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CivCity: Rome

A wonderfully engaging city builder that's a breeze to play and rewarding in terms of depth

There is this great word, 'synergy', which, although it has been hijacked by marketing people who gesticulate unnecessarily and drink too much double espresso, describes perfectly the events and decisions that very probably led to the release of CivCity: Rome.

Fittingly, the concept probably arose out of some brainstorming meeting by marketing executives looking to capitalize on established brands, in light of the fact that 'the Rome dollar is real big right now.' The name first pops into the head of one of them and, bingo, a perfect example of brand extension is born. "Hey, don't we own Sid Meier now?" asks 2K Games' hip marketing dude in the peach turtleneck and sandles. "And those Firefly boys aren't doing much, are they?"

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So Firefly get an email to dust off the Stronghold 2 engine, Sid gets a diplomatic envoy telling him, 'The console changeover necessitates we resource brand harvesting in light of the technology flux,' or something, and the design document is written: 'Put together a city-building resource-management game, stick a Civ-style Civopedia in there and get Sid to talk about it in press interviews.' Job done.

"Dude, that name is so cool," salivates Hip Dude's minion. "Civ... Between SimCity and CivCity. It's perfect. Where d'you get 'em from?" "They just flow, man. Let's lunch."

WHAT'S IN A NAME?
OK, so that may not be an accurate history of CivCity's conception and development, but what I have here on my hard drive is a city-building resource-management game set during the Roman period, with a trademark Civ-style Civopedia neatly tacked on. It's one of a veritable legion of similar games asking you to do the same thing: build a shack on the banks of the Tiber and finish up 20 hours later (or 200 - depending on how difficult you find such things), with a sprawling network of farms, houses, shops and various places where animals and humans are slaughtered in the name of entertainment.

Initially, the appeal is the association with the great Civilization, but really you'd have to be pretty gullible to be suckered into thinking this is anything but a Rome-flavoured sequel to Firefly's own Stronghold. That in itself is no bad thing (and let's not forget Firefly had a hand in the venerable Caesar series), because if there was one aspect Stronghold excelled in, it was building cities.

CivCity does too, and it goes a step further by letting you in on the daily lives of your citizens. This voyeuristic approach is nothing new, and while you wouldn't really want to watch Gaius Pompus hacking up sheep and buying bread for too long, it's a calming facet of the game that helps foster a degree of care for your CivSims. (Hang on a minute, there's another game right there. I'm in the wrong job.)

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HAIRCUT 100AD
All the erection options one expects in such games are present and correct and I'm not going to maul through all the things you must do to win (since placing a well so that it services a maximum number of houses is pretty much universal). Suffice to say that while the process might appear rather mundane and the interaction between buildings and people pretty much standard, it's to the credit of the developers that getting on with business is a piece of piss.

The 3D camera zooms and rotates as 3D cameras should, icons are well placed and perfectly sized, and information is easy to dig out to help you gauge whether people are happy. Moreover, where other games force you to build extravagant cities on less than solid foundations, so as to have the whole lot come crashing down when one toilet cleaner decides to downsize, here you can insist Romans change jobs and therefore make sure the olives get picked - even if it means there's one less barber in town.

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