Caesar IV is a head-scratcher. It is almost an identical game to CivCity: Rome (released in July), and it shares the same theme with Glory of the Roman Empire (also released in July). Now, I didn't play Glory of the Roman Empire since it appeared to be a lightweight, casual game, but I reviewed CivCity: Rome about a month ago, and the similarities between it and Caesar IV are striking. All of the basic goals in the game are the same -- for example, in both games you need to supply your citizens with services and goods so they'll upgrade their houses so you can tax them more -- but where the details differ, pretty consistently CivCity: Rome is the game that makes the better decisions.
The puzzling aspect to this is that if you're developer Tilted Mill Entertainment or publisher Sierra Entertainment, why would you decide to release Caesar IV now? Wouldn't you figure that people have had their fill of managing Roman cities for a while? Or, since your game is coming out last, wouldn't you compare it to the earlier releases, learn from their mistakes, and take the time to make your product the superior one? Caesar IV could have used some extra time just to separate it from the other Roman city-building games, if not to improve its terrible interface and spruce up its boring campaign, but perhaps Tilted Mill and Sierra decided it was a sunk cost, and that there wasn't any point in delaying the inevitable.
Caesar IV is a fairly typical city management game. You're put in control of a Roman colony, and you have to do things like place buildings, manage salaries, develop trade routes, and defend your borders. You're rated in five categories, including culture (religion and entertainment), security (local police and firefighters as well as walls, towers and an army), prosperity (how much your citizens have upgraded their homes), favor (how well you've met Rome's demands), and population. You also need to make money so you can expand your city, and keep your people happy so that they'll continue to immigrate rather than emigrate.
The problem that Caesar IV has is that there isn't anything about it that isn't fairly typical, and, worse, Tilted Mill made all sorts of bad decisions about the interface, and so there isn't anything about the game that makes it fun or unique to play. Consider Rome's demands. From time to time while you're building up your city, Rome will demand some resource from you, and give you a time limit to deliver it. So if you're playing on a map where you can mine gold, Rome might demand 50 pieces of gold within one year. That's fine, since it gives you something extra to worry about, but the interface doesn't help you out. If you delve into your advisor's menu, you'll find a button where you can stockpile resources (so your jewelry manufacturers, for example, won't use up your gold), but you have to remember to turn the stockpiling on and off, which gets annoying when Rome amps up its requests. Worse, to check on the status of the demand, you have to click once to go to your advisor's menu, click again to go to the imperial tab, and then double click on the demand -- and since opening this page pauses the game, you have to go through this four-click sequence every time you want to see how close you are. Tilted Mill could have saved players a lot of effort by showing the status of the demand in the upper left corner of the screen.
Or consider how trade works. Trade is how you make most of your money in the game, but importing items is very expensive. You can limit how much of an item you import each year (again, by delving into the advisor's menu), but you can't do obvious things like prevent your traders from buying items if you have some of that item in stock, or to stop your traders from buying things if the purchase would cause your treasury to go into the negative. So you have to micromanage your trade, watching each trading vessel as it comes in, and that's fine enough when you're doing very little trading, but once you open up multiple trading routes it becomes tedious at best.
Or consider warehouses. Every city management game seems to have annoying warehouses, where eventually you start filling them up and then have to either build more warehouses or cut production. Caesar IV is no different, because for some reason Tilted Mill made the warehouses very small. Each warehouse can only hold 32 items (no matter if it's housing small things like olive oil or large things like furniture), and so it's incredibly easy to fill them up. Worse, Rome often asks for 50-100 items in its requests, and you have to send them all at once, and so you have to dedicate multiple new warehouses just for the transfer.
There are more problems, like a totally inept military system, but you get the idea. The interface causes all sorts of unnecessary micromanagement, the constant requests from Rome get annoying (my record is five open requests at once; I gave up playing after that mission), and the campaign missions are boring because there's nothing unique about them except for the starting map. You just have to beat a certain threshold in each of the five rating areas, and if you do that you win. There aren't any unique occurrences, there aren't any surprises, and, if you find a city layout that works in one mission, you can repeat it for every mission. Ho hum.
Obviously, I found Caesar IV to be a disappointment. I liked Tilted Mill's first offering, Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile, much more, and it's odd how they could go from a unique and interesting game to one so completely bland and generic. But that's what happened, and, as much as I wasn't really enthusiastic about CivCity: Rome, I'd easily recommend that one to people looking for a city management game to play, rather than Caesar IV.