CivCity Rome is the latest title from Firefly studios, which are marginally better known as the makers of the acclaimed Stronghold series. Although Rome and the Romans have always been a popular game theme, this is the first in a while to actively put you in the administrative role of managing a roman city, and Firefly has brought to this scenario their trademark style of game play and art direction, making CivCity Rome a title worthy of interest for RTS enthusiasts.
The gameplay is very similar to Stronghold 2. You build up your city by placing habitations for your civilians, which in turn increases the number of civilians you have. Each civilian is not under your control, but instead will take any job you offer and assume that role. For example, if you build a goat farm then the first available civilian (called a vagrant if unemployed) will get up and become a goat farmer, donning attire as appropriate.
Also similar to Stronghold 2 is the multi-part systems you set up in order to acquire goods for your city. In order to get bread for your people, for example, you need first to build a wheat crop. Wheat is collected and placed in the warehouse by your workers. Someone from a mill will come and collect the wheat, take it to his mill, grind it into flower, and take the flower back to the warehouse. Finally a baker will go to the warehouse and pick up the flour and bring it to the bakery to be turned into bread, which is then put on display. Setting all this up is fun, until you do it thirty-plus times for each of the dozen-odd industries you need to fashion.
One thing that is new in CivCity Rome is the individual improvement of dwellings. A dwelling will progress from a simple mud hut up to a classical roman mansion, a mansion that would look good on Palatine Hill. This evolution represents to an extent the life cycle of your city, because the way the homes of your citizens increase is based on the availability of certain resources in your city. For example, to progress past the simple mud hut you must construct an available water supply. When your citizens carry water from the well or aqueduct back to their small hovels, those hovels upgrade to medium hovels. This process continues when you provide meat, clothes, bedding, olive oil, wine, bread, baths, religion and so on and so forth, until your citizens are well rounded true Romans. Apart from the bonuses in visual appearance, more sophisticated citizens pay proportionately more taxes, which is your primary source of income.
To illustrate this gameplay, CivCity Rome comes with a nice campaign to take through the basics and advanced aspects. It's themed well, featuring a variety of historical roman figures and events, and gives a good feeling of purpose to an otherwise monotonous city builder. It isn’t even entirely linear, and at several points permits the user to branch off in other directions into war or peacetime missions. The peacetime missions generally have population or good stockpiling objectives, and tend to focus on the delicate juggling act between the cost of your city and the amount of population it has, both factors being adjusted by an easily tipped equilibrium of the number and distribution of goods produced by your city. The other type of missions, war missions, focus more on turning your city into a defending troop machine, allowing you to field units of the legendary Roman army in the field. This is similar to the way Stronghold 2 had its military aspect, though nowhere near as strong.
Graphically speaking the game is, while not resplendent, definitely pretty good. Being able to zoom in to see the fixed expressions on individual townspeople, or out to see a greater part of the whole city partners with the rotation controls to make viewing your creation from a thousand different angles relatively easy and intuitive. On midrange systems this can cause a slowdown, but any who have played Stronghold 2 will be familiar with this, and at least this time the game wasn’t shipped with an equal weight of bugs. For the better part the game artfully recreates the architectural style of Rome in the mid 100s or 200s, and tracking the tiny people of your city as they go about their lives (having baths, buying food, listening to musicians in the bazaar etc) is one of the game's many pleasures.
So, on to its flaws. CivCity Rome feels very similar to the Stronghold series of games, as already mentioned. However in our opinion the same style of settlement construction that felt so right in a medieval setting seems a little off in the context of the sleek, civilised era of Rome. It also feels a bit put on: why recycle the same dynamic from an older game, when the designers could have gone wild with all the opportunities provided by the ancient civilisation. The game can get monotonous very quickly, as inevitably you are repeating the same basic build order again and again and again. This means that after the joy of exploring is over all you are left with is the hope that the joy of creating a beautiful city will overcome the drudgery required to construct it.
Also, as with Stronghold 2, as the complexity of your city rises so does the system slowdown. This has the effect of gradually reducing your range of vision depending on the speed of your computer, until youre reduced to only a few feet off the ground before the game slows to a crawl. In Stronghold 2 this was eventually proven to be a result of a bug, and was fixed with a patch, so hopefully the same will be true for this game.
On a positive note, though, in contrast to its medieval predecessor which was shipped with a number of game destroying bugs and a host of minor inconvenient bugs, CivCity Rome is relatively polished. The biggest complaint would be the long load time on first entry, which may be a result of the engine in use. In any event, once this period is over the game loads fairly smoothly into and out of levels. CivCity Rome is an interesting game that’s worth giving a try by any RTS enthusiast. A combination of a stunningly good recreation of roman architecture and lifestyle, combined with a proven game dynamic, means that anyone who fancies Stronghold 2 should find purchase in the gameplay of Firefly’s latest title.