Caesar IV review
It’s been eight years since Caesar was last in the shops. The premise of the game now, as then, is simple. People have always had a few basic needs: a roof over their head, water in the well, food on the table and some rudimentary medical care. And it’s up to you, as ruler of this antiquarian land, to provide all that and a whole lot more. With a few thousand denarii in your pocket, you have to turn a barren plot of land into a sprawling metropolis of the classical era.
The success of your city depends on building the right shops, temples, farms and housing, and as your resources are limited this can be a tricky proposition.
Although the game has much in common with Sim City, it isn’t a totally free-form city builder. The game is about the expansion of the Roman Empire, and to this end you get a series of challenges throughout each map, from setting up a new trade route though to shipping grain or luxury goods back to Rome. Each successfully completed task wins you favour with the Emperor – you need to achieve a certain level in his good books before you can progress to the next map.
You’ll need resources to keep Rome happy and, as with almost every other city builder, this means setting up both production chains and infrastructure. For example, to make bread, you need cornfields and a farmer, and the corn needs to go to a granary before you send it to a baker. You need people to work all these places, and they all need homes.
In fact, there are over 100 different structures to build, from lowly apartment housing for the plebeians through to expansive villas for the gentry. What’s more, many of these buildings evolve once they have access to a certain number of items; get two varieties of food and running water to a pleb’s house and both its look and cultural value will be enhanced.
This giant exercise in logistics might not be to everyone’s taste, not least because you need to micromanage practically every aspect of the game, from assigning who can buy what in the market through to ensuring that the warehouses don’t fill to capacity – a task not made any easier by the inability to dump goods. If you have the time and patience, it can turn into a rewarding experience, but initially it’s more an exercise in frustration. And with 30 maps in all, each taking hours to complete, this isn’t a game you’ll finish overnight.
Creating a sequel for a game like Caesar isn’t easy. Make it too different from past versions and you’ll alienate fans. Make it too similar and you stand accused of reinventing the wheel. With this in mind, it’s fair to say we have sympathy for the developers, but they’ve erred excessively on the conservative side when it comes to gameplay.
Driving all this is a powerful new 3D engine and it’s here, at least, that the game excels. From the vibrant and colourful buildings, realistic characters and some clever particle work, the end result is a city that does a pretty good job of feeling alive. However, it’s resource intensive, and you’ll struggle to get a good frame rate on a system that just scrapes past the minimum requirements.
Caesar IV is a worthy attempt to rekindle an old series and it’s mostly successful. It looks good, plays as you’d expect and the music, atmospherics and in-game feedback all combine to deliver an enjoyable and addictive game. However, there’s no denying its old-school nature and, in many respects, it’s almost a retro experience that may be anathema to some. Not a bad game, but it probably won’t be top of everyone’s Christmas list.