying out the streets of my cities in as straight a line as possible and avoiding creating intersections, thereby reducing the amount of turns and decisions my populace had to make to insure they could get to work and to the goods and services they needed in a timely manner. Many buildings in Caesar IV have to be placed along roads, so if some of the townsfolk happen to come upon a turn in the road before reaching the building they may need, it is entirely possible they never make it to that building. Imperium Romanum, to a degree, eliminates the choice of where denizens go by simply giving each building an area-of-effect radius and taking away the edict that they have to travel by roads to get anywhere. A home has a certain area of effect, and the people living there will venture in any and all directions within and to the limit of that area of effect. Hence, if there’s another building that is offering employment within their home’s area of effect, they take the job. Likewise, buildings that offer goods and services, like markets, taverns, and temples, have their own area of effect. Different buildings have varying area of effect distances, which are shown when placing a building and by selecting the building once it is in place. This basic, yet very effective game mechanic is one of the strong points in IR, and helps make for more fluid and balanced gameplay over Caesar IV.

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