In and around Southern Europe, sometime between 27 BC and AD 476. The Roman Empire is all the rage, and Milan’s haute couture catwalks groan under the formidable weight of stylish bronze plating, leather pleats, and luxurious Arctic wolf’s head accessories imported all the way from that fashionably-to-die-for-darling barbarus Saxones. Of course, it’s not all glitz, glamour, and crucifixions – someone’s got to build the roads and negotiate trade agreements and burn down plague-ridden neighbourhoods and other drab stuff everybody just totally takes for granted. And that’s where I come in, the illustrious Governor Fabulous Maximus. I’m really just in it for burning down the plague-ridden neighbourhoods.
In Caesar 3, it’s the player’s job to build and manage an Imperial city. It’s like something in between SimCity and, say, The Settlers. There’s a lot of “Build this here” and “Take this there” and “Why isn’t this ****ing fountain working, it’s right by the ****ing reservoir”. Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is any of this – in fact, it all has a dismaying tendency to collapse into big heap of rubble just as it’s getting somewhere. Stupid engineers. Stupid prefects. Stupid gods.
The game is scenario based, setting any of a number of objectives for the player – reach X population, slavishly ingratiate yourself into Y of Caesar’s favour. Once you’re through the tutorial stages, you’re given a choice of two areas in each subsequent scenario, with one of these typically facing more foreign hostility and involving some degree of military investment. It’s also where the game doesn’t work at all – it’s just building a bunch of barracks and guard towers, and frantically clicking on enemy units until they’re tomato sauce. You know, when you should be putting out the fire that’s raging over by the forum because the legion conscription took away all the fire marshals.
Elsewhere, however, the game plays well enough, if occasionally somewhat frustratingly. One of the most important things to consider is road and intersection placement between homes and industries, to best facilitate the movement of people between these. That’s because, for some mad reason, the pathfinding AI is so atrocious, citizens will take the most extraordinary routes between places, and continue to do so, regardless of how many shortcuts you shove in their way or how much you swear at them. Maintaining a happy balance between your current and incoming population with the number of available jobs and food supply is also extremely daunting, even early in. Expect to see a population of 580 plunge to 320, just because a granary fell over and died, or because the guy carrying the food decided to go via Norway. Oh, and if you’re not building temples to every god on every corner, expect catastrophes. Frequently.
For its faults, Caesar 3 is still a pretty decent and very challenging city builder / management game, however. It’s not likely to appeal to a more casual player, but anyone who ever thought SimCity didn’t include enough olive oil presses and stroppy plebeians should check it out.