reviews\ Oct 9, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Caesar IV - PC - Review

At long last, Caesar is back. Soon after we purchased our first computer, I often looked at the copies of Caesar II in the bargain bins around town and wondered if it was any good.  Then, a few years later, Caesar III hit the scene.  I decided to get it, even though I had never played a strategy/city-building game. It was love at first play. I became obsessed with Caesar, and would play into the wee hours of the morning. It took me forever to become Caesar and finish the game, almost a year. I have since replayed the entire campaign through a few years ago. 

When the word was first put out that a new Caesar was in the making, I was very excited. Would Tilted Mill, made up of former Impressions personnel, stay true to the Caesar series so far, or would they change everything? Well, the answer is that while many peripheral things have changed, the core gameplay essence of the original series is unchanged. There are changes to some of the economic mechanics and interface functions, and the graphics are now 3D, but essentially the goals and methods of building a working city while meeting certain criteria are the same.

The first most obvious difference is the graphics engine, which is now 3D. This requires a very high-end graphics card, and one that is fully compatible, not just supportive, of DirectX9. While some cards that just support DirectX9 partially will still run the game, the graphics will not look very good. I initially ran the game on a Radeon 256MB 9250, which worked, but displayed black grass. The game was playable, but the black grass made building difficult, as it was hard to see the details of the terrain. Upgrading to a Nvidia GEForce 7600 GS 512MB made all the difference in the world.  The shadows and textures were much better and everything looked like it should.

Caesar IV Screenshot

The graphics are nice, as the trees move and sway in the wind, the water reflects and the shadows really add to the overall appearance. However, the people and buildings are less impressive. The people look like little stick figures at the farthest zoom, and not much better when zoomed in.  They are small in proportion to the city, too, much smaller than in Caesar III. To see the people the same size as in Caesar III requires the game to be zoomed in a tad, which then makes viewing entire city blocks impossible, as the buildings are now taking up most of the screen.

The buildings are drawn more realistically, but the downside is that they are more drab and not as pretty as in Caesar III.  The pottery, oil, weapons and wine just don’t look as attractive. However, the farms are more fun to watch, with people working away at the farms and orchards, and the ranches of sheep and cattle have moving animals that look fairly realistic.

When beginning the game, a tutorial mode is available.  For people who have not played an Impressions city-building game before, I highly recommend playing this tutorial, as the manual isn’t nearly as detailed as in Caesar III, which still sets the bar for what a game manual should be. But for people familiar with the Caesar game mechanics, jumping right in will be a breeze, as the main menus and options are practically unchanged. The menu allows people to choose what type of items to build, which overlays to display showing specific effects like water resources, fire hazards, building maintenance, and the effects of various goods and services on the surrounding city blocks. The advisor screen is still the same, and the method of choosing trading partners from the world map is the same.

As in most city-building games, it’s important to get the economy up and running as quickly as possible. First, houses will have to be built, and then a water source must be placed. Food and basic goods are important, and fire prevention, religion and building maintenance are a necessity. In some scenarios, certain requirements must be met very soon, so they will have to be implemented early in the game. If the natives are hostile, armies need to be available. The military aspect has been dumbed down, which can be good or bad depending on the viewpoint. This is a city-building game, though, not a war-strategy game.

Building these things involves the same process as before, but the actual act of building is now more cumbersome. For some reason, houses and landscaping items can’t be laid out more than one at a time with the mouse, unlike in Caesar III. This is a big pain when laying out houses and gardens. Each building must be placed individually. Also, while the buildings can now be oriented in different directions, which is a great plus, placing them is a pain, too. While rotating, the building is fixed in one location.  In order to “set” it as a certain rotation, it must be clicked in place at that spot.  Then, the action has to be undone if that’s not where it was wanted.  Only then will the building now be locked at a certain rotation and can be moved at will at that rotation to the desired location.

