Ahh, the tramp of sandals on paving, the glug of olive oil and the distant bleating of goats. This can only mean one thing; another Roman city game. But don't rush to get your toga back from the dry cleaners just yet - the gameplay in CivCity: Rome is as old as the civilisation it's based on and much less successful.
It's all very familiar territory. You start with a few shacks, knock up a couple of farms and wells, add a granary and some storehouses, and then try to match the growing needs of your residents' evolving houses with supplies and services. Place a key building outside a household's transport radius, and your residents will be unable to upgrade; treat them badly, and they'll leave your city altogether.
To be fair, Firefly has thrown in some new elements, like research trees - which allow you to improve various aspects of your society like roads, farming or trade - as well as a more complex evolution system for housing. At key points in its development, a house will need to be relocated, which can cause real problems if you haven't factored this into your city planning (or you've simply run out of space in some of the more cramped maps). You can also tweak rations, payment and spare time, which can help balance population drift.
In fact, it takes a serious amount of time to find a working balance for your cities as they become more sophisticated, a process that's seriously hindered by poor game design. For example, warehouses can't be set to store specific amounts of wares, and can only transfer excess to another warehouse one group at a time, leaving you constantly having to monitor and adjust city logistics instead of concentrating on more important matters. There's no employment priority setting, and the only way to cull surplus is to destroy a warehouse and start again. You can track the occupants of a building, but there are no tools to channel them (like gates or roadblocks), and they'll often seem to ignore the building on their doorstep that meets their household needs perfectly. When rich householders need access to myriad services and foodstuffs, this kind of shortfall quickly becomes unbearably frustrating, particularly given the limited size of some of the maps.
CivCity: Rome attempts to be educational at times, with an information button that will tell you about various aspects of Roman life, and you can see inside buildings as you pan around the map. But while the locations change, the challenges aren't hugely varied, and often historically inaccurate - growing olives and ignoring the iron trade in Britannia, for example. Don't expect anything from the military aspect, either.
If you really want a Rome sim, I'd suggest you hold out for Caesar IV - I've seen the preview code, and it looks like it'll be a better game. CivCity: Rome can be entertaining for a while, but lacks the polish for long-term gameplay.
Verdict: Carbon-copy entertainment with serious balance and gameplay issues. Stick with the originals, or hold out for Sierra's upcoming sequel if you're looking for a game that will keep you up until the early hours.
Score: 2 1/2 out of 5
Publisher: 2K Games