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Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom Review

publisher: Sierra
developer: Impressions Games
genre: Management

PII 400, 64MB RAM, 4MB VIdeo Card, 800MB HD
ESRB rating: E

release date: Sep 09, 02
» All About Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom on ActionTrip

October 11, 2002
Dusan "Lynx" Katilovic

Impressions already made a couple of famous city-building games. This time, they bring us Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, a fine game that will probably have some difficulty in securing a good position on the market.

Over the last month or so, this is the second title that actually takes place in ancient China (the other one was Prince of Qin). The reason for this is, I guess that there already are a lot of Emperor like games which are all based in Europe - medieval Europe mostly. Unfortunately, changing the location is far from enough, and if that is not followed by conceptual innovations, the game is just one in the sea of copycats, which this game most definitely is.

Chronologically, the events in this game span from 2100 BC to 1215 AD. This huge period in the history of the Chinese civilization is rich with events that formed this state through the ages. This monumental approach to history was probably chosen in order to best present the authentic feeling of power - the power to build a great civilization which managed to fend against many an enemy and advance both in the spiritual field, and the fields of science and economy.

Basically, Emperor plays much the same as Caesar III, Zeus or Pharaoh: you have to build a settlement, establish trade routes to your neighbors, provide the supplies for your people, and occasionally go to conquests or defend your city. The only novelties here are details specific for the Chinese civilization and religion, like being able to summon ancestors and supernatural beings from Chinese mythology and building holy sites that make gods give you specific bonuses (how is this specific to the Chinese? - ed).

Your basic concern in this game will be to build up and manage your city. Every single scenario will begin with an empty field, where you have to build a city in order to fulfill your main quest. These quests are very strict and usually come down to having to attract a certain number of people and provide them with a certain housing quality, building a monument, or producing a required quantity of some goods. Once you complete your goals, you start all over again from scratch, a practice which gets tedious after a couple of games. One of the greatest things about city building games is the option to play endlessly with your little urban masterpiece and keep tweaking it to perfection. This is one of Emperor's greatest flaws; once you completed your task, to the next one you go, with no chance to hang around your town.

One nice novelty is the way gods and heroes are used in the game. These should constantly be summoned and given presents. Deities come in three categories: ancestral, Confucian and Taoist, and the category used depends on the historical period you are currently in. The gods will give you significant bonuses if they are pleased with you; they will usually grant you additional resources, or a production advance. Another novelty is that you should build your cities according to the Feng Shui philosophy, which states that all natural energies have to be in harmony. This means that you have to choose locations with moderate climate in order to make your population happy and productive.

The combat element was always secondary in Impressions' games. This remained the same in Emperor, too. Invading enemy territory comes down to selecting the troops you want to send forward, sending them and waiting for the news concerning the outcome of the battle. Town defense is a bit more active, but not much more so. Poor controls in this game segment will hinder your defenses. Still, no matter how skillful you may or may not be, the bigger army will always win.

The graphics remained exactly the same as in Zeus - the 2D isometric approach survived the tech revolution, which is as far as I'm concerned quite OK in this genre. Whatever the case, all sprites and backgrounds are pretty, detailed and well animated. The sounds are excellent but few; some more effects and tunes would do no harm. One of the commendable things is that the default screen resolutions got increased, which in turn made maps more legible.

The last in the array of novelties is the multiplayer mode. The developers offered dynamic and interesting scenarios for this game mode. Multiplayer games are way shorter than single player games, which is in no way a downside of the game.

Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom is a d'ją vu, a multiple one. Those of you who spent months playing Caesar III or Zeus can give this game a miss, as it won't bring them anything new at all. The rest might find Emperor a very interesting game, provided they have sufficient time to play it, and the will to disregard a couple of minor flaws in this game.


6.8   Above Average 

A well-known (and slightly expanded) approach and gameplay concept, deities and supernatural entities;

Outdated graphics, lack of any novelties, poor combat interface.



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