If you liked Caesar III, you'll love Pharaoh
(IDG) -- Originality is not always a virtue. Not when you want to make a game engine you developed at a high cost really pay. So Sierra can be forgiven for using its 1998 Caesar III engine to produce a clone set in Ancient Egypt.
Sure it's a retread; but it's a fun retread of a fine real-time strategy game, with just enough changes to make things feel refreshing.
Like Caesar III, Pharaoh is all about resource allocation. You have to grow a series of cities with increasingly complex demands balancing housing, infrastructure, harvesting a variety of crops, turning them into finished products, providing education and entertainment, collecting taxes, and trading goods. You'll also be expected to maintain an army and navy, build expensive monuments, and respond to the requests of the Pharaoh (Egypt's ruler and your boss) for supplies.
This sounds complex, but Pharaoh provides accessible tools for you to successfully manage your society. It offers a series of colored overlays (like those in Sim City 3000) to alert you to potential problems such as crime, structural damage, and lack of medical coverage. Reports in the guise of "Overseers" give you the lowdown on military readiness, warehoused goods, revenue and spending, and the attitude of local deities to your rulership.
(Each god can bless or curse a city with disasters that reflect its own area of expertise. For instance, Osiris governs the flooding of the Nile and therefore crop fertility. The number of temples and shrines you create has a direct effect on the attitude of a god towards your city.)
Want to know how your citizens regard your efforts? Right-click on one of the many "walkers" traveling your roads. They're frank, and will tell you everything relating both to their specific vocations ("I have to travel all the way across this city to deliver my goods!") and more generalized impressions ("We could do with more entertainment.")
As a sidelight, all of these well-animated travelers create a sense of a living city, which simulations like Sim City 3000, for all their uncanny accuracy in predicting certain forms of human behavior, have yet to achieve.
Pharaoh alters many of the underlying equations in Caesar III without changing the essential nature of the game. You don't need to build aqueducts to channel water inland, but you do need to erect entertainment venues at crossroads, where they take up extra space. More raw goods are available to harvest and more finished goods to produce, and these require a sensible balance between internal use and external trade.
Many of the 12 stand-alone and the 38 linked scenarios in the main campaign are also concerned with building costly, time-consuming mausoleums -- from relatively small examples to magnificent stepped pyramids. (You never play all of the linked scenarios in a row. Often, you're offered a choice between two scenarios that emphasize war and development, respectively.)
War is handled simply, as in Caesar III. You can build infantry, archers, charioteers and warship. This isn't a strategic wargame, however, so the depiction and command of units in battle is essentially restricted (with few variations) to point at the enemy, and click.
While Pharaoh offers nothing new under the sun (unless you consider the exotically colored soundtrack, which is pleasant for a day or so, and then ages like something left out too long under the hot Egyptian sun), it does what Caesar III did with equal panache, providing a good strategic challenge in a real-time game oriented more towards resource development than frenzy. Recommended.
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