Openly taking on Civilization 2 (Civ 2), the folks at Impressions have taken loads of interesting cultural information, fantastic sound and graphics, and full network support and combined them in a title that is full of atmosphere and life, but slightly lacking in its strategy content.
Rise & Rule uses the same basic structure as its competition. Players start on a map (randomly generated or realistic) with one settler. With this single unit, players must found a city, spread out across the continents, and create an entire civilization capable of standing up against the test of time. As the game progresses, players can access different unit types including a variety of combat troops, philosophers (who trade information between cities, facilitating the building of roads and the cultivation of fields), and merchants (who generate trade between cities). Moving units is as simple as highlighting them with your mouse and clicking on their destination, and newcomers will find the game's on-line tutorial and help boxes very helpful when getting started.
Rise & Rule does a fantastic job of making players feel like they belong to their selected culture. Every city improvement, every unit, every rendered animation and even the soundtrack reflects the specific culture that the player has selected. Unfortunately, in their attempt to one-up Civilization 2, the designers at Impressions seem to have forgotten to make the game fun to play. This title's limited time span (the object is to win by A.D. 500), limited number of unit types (around 12, as compared to Civ 2's 50-plus), and limited research involvement (players use a slider to determine how much effort to dedicate to five areas of study), leave the game sadly lacking in just about every area that Civ 2 succeeds in. As beautiful as the game is, there's no reason for anyone to buy a title you're not going to enjoy playing in the long run.
If you've got access to a network and you're looking for a multi-player game with great sound and solid graphics, you may want to give Rise & Rule a spin. Those looking to buy a single-player strategy game will almost surely be happier with Civ 2.