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Europa 1400: The Guild Review
publisher: JoWooD Productions
developer: 4 Head Studios
P3 500, 64MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 750MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 18, 02 (released)
|» All About Europa 1400: The Guild on ActionTrip|
It's not easy being a thief, especially in 15th century Europa.
The Middle Ages, or the Dark Ages as they are also known, represent a less than thrilling period in Europaan history. Constant wars, plague, poverty and mass religious fervor, are some of the chief reasons why this period is so unpopular today. Hell, I think there isn't a person alive, except for a few mass murderers and lawyers that would be willing to go back to that age. However, even then people had to work and mingle with the "in" crowds to move up in the world - just like they do today. That seems to be the basic premise of Jo Wood's latest management sim. game, Europa 1400: The Guild.
In Europa 1400, players are cast in the role of a young person setting off from the countryside to seek his/her fortune in the big city. This young lad or lassie has a family, and thus you'll have to select your parents from a number of workmen, merchants, poets, or even thieves. Every player can therefore inherit helpful talents on the path to glory and wealth. Your talents should in part determine your own occupation, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so. I chose to become a thief (sure beats the hell out of playing as an Inquisitor), even though in the game mom was a poet, and dad a craftsman. Sure, it takes a bit longer to advance yourself and actually learn some useful tricks of the trade, but that's just one of the great things about this game. If you ever get a feeling that midlife crisis is creeping in on you, and you think it's time to change your profession, you can simply buy a workshop and study to be a master workman. Numerous positions are just waiting to be filled. Guilds churches and councils tempt players with the influence they offer. Changing alliances offering privileges or the well-considered employment of underhand measures can lead you to the heights of your career - or if carelessly used, to rot in a dungeon. If all else fails there is still the option of a duel at dawn. Anything goes in this game, just as long as you don't fall in debt or die from plague. Europa 1400 is best described as a simulation of life in the Middle Ages. The sole purpose of the game is to immerse you in that seemingly chaotic period and teach you that life back then wasn't really all that different from the one we're leading today.
Eight different groups of professions are available at the beginning of the game, blacksmith, tincture mixer, landlord, preacher, thief, plus a few more. The objective of the game depends on the game mode you decide to play. There are two to choose from, the mission mode or the endless game where players can build a family dynasty. The mission mode includes several different objectives, such as "Become mayor," "Obtain a monopoly over the surrounding quarries," or "Raise 15 000 ducats through raids." There are others too, like "Become rich" (sounds good), and "Score with the queen" (I'm just messing with ya!). Once you've selected your mission and your mode of play, it's time to set off to the big city. You can select from a list of five major Europaan cities: Paris, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, or London. The difficulty of your mission largely depends on the city you choose. Some cities are tougher than others, and that all depends on their economy and political climate.
From what I've written so far it's clear to see that Europa 1400 is a very complex and well thought out game. You'll hardly get it right the first time, and if you don't read the manual it will take you a while to get in the groove of things. Still, after a few tries the interface gets less complicated and confusing, and you begin to see some of the intricate ties that hold the gameplay concept together - and eventually, you will begin to enjoy the game! Achieving great goals in life is all about balance. Being rich, and without a family of your own or a title to your name isn't considered much of a success in the game. There are four crucial factors in Europa 1400, which will in the end determine how well you did in life: money, titles, profession, and family. Having loads of money isn't all that grand if you're not admired by your peers, and being wealthy and admired by your peers can prolong your dynasty. Having tons of money will help you expand your business by improving your buildings and buying new ones, but in order to become better at your craft you'll have to study - and you need AP points for that, not money. You have to do well in all four categories if you want to truly succeed in Europa 1400. This is of course achieved by balance. There are choices that seem inconsequential, like "How much time should I spend working, and how much time should be spent on fancy parties and getting to know people?" This is all a part of our lives today, and it was a part of life in the Middle Ages, too. The first time I played the game, I managed to become a master thief and establish my own Thief Guild (I made a lot of fancy improvements both to my house and my "workplace"). Well hoorah! Once my time was up I realized there were no heirs to succeed me, and the game came to an abrupt end. I said it five times, and I'll say it again: Europa 1400 is all about balance, and possibilities. There are plenty of options; you just got to pick the right ones. In a way, this makes the gameplay highly addictive and non-linear, which is a definite plus for everyone looking for a bit of depth in their sim. games.
Each of the five cities in Europa 1400 is done in full 3D and populated by up to 500 virtual inhabitants that go on about their daily business, grow old, wed, etc. From the 3D view of the whole town players can zoom to a selected building, enter that building and interact with its contents and inhabitants. For example, entering the tavern cellar will let you buy some chloroform, which you can use to kidnap people and hold them in your dungeon for ransom (if you're a thief that is)! There are also over 200 building extensions each of which serves its own unique purpose. A mouse click on any building moves the camera directly to the desired destination. Another mouse click enters the building. Each building contains a different situation: The tavern for instance is populated by different shady characters. As well as offering gambling and mead the tavern also lets you obtain useful information on opponents and competitors. But take care: If you are caught committing a crime you can expect to be punished. And in Europa in the Middle Ages, that means being taken to the town prison, the pillory or the torture chamber.
The 3D engine is pretty damn decent; it supports day and night cycles, weather effects ... the frame-rates are steady and the character animation is nice. Europa is a surprisingly good-looking game - for a management sim that is. The soundtrack and sound effects are very pleasant and moody. Voice-over's are professionally done and for the most part sound good, apart from one or two few irritating ones, and they'll help you plunge deeper in the game world.
The only notable drawbacks to this game that I could think of are the frequent crashes to desktop, which make the game pretty damn unstable - and if you don't save your position often, downright frustrating. And the rather slow passing of time when you speed up the clock. One other thing that might kill some of the game's charm is the repetitive design of the cities. All cities in Europa 1400 look pretty much the same, and this makes the game lose some of its luster.
Of course, frequent crashes and similar looking cities are objective downsides to Europa 1400. The slow passing of time (when faster time flow is on) on the other hand is really something that I had a problem with. So, it's a subjective issue that should be taken with a grain of salt.
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this game to everyone. The gameplay is complex, nonlinear and addictive. From where I stand, Europa 1400 presents a commendable effort worthy of your time and money.
8.5 Very Good
Original concept. Excellent gameplay depth and nonlinearity. Decent looking in-game world. Plenty of replay value.
The game frequently crashes to desktop. Slow passing of time when you speed up the clock. London isn't supposed to be a carbon copy of Paris, is it now?
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