Imperium Romanum Review

Old-fashioned city building and bugs turn Imperium Romanum into an ancient ruin.

Even with a cool new Latinized name, Imperium Romanum is pretty much the exact same game as Glory of the Roman Empire, which came, saw, and inspired a thousand yawns back in 2006. This carbon copy also has tougher problems to deal with than simply ripping off a two-year-old snoozer that nobody much cared for, since a legion of bugs leave the game stuck somewhere between "unstable" and "God help you."

And that last sentence isn't hyperbole. In its launch state, Imperium Romanum is virtually unplayable. Crashes are so commonplace that it's almost impossible to get through a scenario without the game hard-locking your system and forcing a reboot. Any sort of monkeying around with the default graphical settings tends to make matters much worse. Turn on antialiasing or anisotropic filtering, for example, or dial up shadows and grass detail, and chances are pretty good that the game will freeze before you even make it to a scenario loading screen. You're really going to want to crank up the graphics, too, because it will seem like you're viewing the game through a screen door at the default 1024x768 resolution and lowball detail settings. It doesn't take much fiddling for the game to go boom, either. Sometimes it crashes on interface menu screens that are just displays of text and a few static pictures. These bugs are depressingly common, if the posts at the developer's official forum are any indication. Haemimont is promising to release a patch in the near future, but really, this game never should have been shipped in such an rickety condition in the first place.

City building like grandma used to make.
City building like grandma used to make.

Even if you can keep Imperium Romanum up and running, you're not going to experience anything that you haven't encountered many times before. As noted off the top, this is really just a refined take on Glory of the Roman Empire, with an improved 3D engine and more Rome-specific civilizational touches. But the overall design still feels phoned in. There is no formal campaign, for instance, just an historical timeline mode where you gradually proceed through scenarios from key moments in Roman history. You start off with just Rome in 509 BC, Rome in 146 BC, and Pompeii in 70 BC (although this should actually be AD 70, as that's when Mount Vesuvius blew its top and buried the provincial town in ash), with success in each mission unlocking around a dozen further stops along a timeline that ranges all the way from the birth of Rome to the second century AD. The actual history represented in these scenarios is awfully skimpy, however, so you'll really only get anything out of them if you're already familiar with ancient Rome and know what events the dates represent. The only other mode of play is a sandbox mode that takes you to rough approximations of famous Roman cities like Thessalonica and Caesarea. It's equally light on history, with terrain being the only real links between these simulated cities and their ancient inspirations.

Gameplay doesn't provide much in the way of an ancient history lesson, either. It doesn't appear as though Haemimont is very concerned with history--or spell-checking, for that matter, given how you're called a "Preator" all through the tutorial. You're really playing a stereotypical city builder with some Roman-inspired visuals, not a Roman city builder. So you build the standard-issue town with the expected town center, the de rigeur houses, the usual barracks and stables, and the rather familiar flax and pig farms. None of these buildings look particularly Roman, just vaguely ancient in a generic style. All share so many similar characteristics that it's hard to tell a villa from a tavern at any distance. Resources are standard for this sort of game, too, with you gathering timber, stone, meat, wine, and so forth. Combat is just as basic, in that you occasionally have to raise armies of soldiers, archers, and cavalry to beat down pesky barbarians.

There isn't anything particularly wrong with any of this, of course. During stable moments, the game plays quite smoothly, with a reasonable level of challenge and an easy-to-use interface that places all of the controls at your fingertips. The only real hitch is the absence of a proper time-compression option, as the game runs on only two speeds--"really slow" and plain old regular "slow." But it all feels so dreary and uninspired. Too much here is patterned after the city-building template first laid out in games like Caesar over a decade ago. Scenario objectives sure don't break any new ground, so don't expect any big thrills here unless you're still having a blast building a town up to 60 citizens, or reaching a certain number of villas, or constructing a monument like a triumphal arch. The only mildly intriguing modern touch is automatic tracking of high scores over the Net, which gives you a target to shoot for each and every time you load up a scenario. Of course, this is still a pretty poor excuse for going head-to-head with another wannabe city planner in a real multiplayer mode.

Raising armies and sending them into combat is a brainless exercise.
Raising armies and sending them into combat is a brainless exercise.

Even if you appreciate this sort of mundane city building, many aspects of the design seem broken. It's sometimes impossible to satisfy citizens' demands for basic amenities like water and sausages. Residents often won't stop whining even when you drop wells and butcher shops right on their doorsteps. Many times you have to micromanage your plebs by manually clicking on them and ordering them to satisfy their needs by buying sausage or whatever it is that they're griping about. Riots will sometimes start up when you've got just a couple of angry citizens in your whole town. Fires will sometimes begin for no reason, even if you've got the town fully covered by prefectures, apparently just to set you back and drag out scenario length. Needless to say, this isn't a great deal of fun. Having half-wits torching villas when they can't find the butcher shop across the street is a real pain, as is enduring the random, fiery wrath of Vulcan on your farms. Employment is another problem. Jobs are slotted for men and women, with men getting the grunt farm work and women taking care of taverns. This is fine and dandy when it comes to providing a realistic look at the sexist times way back when, but it's a pain when most of the jobs are reserved for men. Unless you have the room and denarii to build a pile of woman-hiring taverns, your unemployment rate is guaranteed to be eternally high due to all the women who can't find jobs.

Army management is such a total waste of time that it shouldn't have been included in the game at all. Buildings such as barracks and stables create and maintain only a single complement of troops. If you want more than one company of soldiers, you have to build multiple buildings, which is well-nigh impossible in many scenarios due to lack of space and money. This makes combat excruciatingly drawn out. If your single company of, say, hastati is beaten to a hasty retreat by a pack of marauding barbarians (all your enemies are marauding barbarians, by the way), you have to wait for your boys to retreat to their barracks and then slowly rebuild their numbers. Lose a couple of scraps and you spend more time waiting for troop strength to get back up to snuff than you do actually playing general. Not that you can do much ordering around even if you get onto a Trajanlike roll. Aside from basic moving and a couple of formations, the only battle commands are attack, retreat, and stop. So all you can really do is point your troops at the nearest enemy town and hope they wind up burning it to the ground.

Buggy, boring, and pointless, Imperium Romanum is about as hard on gamers as Nero was on Christians. It may get some of the basics right, but the many technical flaws and the simplistic regurgitation of game mechanics almost as old as Hadrian's Wall leave very little here to be enjoyed, no matter how much you like playing Caesar.

The Good
Online high score tracking
The Bad
So crash-prone that it's almost unplayable
Basic design is too dated and generic
Not enough Roman history or flavor
Horribly limited army management and combat
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Imperium Romanum More Info

  • First Released Mar 11, 2008
    • PC
    Take on the role of a governor of a Roman province and lead your citizens to growth, security, and prosperity.
    Average Rating437 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Haemimont Games
    Published by:
    SouthPeak Games, Kalypso
    Strategy, Management
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Alcohol Reference, Mild Violence