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Game Over Online ~ Cleopatra: Pharoah Expansion

GameOver Game Reviews - Cleopatra: Pharoah Expansion (c) Sierra, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Cleopatra: Pharoah Expansion (c) Sierra
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 166, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM, Pharoah
Overall Rating 81%
Date Published Tuesday, August 22nd, 2000 at 09:39 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

Oy, the things I sign up for. I had decided to write the review for Cleopatra because I had had enough of writing reviews for RTS games, and if I had to come up with another metaphor for 'a game pretty much like Command and Conquer,' I was going to gouge my eyes out with a plastic yogurt spoon. Besides, I had played the SimCity series, and Caesar II & III, and even 1602AD which not that many people had - as we say in the biz "I was well prepared to leverage my previous work experience to achieve new paradigms of enhanced productivity." The very fact that Microsoft Word and its associated grammar checker lets such a sentence through unscathed indicates more than anything that civilization itself is crumbling around our ankles. Anyway, if you noticed that I didn't list Pharaoh in that crowd, you'd be observant. I never played Pharaoh despite good reviews. That's probably another reason I wanted to review Cleopatra - to see what I had missed. So, I had to play Pharaoh, and then I had to play Cleopatra. That's a lot of playtime, and I'm all grown up now with a wife and dogs and a full time job. Back in grad school, it was no big deal to stay up all night waiting for the last habitat module in the space station to be completed in Civilization, but, as I said, things are different now. If you've been waiting for this review, I apologize. If you gave up waiting, and went out and bought Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home instead, then I really apologize, because, and I can't stress this strongly enough, that is a completely repugnant excuse for a game. Especially when considering that you could have spent that money on Cleopatra, the official expansion pack for Pharaoh, which is a pretty good expansion pack if there ever was one.

Let me start off with a mini-review of Pharaoh for those, like me, who didn't get around to playing that. It's a game sort of like Caesar II or III, only a lot more complicated. You block out land for people to build housing on, and, if you've given them access to roads and schools, water and food, hospitals and brothels, they'll move in. OK, brothels not included, but dammit there should have been. Little animated prostitutes hanging out in front of a brothel with the catchy, Egyptian-y name 'The Slithering Asp' or 'Up the Nile.' OK, so now we know why I'm not in advertising. Anyway, it's your job to place the infrastructure of your city - for example, a well, from which people in the vicinity will get water. There are an easy set of overlays that you can place on the map which will indicate which houses have enough water, and which don't indicating your need to build more wells and where they should go. The overlays can also tell you about crime, entertainment, shopping, fire risk, whatever city service or problem exists. In this the designers of Pharaoh have succeeded admirably with a clean menu interface for constructing and monitoring your city's needs, while at the same time leaving plenty of the screen for the actual view of your city. And the view of your city is wonderfully animated. Jugglers perform on the street corners, vendors at the bazaar hock their wares, hunters hunt, gatherers gather; it's a whole living city. People are dressed in bright colors, the sand is a pleasant and varied brown, grass is green, rivers are blue - like Payton Place, it's a nice place to live. There are an expansive number of structures to build - far more than I remember Caesar as having available. Mission success depends upon a complex mix of food and water and entertainment and police and fire protection and schools and hospitals and taxes and and and - a lot of stuff! You've got to balance cash flow and unemployment and defense and the needs of your people. Fortunately, Pharaoh starts you off slowly with tutorial missions which lets you build just a few of the structures explaining how they work as you build them, and adding more buildings with succeeding levels. Still, this is not a game for the casual gamer - if you haven't gotten it yet from my description, this baby is complicated.

There is really only one flaw that glared at me as I played so many hours of Pharaoh that both my wife and dogs forgot what I looked like, and that is pathfinding. People with a certain level of responsibility in your city, say the water carriers from a water source, leave the well and go out in search of houses to deliver it to. The search is performed in some logical fashion, but the water carrier should know where the houses are that need water, and he should make a beeline to them - he doesn't. He doesn't learn from history either, and for certain road layouts his search routine fails entirely. I've had houses near the water source abandoned and listed as having no water because the search routine doesn't seem to wander down their streets. I could have put up roadblocks to sort of guide the water carriers to the houses that needed it, but the roadblocks are universal, so police and firemen couldn't get down blocked roads to do their jobs, nor shopkeepers, nor tax collectors, nor doctors; you get my drift. Both Caesar III and 1602AD had some frustrating routing and pathing kinds of issues like these, and I don't think it is worth overly downgrading either those games or this one because of it. It's just, for the present at least, the nature of the beast.

The theme of Cleopatra is more. More structures, more trade goods, more enemies, more monuments, more missions. I'm not honestly certain how many more missions - I've played 10 so far, and they seem to be getting longer as the game goes on. If you wanted to wait for me to play the whole game through, it might have been another two weeks before this review came to light. Not for the faint of heart, Cleopatra assumes that you've played Pharaoh before. Many of the new missions are directed towards building burial tombs for your dearly departed Pharaohs in a place called The Valley of Kings. As you go along, you have to protect all your old tombs from raiders (Lara Croft need not apply), and they are relentless. So the saying goes, the pyramids weren't built in a day, and that seems to hold true for the game time as well. Waiting for that habitat module in Civilization was small potatoes (one of my favorite X-Files episodes) compared to building The Great Library in Cleopatra. Monuments take a serious pile of resources and time, and you have to keep your city rolling along while diverting a chunk of your production output to the pharaoh's new chrome plated coffin with dual carbs and glass-packed muffler (crypt-as-a-car metaphor courtesy of Review Writing 101). The game can (and in my opinion does) get a little monotonous once you've found a city layout format that works, and you spend a lot of time waiting for enough gold to be mined or enough oil to come in (you have to trade for the latter) to complete a tomb. To try and break this up, Cleopatra adds some timed missions, which are very jarring when you have sort of a build up plan and pace that you're used to.

Cleopatra adds a scenario editor (though I understand from reading newsgroups that the editor was available as a download for free and would have worked with Pharaoh as well). Breaks my heart that I haven't had time to play with it much. What I have seen of it looks to be well laid out for making the scenario of your dreams (well, in my dreams Cleopatra has to battle the women from the cast of VIP, and it takes place mostly in mud - regrettably, the scenario editor isn't built for that). If you're the type of person who likes to generate their own scenarios, or download them off the web from people who do, I expect the replayability factor for this game to be quite high. That reminds me about a friend of mine who spent about 200 hours making a level for Doom using one of the early editors. He spent like 2 hours playing with the lighting level in a single room ("69 too bright. 64 too dark. 66, better! Ah, maybe 67. 66. 67. Etc."). I don't think he ever actually played the level. The moral of the story is that I'm probably a guy more apt to download someone else's level than make one of my own - really has nothing whatsoever to do with my review of Cleopatra.

The only problem with Cleopatra pretty much remains the only problem with Pharoah. As near as I can tell, no change has been made to the way walkers wander around your city randomly dispensing services like so many civil-service tooth fairies. Otherwise, it is clear that Breakaway Games has put more than the average amount of thought into this expansion pack, and fans of Pharaoh, which was among the best of this game type all by itself, should find it very satisfying.


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