The third Caesar title was the first to introduce me to the concept of creating and maintaining civilizations. Even if I did not speak a word of English at that point, it contained a nice tutorial and invited me into a new world of gaming. Lately, I have been in a nostalgic mood and decided to look at the entire series, except for Pharaoh and Zeus: Master of Olympus. Despite that they too deserve to be talked about and are even made by the same studio, their time will come later. With that said; I booted up GOG, downloaded the manual, and made a calming cup of tea before attempting at forming a metropolis like it was 1992.
Rome was not built in a day
By playing the version on GOG, you can choose between the US and the European copy, each coming with specific pros. The former features a better interface and upgraded visuals, while the latter has much smoother controls with the mouse. Either way, your goal in this city-builder is to make your town become the best one in terms of ratings in culture, peace, empire, and prosperity. This is accomplished by producing supportive constructions like forums, hospitals, colosseums, and schools in order for the residents’ houses to upgrade if their economy and living conditions are sufficient.
Unfortunately, it is poorly explained what the facilities do. As an example; the theatre and the temple add culture and raise the land value, but one makes the population calmer and the other has a bigger area of effect. Even comprehensible ones like prefectures for keeping crime low in small spaces provide no indication of much ground it covers or that it also collects taxes. The manual offers decent descriptions of the establishments, yet it too could have been more detailed with their functionalities, such as measured distances in squares.
All buildings need to be connected by water, which is basically the source of power. However, with the pipes not being able to have forks in the roads unless you use a fountain, it creates an off structure and hinders creativity in making a presentable city. Wells do help as they are another base for H2O, but you need a sewer system to properly enhance your metropolis and cover larger zones. These even hinder walls to be made, which is important to close the town and defend it from barbarians.
Despite that these are minor problems, they are made terrible thanks to the finicky controls in the US version. Here, all movements with the mouse cursor are set on a grid, which makes any task tedious to do and barely better than using the keyboards. This is where it might be best to go with the European adaptation due to smoother motions, but the semi-overhead view makes it regardless uncomfortable due to bigger buildings hiding other constructions.
While you will visually see your society grow, you must also take into consideration of stats by visiting the forum. Here, you can check on its culture, criminality, waterworks, taxes, and much more. It can be overwhelming as you will not be provided with a tutorial or get any insight on the outcomes for your current situation until some time has passed, but tinkering with it is engaging and forces you to be thorough with your decisions.
Yet, I do question if the game even adequately works here. For instance, I had barbarians constantly attacking my metropolis, but it never actually affected it to the point that I ignored these warnings. Additionally, the small trivia of people from 13 BC making an appearance does not result in anything noticeable either. Thankfully, the amount of plebs a service requires is clearly laid out and will help to keep your city strong, such as maintaining roads or pipes. Should you also struggle with gaining money from your people, you can also trade with others by having your workshop produce valuable materials, of which there are eight variations.
Contact with towns outside will therefore be important, leading to the interesting aspect of your army. You must be aware of the costs of sending out troops to patrol, providing military provisions, creating roads on the overworld map, and defending against bandits, which hold some merits. Unfortunately, the fights themselves are barely featured, with only a couple of options being present. It is odd that so little was implemented, especially seeing as Rome from this period was known for both diplomatic conquering and tactical battles, with neither being properly included in this project.
Because of the lacklustre combat, it makes building pathways, forts, walls, and towers bland too as you can merely expand one step at a time and hope you win wars of nutrition. The Caesar Deluxe version and those who own Cohort 2, will actually be able to individually command the soldiers and thus be more involved. Regrettably, neither of them was available to me, meaning I can only suspect what this would have been like.
One could say that time has been cruel to this relic, but it was even clunky when it was released. Functions on the overworld are underdeveloped, events lack impact, and the manual contains bare explanations, making this product have constant pace-breaking moments with minimal progression. Tinkering with stats and seeing your society flourishing through your interactions are engaging, but it is not an inviting title and makes any creative planning difficult.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Everything in this project depicts the era of 13 BC well, which can particularly be seen in the establishments. All of them, be it the bathhouses or markets are fittingly made to present their inspirations from ancient Greece, but upgraded with defined practical features. Caesar even goes so far as to take into consideration what materials were used in this period, such as wood and travertine. I also love the minor details implemented everywhere, like the menus being words carved on petrous surfaces, providing an endearing and historical charm.
Sadly, this title has a lot of blemishes too. The people walking around are made bigger to provide a visual indication of what status or work they have, but simultaneously look awkward when they are the size of a temple. With only three frames of animations and clustered pixels, they are not pleasing to the eyes either and better time would have been spent on the terrains. Not every area was green forests with water in this epoch, and it is a shame that the developers did not put in more diverse naturalistic environments. This holds especially true with the murky colour schemes being used.
The sounds of townspeople chatting and facilities making appropriate cues are nice for atmospheric purposes, though the music is lousy. All of them are sparsely used and mainly included to signify achievements, such as your city gaining a specific amount of residents. The pause melody is the worst with repetitive notes and a loop that has a clumsy pause. At least the trumpets could be a nod to the buccina, though the compositions are overall underwhelming with few instruments utilised.
Presentation Score: 5/10
Where will your next civilisation be?
At the beginning of each playthrough, you will get to choose the difficulty and your starting fund, before being assigned a random place to create your urban society. It would have been interesting to see how Britannia would differ from Galia for example, but the lone thing that is mainly altered is the layout of the water and maybe some new unimpactful events. At least it does make revisits somewhat varied, just not exhilarating or unique.
Extra Score: 4/10
Even if it is a humble root, the first Caesar contains issues that make it uncomfortable to play and is solely for those who are curious about the series’ origin or have a fascination for this era of PC gaming. Although it is engaging to try to create your metropolis through the limitations this period had, with vague explanations, poor military mechanics, and problematic presentation, it will only be a fulfilling experience for a small audience.