Though perhaps not as widely known as Sid Meier's Sim City franchise, Sierra's Caesar series has been entertaining city-building fans for over a decade now, with multiple spin-offs like Pharoah, Zeus: Master of Olympus, and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, not to mention three incarnations of the original Roman theme. Despite the fact that each game has clearly been a variation on the existing game engine - delivering a surprisingly similar game experience each time - the formula is a winning one, and this latest version is no exception.
It's the first version to come from developer Tilted Windmill, but president Chris Beatrice comes straight from Impressions Games (the original Caesar team), so the feel and mechanics of the game are, once again, very familiar. You start by building farms and fields and basic accommodation for your plebes, then begin to court equites with luxury goods and better healthcare and culture, before making your city attractive enough to bring in the fat cat patricians - the only class that directly pays taxes. Trade routes and manufacturing help to bring in the much-needed income, while the Gods are as petulant as ever, destroying buildings if they start to feel unloved.
Look closely enough and you'll still find the occasional humorous animation that was the trademark of earlier versions, and the same building formulae that served you well in previous games can be quickly adapted for success in this one.
Unsurprisingly, the graphics have been given a serious overhaul, resulting in some seriously pretty results for those whose hardware is up to the task. However, shadows, dynamic lighting, weather effects, even individual character animations, will all put a strain on even a fairly up-to-date system when your city gets a little on the large side, so you may find yourself having to choose between "pretty" and "playable".
But there's more to Caesar IV than simply a facelift. The people in your city are finally smart enough to act on their own desires, unlike the blind and frustrating "walkers" of before. This gives you greater flexibility in your designs, and theoretically, you no longer need roadblocks to keep them from wandering off in the wrong direction (though personally, I miss the road blocks).
However, there's obviously a fair chunk of the original code left in this game, as handling military units for the more martial missions is still atrocious - possibly even worse than before - and enclosing your city with walls can be problematic. I also came across a couple of gameplay bugs (Caesar demanding pottery, but glass being the required game, for example), but none of this was enough to stop me from playing it into the early hours of the morning. Again.
Click here to view a screenshot.
Verdict: Fans should buy this without question, but newcomers may find some of the gameplay issues take the shine off an otherwise highly addictive game.
Score: 4 out of 5