Imperium Romanum Review

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Publisher: SouthPeak Games and Kalypso Media
Developer: Haemimont Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium 4 2.0 GHz, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9 compatible video card, 1.5 GB HD space, DVD-ROM, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system

Govern a Roman province in this city-building simulation that has players constructing and defending Roman settlements. The game builds on its predecessor, Glory of the Roman Empire.

Kyle Ackerman

Ancient Rome never had enough sausages. No matter where the settlement was located, how many people lived there and how many slaves they owned, there was never enough sausage. At least when I was in charge. Sure, I could keep my citizens safe from barbarians, amply supplied with bread, cloth, timber and even luxuries or monuments. But there was never enough sausage. I'm not sure if my Praetor didn't like pigs, or if my citizens were just gung-ho about rioting over a lack of ground pork.

A City With Ample Luxuries

Ancient Rome's obsession with sausage aside, Imperium Romanum has players constructing thriving Roman settlements, ensuring there's enough of a population to support the economy, enough goods, luxuries and religious support to keep the people happy, and enough water to keep everyone hydrated. Constructing a thriving settlement may be the first order of business, but the real goal is usually building a walled settlement with sufficient military forces to hold off barbarian assaults and conquer nearby villages.

When it comes to building settlements, Imperium Romanum is mostly solid and entertaining. You can follow individual citizens, slaves and children through their daily activities as they carry clay or flax or marble, learn the names of individual craftsmen and identify the complaints of unhappy citizens. It may not be a tremendous step beyond Glory of the Roman Empire, but constructing a settlement that generates all the right materials, redistributes them and ensures that everyone is satisfied is an entertaining exercise in logistics. You have to build the right structures at the right times so that jobs are filled and resources don't sit idle, piling up uselessly. Trade routes are a great outlet, and are often critical in scenarios that are resource constrained. All of this has to be coordinated with the terrain, taking into account the limits of the space, the locations of quarries and access to water.

Support the Troops... Don't Deploy Them

Military conflict, however, is less than satisfying. Imperium Romanum is much more of a city-building simulation than it is a real-time strategy game. Building troops and defending your settlements is the logical outcome of construction in Imperium Romanum. It's not particularly robust, and while the AI is great for the townsfolk, building queues and the economy, the AI is not a military genius. Deployed sufficiently in advance, a single group of archers can destroy an attacking army by "kiting" – taking a few shots, retreating, taking a few more shots, retreating, and repeating the process until the barbarians have been vanquished.

There's also, frankly, very little variety in the military game. Roman horsemen, archers and soldiers play a basic rock/paper/scissors game with the four barbarian unit types (two of which are just different genders of archer). Defensive towers come into play somewhat, but the scripting for the military units is so basic that it's not a satisfying part of play in which to become deeply involved. That makes it far more entertaining to build the city that can support a standing army than it is to send those troops into the field.

Timeline Missions Aren't by Michael Crichton

It's possible to play free-form scenarios or just work on adding glorious monuments to Rome itself, but the meat of the game is in the "timeline" scenarios. These are loosely based on historical Roman settlements at certain specific dates, and range from efforts to construct a city and establish profitable trade routes, to desperate defense and outright conquest missions. For many gamers, it's enough just to complete such missions, but if you're the competitive sort, each timeline scenario has an online leaderboard that lets the best Roman governors gloat about their prowess.

"Tablet" goals lend depth to these timeline scenarios. Tablets are like the cards from a collectible card game, giving you goals or changing the rules. Some tablets are optional goals with a reward (e.g. build a tavern and get a supply of stone). Some are special modifiers, such as a temporary but lucrative trade route or skilled carpenters that double timber production. Others are critical goals that must be fulfilled to finish a scenario. That might involve gathering resources for Rome, building a settlement to a critical size or defeating invaders. Tablets add a welcome variety to the basic city building that's easy to quickly master – as long as you don't worry about sausages.

Imperium Romanum is an acceptable city-building game, but suffers from a few glaring flaws and a lack of polish. Most importantly, even after the recent patch, the game still crashes regularly (and once even invalidated my saves). It's irritating that changes to the settings don't stick, requiring a brief reconfiguration every time you reopen the game. The game only operates at two speeds, and could use more (faster) options for those times when you just need to stockpile funds or complete a build queue. Finally, there are irritating language problems – lots of basic editing problems, and part of the manual wasn't even translated from German.

Imperium Romanum will pass the time, and even pose a pleasant city simulation challenge. It won't however, knock your socks off. Or your sandals. Or whatever you wear when playing Roman-themed games. The flaws can be overlooked, but are substantial enough that this game isn't going to climb its way up the shopping list to most PC gamers' first choice.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 23, 2008 9:04 AM.

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