Review: Caesar II
Published by: Sierra On-Line
Fax: 402-393-3224 (USA & Canada only)
List Price: $49.95 US
Apple Macintosh LCIII or above
System 7.1 or higher
6 MB of RAM (8MB recommended)
Double speed CD-ROM drive
14MB Hard Drive space recommended
In their "sim" game Caesar II, Sierra promises you the opportunity to "Build a City..." Start with a province in the early Roman Empire and build a capital city with exquisite, detailed structures. Then, master your unruly province by exploiting its resources, opening trade routes, and raising armies. The fun doesn't stop there as you are encouraged to "Build an Empire! Develop other provinces..." Your job is to keep the barbarians out, your cities thriving, and your citizens cheering. For a future Emperor, it's all in a day's work!"
The game is set at the rise of ancient Rome (starting ~300 B.C.).
There are two nicely integrated elements to Caesar II. The main section is something like an ancient Rome version of Sim City[TM] (Maxis). You husband your tax resources while encouraging villagers to settle and produce by providing them with markets, temples, forums, theaters, running water, roads, factories, plazas and other goods. At the same time, you have to employ "plebs" to keep the city environment maintained and pay for men to train in your military Cohort. If that weren't enough, there is the usual political "payola:" an annual donation to the Senate in Rome.
While this game scenario doesn't sound breathtakingly original, it really is nicely conceived. Graphics are beautifully detailed and the interface is better than average. Sounds and music are atmospheric and the game play, while difficult, is not impossible for anyone within the recommended age range. The game even gives you access to snippets of historical information, as well as references to more detailed studies for those with an educational inclination.
In part two, game play extends from individual city development into controlling the full province. At this stage, you're concerned with procuring raw materials and resources needed to maintain your city. Now you send out your Cohorts to pacify barbarian towns and protect your city, ports, farms, mines and villages from marauding Barbarians, invading Greeks, and Carthaginians (with a major chip on their shoulders!) Your expectations are not disappointed as you encounter their Elephants! This is an experience not to be missed!
When battle is joined, the play becomes rather like a table top game with miniatures. You have control of individual "Centuries" (about sixty men) of your military Cohort and any light infantry, slingers and Auxiliaries you can muster.
The battle animation is unexpectedly good, which is surprising given the number of figures that have to be drawn (especially on an elderly LC III). Controls for battle orders are a little vague here, but you can pause the game at any time, issue orders, and then restart when things get hairy. You can direct troops to change their formation (but woe betide you if you do this too close to the enemy!), move, fire, retreat or surrender. Troop numbers, morale, and class (a little abstracted) are all taken into account in battles. Battle development and procedure are a little simplified. However, visually, it's a treat to watch and quite nerve racking. If it all gets too much for you, you can leave it to the computer to calculate the outcome in a couple of seconds.
I've played Caesar II very happily on a Macintosh LC III, where the only thing that slows the play are the "cut scenes" which merely add "ambiance" to the game. Fortunately, these visuals can be turned off. I had only one computer freeze in about twenty hours of play. This annoyance did not recur once I allocated a couple more Megs of RAM. Thus far, I've had twenty hours of absorbing play, and the happy prospect of many hours more. Even the manual is fine. This has been one of my best buys in a long time.
I'm a happy customer. Your chariot mileage may vary!