Grand Ages: Rome PC DVD
Published by: Kalypso Media
Developed by: Haemimont Games
In 2006 we had a glut of Roman flavoured city building games and one of those that arrived that year was Glory of the Roman Empire. This was later followed up with a sequel entitled Imperium Romanum and here we have a second sequel which again has had a name change to the much more suitable Grand Ages: Rome. Those who have played the previous games in the series will find a pretty familiar experience here although there are some interesting additions that help to differentiate Grand Ages: Rome from the previous games.
In Grand Ages: Rome you have the choice of playing through an extensive, non-linear Campaign mode, taking a more relaxed option with the Free Build mode or getting competitive in the game's online Multiplayer mode where you can play either competitively or co-operatively. You'll probably want get to grips with things first however and there are two tutorials that will get you up to speed with the basics of city building and the combat elements of the game.
When you start the Campaign mode you'll have to create your own character. You'll get to play as either a male or female character and you'll get to choose which of the five available families to be a part of. Each family has their own advantages and disadvantages so you'll need to choose a family that will compliment your style of play. In any given mission there are primary and secondary objectives to complete. You'll have to satisfy the primary objectives in order to complete the mission but the secondary objectives are optional and if you take the effort to complete them you'll acquire some desirable bonuses. You can choose to add additional abilities to your character or purchase estates before you begin a mission. For instance I could choose to purchase some Apulian Wheat Farms (which gave a bonus of +5 wheat) or some Caralis Logging Camps (which gave a bonus of +10 wood). Giving you the choice of a family to represent and the ability to take certain bonuses into a mission certainly adds an interesting twist to the game.
As with any city building game, the challenge comes with getting the balance in your city right. You'll need the correct blend of Plebs, Equites and Patricians and you'll need to provide adequate conditions for all of them. Of course you also have access to slaves too but they are much easier to pacify. It can be challenging, although not as challenging as some city building games I've played in the past, to satisfying everyone's needs as you have to keep your eye on food and building materials to make sure you're never in desperate need of any of them. You'll carry out research to improve your city and unlock additional buildings and services. There are more than 60 buildings in total and most of these are initially unavailable until you've carried out the relevant research or acquired the necessary building materials. You can build some truly magnificent looking cities in the game and some of the maps you play on are actually quite large giving you plenty of scope to be creative.
Whilst the new additions are welcome, it's a shame that some core elements of the game haven't been improved or haven't been done better. The basic city building in the game doesn't feel much different from previous games and to a certain extent this is disappointing. That's not to say the tried and trusted formula for building your city and catering for Plebs, Equites and Patricians isn't a decent one but it does make the game feel a little too familiar when most would have wanted something original. Combat, that age old problem in city building game, still isn't up to the standards that you'd expect. Again it's not bad but it's far too simplistic. I appreciate the ability to train your troops and level them up (they appear to level-up faster through actual combat however but at least you can improve your forces during peacetime) but it doesn't mean a great deal when the battles are so rudimentary. I never had the feeling I was being really challenged whilst playing Grand Ages: Rome. One of the things I really loved about Caesar III was that you always felt like you were juggling almost too many things to cope with at times and as a result it felt much more satisfying when you completed a mission. Grand Ages: Rome doesn't give you this sense of satisfaction and at times it feels downright leisurely which feels strange for a city building game.
It's fair to say that Grand Ages: Rome is one of the better looking city building games to date. Once you've got an established city it can certainly look impressive. When I looked at a preview build of the game I originally used an ATi X1950 Pro which ran the game quite well. The card was later to stop working so I replaced it with a Nvidia 8800GT. Despite being a much better card, the 8800GT had several problems running the preview build. With the final version of the game (using the most recent drivers) however, most of the problems have disappeared but the frame rate still isn't what it was with the ATi card. As a result the frame rate can get quite choppy with a decent sized city although it never drops to unplayable levels (and hopefully a future Nvidia driver will improve things). The game's interface is generally impressive although I would have appreciated a mini-map to allow for quick navigation around the larger maps.
Grand Ages: Rome won't cause deaf gamers any real problems. The game's tutorials are subtitled so you'll have little trouble in getting up and running with the game. The mission briefings are shown in text. Objectives are shown in text too and can be recalled at any time. The interface makes a good use of icons that are easy to understand. There are some movies in the game and it's a shame that they are not subtitled. Hopefully this small oversight can be corrected via a patch but as it stands you won't be aware of what's being said in these movies.
There are certainly a good number of loyal city building game fans out there and it's almost certain that a high proportion of them will have played some of the Roman flavoured city building games that have appeared over the last few years. Whilst Grand Ages: Rome is actually quite a good game, the question is really whether it is different enough from the games we've seen in recent years? In all honesty whilst there's a few new twists here to make Grand Ages: Rome worth a look, there isn't much that fans of the genre won't have seen before. That's not a major criticism, some people don't appreciate major changes after all, but it's something that's worth taking into account.