In many ways, CivCity: Rome feels like a throwback to SimCity 2000 or Caesar II, two classics of the city-building genre. Trouble is, both those games are from 1995, making CC:R feel ancient in more ways than one.
The good news is that, if you have experience with this style of city-building game, you can dive in and start playing with nary a glance at the manual. However, mastering the art of city management is another matter, as the game and its documentation do little to help you figure out CC:R 's nuances.
For example, how many goat farms do you need to supply your plebs with meat? It's up to you to figure out these burning questions, which are vital to the long-term growth and happiness of your cities, with little or no help. A bit more player assistance would have been great.
After a bit of trial and error, you'll get the feel for what a successful city requires, and you can appreciate the game's simplicity and overall lack of extreme micro-management. Taxation levels, for example, are automated, entirely dependent on the level of development of your citizens. Much like SimCity 2000, your success and failure in the game is almost wholly dependent on how well you design your infrastructure - it's all about placing buildings and watching your city evolve... or devolve.
And there's a lot to watch. There's a nice diversity of commercial, agricultural, civic and residential structures on the landscape, and the game has an incredible level of detail. Large cities feel alive with "hustle and bustle." Zoom in on any building, such as a circus or arena, and you'll see chariot races and gladiator matches going on, with crowds jeering the action. Vendors walk the streets, children play in the gardens and residents exercise in their homes.
But despite a litany of fancy-pants graphical buzzwords - HDR/bloom lighting, bump-mapping, enhanced water, real-time shadows - the game manages to look quite dated, largely because the highest supported resolution is a measly 1280x1024. Egad! Forget about 1600x1200, let alone widescreen. There's a very annoying graphic glitch that makes it next to impossible to select anything in the game when you play in any resolution higher than 1024x768, which is quite a problem for a city-building game where fast and accurate "clicking" is paramount.
The campaign mode is compelling, allowing you to choose between peaceful and military-focused paths, though the mission goals are a bit repetitive, and thus tedious. The military action is incredibly basic, too, and comes off a bit silly really - though it often does provide a welcome change of pace. For us, the sandbox mode, in which you just focus on building the most glorious city possible, was the most enjoyable mode. An included and fairly easy to use map editor lets you design your own terrain upon which to build your cities.
There's clearly plenty to complain about with this game, but at the end of the day we play games for fun. While it's not nearly as deep as you'd expect for a game with the Firaxis seal of approval on it in terms of features or gameplay, CivCity Rome manages to provide a significant level of entertainment, despite its obvious and glaring faults. You know a game's onto something when it has as many problems as CivCity: Rome does and you're still playing well past that sacred drop-dead deadline for bedtime.