There are civ-style games a-plenty on the PC. RTS galore and enough 4x space titles to pack the inside of the Doctor's TARDIS for years to come. The problem is that as time rumbles on the game industry is pretty much re-cloning idea after idea and adding nothing to the already stagnant waters. If I sound jaded it's because to be frank, I am.
So it takes something special to catch my eye these days in the PC city building genre. Not even the new Settlers made me sit up and take note and we won't talk about the recent dumbed-down version of Sim City. It's why I was somewhat surprised when I started to check out Imperium Romanum for this preview. I found I'd lost a couple of hours playing the game and it's shaping up to be fairly addictive.
It plays a lot like the Settlers to me. It has a fairly decent tutorial and isn't bogged down in endless report screens or weighted by years of badly-acted voice work. There's no real voice work in the game (yet?). You have simple text boxes that instruct you in a series of simple steps on how to make a working city. There's a battle tutorial that gives you an idea of how combat is handled and then you're free to explore the Timeline game, a scenario based game or the Rome game where you have to manage Rome and make sure that there's a steady flow of coin.
The gampleplay is simple and it uses a radial selection menu for when you want to build something, the menu is nested and it's easy to navigate to the right building type fairly quickly. You can speed time up or let it flow normally and the game features some nice day/night/weather effects and transitions. I'm not sure that everyone will like Imperium Romanum due to the lack of suitably 'oh my god' flashy eye-candy and actors but for me it was quite refreshing to play.
The graphics are suitably effective, well animated and there's a wealth of those animations from each citizen and building type. The city can be upgraded by careful management and you are treated to a visual indicator when your slummy houses are changed into better ones and so on. The game is packed with nicely created structures and very pleasing to the eye, there is a decent level of zoom and the camera isn't at all tricky to use, nor does it seem to have any problems.
Light and shadow are prevalent and used to a good effect in the preview build we took a look at.
When waging war there are a couple of formations to look at regarding your units and there are a mix of unit types, you can build a barracks to train your melee squads, your archery range provides archers that can do serious damage and demoralise the enemy and there's a stable to train your cavalry. You can order your troops to marshall at a focal point and then a single icon click will order them to seek out and attack the nearest army/settlement or city.
There isn't really much to say on it however at the moment, the game's shaping up well and it remains to be seen if it actually has a full story mode or it's just going to be one of those armchair mayoral/general builder/war games where you can sink as much time as you want into it.
Not as though that's a bad thing.