Third time is the charm
This sequel has been well worth the wait — and I’ve only played the scaled-down demo. One of the first things to hit you about the demo of Caesar III is the better-than-crisp introductory and ‘interlude’ graphics that reach out, slap you in the face and dare you to spot the rough grainy edges. Not a chance, the pixels are as chiseled as a Roman column and the colours so vibrant and penetrating that you’ll think that the sunlight splashing off them will give you a suntan. They are so life-like that you will feel like brushing up on your Latin so that you can talk to that engineer or forum bailiff yourself. The score and sounds have been polished up as well and are quite pleasant to listen too although I am still wondering what the kinky, dolphin-like sound rounding off one of the scores is meant for. There are of course four options for switching sounds/music off and there are three resolution settings which can be adjusted during gameplay (640 x 480, 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768). The options screens are not popped up but rather unfurled. This bodes well for the overall quality of this game.
If, like me, you are sloppy and hasty about installing software because you are so eager to play, you will be relieved to know that a virtual early-trouble-detection system has been built in that warns you of do’s and don’t while installing. If this attention to displays and detail has also been applied to the battle episodes of the game, the only part that has been left out in this two-scenario demo, then we have a contender for the RTS game of the year award on our hands.
We all remember how Caesar II split gameplay into city management and battle management. I really disliked having to constantly switch back to province level for farm and quarry management and for monitoring troop movements as my city continued to evolve without the benefit, or detriment, of my presence. This is a thing of the past now as all action takes place on one sizeable map. The scenarios start out with wooded countryside, a river or two and the all important road running from one edge of the map to the other. Rocky outcroppings are so prominent and crisp that they appear to be high definition photographs pasted onto the surrounding greenery. I haven’t quite figured out what those brownish log-shaped things floating in the river are all about, but I’m sure the full version will reveal all.
The second thing you immediately notice about Caesar III is the vastly improved logic behind the events that lead to the development and demise of cities. If you click on the housing button (quick clicks won’t do, unfortunately you still need to click firmly and slowly) and fling down a line of residences, you get a row of signs for your trouble. After that, nothing happens. I started frantically to click on everything in sight — even trying to zoom in on the signs to read them. Nothing happened. Then it dawned on me that the sign must read something like “Stop here oh weary traveller because you can build your home on this plot of land in the Kingdom of Wimp,” or words to that effect. Sure enough, a traveller hauling a cart appears on the road, moves by one of the lots and, as he seems to pass it, makes a sharp turn, loses the cart and sets up a tent to squat in. Of course in the first scenario you cannot keep him happy and you will see him leave with a large sack slung over his hunched shoulders. Undoubtedly heading for someone who has advanced to playing scenario 2 of the demo.
The point is that you see quite a nice animation of how your village is established on an individual level. This can be frustrating too if you are used to playing games such as Age of Empires where you can always control exactly what a unit does do and what it does not do. The great advantages of this is that you don’t have to micromanage each unit. Something you will be very grateful for once you have 1700 people living in your city. You feel more part of the natural evolution of the city and you see the results of your discrete building of a farm or the strategic placement of gardens unfold before your eyes. Caesar III is my idea of a perfect mix between the fun of building a city and the excitement of defending it.
Events can unfold very quickly. Even as immigrants are streaming in to take advantage of new housing in what you think is a thriving city, you suddenly see long chains of carts being drawn out of the city as their houses turn into signposts. You quickly check the senate building stats by moving your cursor over it: 22% unemployment. I was setting up a nice residential section once and when I looked up, my population counter was at zero and I was just able to see my last former citizens slip off the map. Talk about a ghost town.
The Caesar III map offers much more detail. Various types of trees, naturally sinuous rivers and rocky, hilly areas where you are likely to find clay or iron ore. Can’t find any? No need to worry. Just turn to the user-friendly, comprehensive help feature and it will tell you that you can go to a trade screen where you can import raw materials. You can then let your warehouse stock them, your workshops will collect them eventually, they will produce manufactured goods and you can sell back pottery and weapons to distant cities for a profit. Management of trade is a bit tricky as you must clearly indicate what to import and export and then confirm in your warehouse that these goods will be accepted. The buildings are real eye candy. From simple slovenly tents to Venetian villas. I especially like the animated fountains and the finely landscaped gardens. Although there may be only 3 or 4 types in the gardening set, it always seems like such an endless variety when placed next to the wonderfully crafted edifices.
Although ‘senate control’ over your burgeoning city/empire has been extended greatly, I still feel there is a lack of continuity with what you are doing on the screen and what you need to get done in the senate chambers. This was a problem in Caesar II and from the demo it would seem that this has not been completely solved in Caesar III. Of course the demo is a demo. It does not provide access to other features such as combat and fortifications and from the screen shots that follow a gaming session, I am sure that interaction between the senate and the military/city will be more than compensated for by grand battle scenes and the fun improvements in city management. Look forward to many enjoyable hours of playing this unique, captivating cross between the best of Sim City and Age of Empires.