The interface menus are more annoying now as well, as they stick around until the user right clicks to get rid of them.  If I want to build a farm, I have to choose the farm menu, then build the farm, then right click to get rid of the menu.  The menu should disappear when I choose the farm. Often this means the menu is stuck out mid-screen in the way of viewing the placement.

Okay, enough about the things that annoy me about this game.  Let’s talk about the improvements!

For one thing, the effects of workers on buildings have been altered. There are still effects from workers like health, safety and entertainment, but the effects of food and other goods are now handled by the residents of the homes, who buy their own supplies from the markets.  No longer will users have to place the markets, granaries and farms in painstakingly thought out grids to ensure that food arrives. I can’t tell you how many times I had to redo a city because of problems with getting the food around the city. Now, it’s every citizen for his or herself! This definitely makes managing the economy easier.

Caesar IV Screenshot

It’s also more fun to watch the buildings, especially the entertainment venues. There are actually people inside doing their thing, and the spectators will enter, watch, and then leave when the show is over. Another improvement in the graphics department involves the free roaming camera, which allows players to zoom in, around and all about in any direction. It’s really cool to see the city from all angles!

There has also been a multi-player option added.  This looks highly interesting, as it isn’t a head-to-head competition, but rather a scoring and ladder ranking option. Players can see how they rank alongside everyone else! I haven’t had a city good enough to try out, yet, but plan on doing so as soon as I get a great city, worthy of inclusion.

The basic upshot to Caesar IV is that it is a good city-building strategy game in its own right, without any comparison to its predecessors. It is fun, engrossing and will take up hours of time. The interface has all the needed information at players’ fingertips, and the economic mechanics are challenging without being frustrating.  The micromanagement aspect is minimal, which is a plus in many people’s minds. The graphics are what most players want in games these days. Compared to any similar game on the market currently, including the recent Children of the Nile from Titled Mill, this game beats the competition hands down.

When compared to Caesar III, there are some differences that are good, and some that are not so good. Whether good or bad will depend on the perspective. Not so good changes: Awkward interface, less micromanagement, realistic 3D graphics, easier military management and easier to win. Good changes: More activity from the city’s inhabitants, more buildings to choose from, free camera rotation, less micromanagement, realistic 3D graphics, easier military management and easier to win. I heartily recommend downloading the demo before purchasing the game and judging first whether it will run, and then if it is what the player wants for a city-building experience. I’m happy, though! My dilemma has now become whether to play Caesar, Heroes or Civ. But what am I talking about, I’m a full-time college student now, I don’t have time to play!  

Review Scoring Details for Caesar IV

Gameplay: 8.5
Easy to pick up and play, hard to put down! That’s the hallmark of a good game. Caesar IV offers hours of gameplay with lots of different types of scenarios to choose. Meeting the objectives is challenging, but not so hard as to be frustrating.  The interface offers just the right amount of information at a player’s fingertips. The gameplay could have been better with a less awkward interface menu, and building placement is bothersome at times. Also, the game isn’t quite as challenging as it could be, which detracts a little from the gameplay experience. But, some may like it easier.

Graphics: 8
The graphics are good, but when I compare them to the older Caesar III, I don’t really see a big improvement, they’re just different. The size proportion of people to buildings makes it harder to see the people and the city at the same time, too.

Sound: 8
The sound effects and music are just what they should be!

Difficulty: Medium
It seems to me that it’s easier to play than Caesar III, mostly due to less micromanagement.

Concept: 8
The concept was to keep the basic vision of Caesar the same, while adding improvements that many players had requested, namely tweaks to the management aspects. The graphics are also updated.

Multiplayer: 8
There is a multi-player option which allows players to rank themselves against others.

Overall: 8.3
Tilted Mill has produced a faithful rendition of Caesar, which should make all fans of the series very happy.  While many things have changed, these changes are all minor features, which haven’t affected the original vision as a whole. Players new to the series will greatly also enjoy playing. Another plus is the family friendly type of game that it is, with many differing ages able to play.  Children will especially benefit from the good strategy processes involved. I highly recommend this game for anyone, and it would make a great Christmas present!


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