by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Land of the Pyramids
I have always been fascinated with Ancient Egypt. Everything from the hieroglyphic writing to the structures that have (mostly) stood the test of time such as the Great 'phinx, the Pyramids of Giza and the temples of Abu Simbel. To this day, a visit to Egypt to view some of the remains of this ancient empire remains on my bucket list.
So, when the opportunity arose to check out Pharaoh: A New Era arose, I couldn't let the chance slip. I figured I could at least imagine I was stepping back in time to when the Pharaohs ruled the land. I missed the chance to play the original when it released back in 1999, and so Pharaoh: A New Era is a fresh game to me, although it does have familiarity with other games I have played – namely city simulation and management games like Sim City and Rollercoaster Tycoon.
Although Pharaoh: A New Era does have similarities to games like Sim City, it does things a little different. For starters, Pharaoh has a campaign mode that is split into smaller missions, with each mission setting players a goal within a particular location. Early on, the game does a wonderful job of getting players acclimated to the mechanics. Each of the early cities (the first six) introduce several of the structures required to keep the city running. There is quite a bit of handholding through these first few missions, but this serves to ensure that players are familiar with what is required to keep the city running smoothly even as new aspects are introduced throughout the game. It was only during the first few campaign missions that I had any frustrations, when one of the missions had a goal that wasn't attainable. After a bit of research, it was an issue that plagued the original title, and a simple matter of adjusting some of the settings enabled completion of the mission.
Like any city-builder, resources are important. In the case of Pharaoh: A New Era, those important resources are water, food, luxury goods and gold. Each will be required if your town is to become prosperous. Gold allows players to construct vital services whilst water and food keeps them healthy. Luxury goods such as pottery will keep the citizens happy.
Keeping the citizens happy is not an easy task though. Happiness comes from keeping them employed, well fed, healthy and entertained. Building structures such as police stations and firehouses will also make the townspeople feel safe. Organizing the layout of your city is important. Citizens want access to all the vital services for them to remain happy. Place them too far from entertainment and they'll start to get bored, too far from a firehouse and they'll likely be in danger of fire or too far from a physician and they'll likely to fall sick. But all these services cost money and learning to spread them out in an optimal way does take some trial and error, even with the overlays that can be produced at any time.
Appeasing the gods
But it is not just the townsfolk that need to be looked after. Ancient Egyptians had a fascination with their Gods, and it is these Deities that can set your city to ruin if they are not appeased. Monuments and temples need to be erected so that the citizens can pray to their Gods. If the Gods remain gratified then this will help crops to grow, providing a plentiful harvest and lots of food for the populace. The opposite can be said if they are unhappy. At times, it can be a juggling act to ensure that all the different Gods are kept satisfied.
As expected, the game has had some major graphical overhauls since the 1999 original. It often still feels like a vintage game due to the fact that most structures have a square base and roads can only be laid in the familiar rectangular patterns of a prior era and. But with that said, each of the structures look beautiful and as you zoom out and view your city, it is easy to determine each of the building types. As citizens move into their lodgings and more services are built nearby, it is a nice touch to watch those lodgings improve from crude huts into homesteads and eventually into estates. The buildings have a distinct ancient Egyptian style – particularly once players start building temples and monuments to the various gods, with many of the structures featuring various hieroglyphs.
Overlays can also be used to see the reach of each of the civic buildings. They provide a quick way of seeing where your city may be failing in a variety of aspects. Indeed, Pharaoh: A New Era clearly has aspects that have come straight from the original version but modified to make gameplay simpler. With everything one or two mouse-clicks away, players can quickly access all the features required to have their cities bustling with citizens.
It's good to be the Pharaoh.
If you're someone who likes building a city from the bottom up, being in control of every aspect of the citizens life, then Pharaoh: A New Era will definitely be up your alley, more so if you have an affinity for Ancient Egypt. With more than fifty campaign maps and the sandbox mode, this is a game that will have you playing for days, with each of the missions providing a different challenge. In the end, watching your cities expand to become a flourishing ancient metropolis is enjoyable and rather relaxing, with all your cartoon citizens scampering around the city like tiny worker ants. It can be hard work keeping them and the gods satisfied, but it is well worth it.
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Gentle learning curve eases players in
Some outdated visuals, some issues with mission goals