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CivCity: Rome

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firefly Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: God Games/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

It is Roman fever these days! With a bevy of recent Rome-themed games like Rome: Total War (the best tactical strategy game hands down) and Glory of the Roman Empire, as well as the big screen productions of Troy and Alexander, and the hit Rome program on HBO, the obsession with Neo-Classical affairs has hit pop culture head-on. CivCity: Rome is just the latest in this growing trend, not unlike the assortment of WW2/Vietnam shooters/strategy games that have assaulted us the past few years. In other words, I hope you like everything Roman, because you will see more and more of it.

CivCity: Rome was developed by Firefly Studios, who brought us the excellent Medieval castle-defending Stronghold series, but little else. Also lending a hand are the folks at Firaxis, makers of the immortal Civilization titles. Needless to say, both developers have mastered the intricasies of the ancient world, and right off the bat, that’s what strikes you most -- these guys know their proverbial “stuff.”

Visually, the game is pretty decent looking. While I have seen higher-res graphics and sharper textures before, the variety of buildings, NPC characters walking about, and the gorgeous Roman countryside more than make up for any technical faults. Even the gameplay interface has little touches of golden trim or crackled marble, and is keen to observe aesthetic beauty. I just loved watching my troops march around the city, festooned with those large, red-feathered helmets, short swords, and bronze armor. Other quality touches include fresh meat laid out on store shelves, grand Ionic pillars and the many gorgeous fountains that grace the large promenades. However, it cannot pass with flying colors, as it still has some pretty shoddy FMV sequences, and despite the interface being fancy, it is a bit clunky and looks dated in places.

Soundwise, CivCity: Rome offers some nice work here as well. A host of pleasant ambient sounds greets you at every turn of your Roman city, be it the busy marketplace, the raucous crowds of the Coliseum, or the peaceful tree-shaded hills. Each denizen also has a chirpy English-accented reply when selected, adding more substance to the already impressive game world. Lastly, the musical score is rather well done too, with a sweeping orchestral flavor that highlights the grandiose nature that was Rome.


Personally, I have dabbled in the Civilization series, but can hardly be called an expert in nation building titles. In fact, I think they can be a tad befuddling at times, managing complex economics, military and social structures all at once. Thankfully, CivCity: Rome is a scaled down version of the aforementioned title, perfect for the more casual or new gamer to this genre. The meat of this game is building up your city, not managing a deadly army, or trading with foreign powers.

You can play single missions with focused objectives, or take on the grand scale campaign. Either way, it is solid city construction fun. There is also a robust editor for many more hours of customized gameplay. As the governor of a local province, your little hamlet will eventually grow into a bustling city befitting kings and visiting nobles alike. A wide array of building types are available from warehouses, butcher shops, temples, amphitheatres, workshops and many, many more -- over 100 in all.

Beyond placing the structures, you also have to pay close attention to your citizens, meeting their needs for food, housing, jobs, education and entertainment. The balance between leisure and work is also critical. Too much free time and production rates will plummet, leading to some unhappy folks. And working them into an early grave is also not too smart, either. As resources are collected and distributed among the people, their structures will upgrade, and may even include a stable of slaves to help with the tasks at hand. For example, harvested wheat gets turned into flour and sent to a bakery, which in turn heads out to the citizen’s mouths. Apply the same logistics to wood, olives and more, and you start to get the interconnected nature of Roman society. And while vastly more complicated, not much has really changed today in that regard. You can view reports on all these aspects such as production, tax rates and more, so endlessly clicking on various locations isn’t necessary to keep up on the details.

With a healthy populace comes security and bonuses, allowing for further construction and special projects, called Wonders. These include such amazing edifices like the Pantheon, Circus Maximus, and the Great Library, and while visually stunning, they don’t offer much to the experience besides increasing your overall prestige.

Fans of action may be mildly disappointed with the bare bones military aspects of CivCity: Rome. You basically just build forts and armories and the troops fall into line. From time to time, enemy incursions will make your once placid home a bit more hectic, as well as a few adventurous treks to invade other territories, but this isn’t where the gameplay shines, and it shows. The troop types are rather limited, the lack of formations and advanced tactics are also strikingly absent. The overall level of this mode is just too simplistic for this ‘ol wargamer. But after all, this game is about being the best governor one can be, so the focus is on domestic issues like housing, production and so forth, not plundering the known world.

Research also plays an important factor in the continuing goal of improving the daily life of your citizens, as well as the overall grandeur of your fine city. Some paths lead to better avenues for trade, or production increases, while others allow for better combat prowess and so forth. Being able to key in on what is needed is a great way to keep you in the game, and plotting the best course for your populace. Lastly, the Civliopedia offers a wealth of historical information on the ancient Romans and their ways. Who says all videogames are bad for kids, eh? (In fact the recent book “Everything Bad is Good for You” talks about just that.)


People not familiar with the classic SimCity games may have a bit of an adjustment period with this title, but overall, the streamlined interface and automation of your city helps make the learning curve quite shallow. You won’t have to stress much about Mongolian hordes razing your city either. The threat of total annihilation is nil, so you get to spend more time on redecorating that bath house or flower shop. Pax Romana at its finest. Throw in the handy Civliopedia and excellent manual, and you can’t really get bogged down here. This makes for a nice launch pad into the Civilization games, and was no doubt present in the minds of the developers looking to bridge that gap between the average gamer and legendary world builder.

Game Mechanics:

While the menus did appear a bit static and cumbersome at times, they performed well enough to not cross over into the realm of frustration. You can easily manage all your daily tasks with the click of your handy mouse. However, the wonky camera system does cross the threshold more than once. Sometimes it gets caught behind objects or buildings, and zooming in often throws off the angles as well. And after a good chunk of gameplay, your city will get pretty packed with man and material, so navigating the streets becomes even more of a chore.

Overall, CivCity: Rome has a solid presentation, a simple, yet fun city-building model and provides an excellent entry for novice simulation gamers. However, for those more experienced folks, you may want to re-install Civ 4 and just stick with a deeper and more rewarding gaming experience.

-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows 2000/XP; 1.6 GHz Pentium 3; 512 MB RAM; 64 MB VRAM; 2.5 GB HDD space

Test System:

Windows XP; Intel P4 3.2 GHz; 1GB of RAM; ATI Radeon X800 XL 256 MB

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