The Settlers 4 Review
publisher: Blue Byte
developer: Blue Byte
PII 233, 64MB RAM, 4MB Video Card
|ESRB rating: E
release date: Jul 30, 01
|» All About The Settlers 4 on ActionTrip|
Nikola "Bunny" Zakic
While most game developers try to imagine wild, ridiculously sounding names for their games in order to attract as many players as possible, Blue Byte plans to achieve its commercial success by using Roman numerals. Alongside Battle Isle, another one of their projects reached its fourth incarnation - the Settlers whose originality and complexity proved ever since the first part that computer games can be intellectually challenging, rather than just mind numbing time consumers, like action games and shoot-em-ups (and I state this with full awareness than none of you knows my home address - yeah, but we do, Bunny - Ed.). The very idea to incorporate the elements of a management sim. and a real-time strategy in a well-designed product was the key to success for this German developer in the last millennia, and the same idea with respect for modern gaming standards should secure their success in the future.
The background plot isn't too original: The evil god Morbus rebelled against the creator himself (a second rebellion? I guess they're not into democracy up there) and gets cast out to Earth for punishment (so God's worst punishment is to send someone to live on Earth? What does that make us?). Being a pathological villain, Morbus realizes that he can't bear anyone breathing oxygen in his vicinity and therefore decides to make things very hard for the humans. As humans already got used to wars and senseless killing with no apparent reason, he decides rather to make the entire planet unsuitable for living. He found allies in the member of the Dark Tribe and made them use the shadow-weed to extract the life-energy from the ground and plants. The Romans, Vikings and Maya (the protagonists of the game) figured that this would turn their beloved earth into a piece of black rock suitable only for evil mushrooms (?) and hence decide to burry the hatchet and unite against the common foe.
As I already said, this is a mixture of a real-time strategy and management sim, focusing mainly on the economic aspect. This means you'll first have to provide a lot of food and resources for your kingdom before you can set off to conquer your enemies. This serial was always specific, as it never allowed players to directly control their units. It was up to you to decide which buildings are to be built and where, and set the parameters to determine the production rates of weapons, tools, and food. You even had to set the supply lines, but the computer always took care of the little settlers. The first two Settlers games were in real-time but this control method kept them far from the mainstream RTS genre. The third Settlers game introduced some novelties there, as it enabled you to directly control your military units. The economic model had been simplified, which made unit production easier, and hence increases the importance of the tactical element. Still, the developers didn't want to push this too far so that they wouldn't lose the original concept and turn the game into a stereotypical RTS.
You will have three tribes at your disposal, and three introductory campaigns (one for each tribe). The Romans, Vikings and Maya will have three missions to try to free their island from any of the two remaining tribes. The fourth campaign will introduce you to the Dark Tribe. You'll have to assume control of one of the other three tribes and destroy the Dark Tribe in 12 missions. Before you start serious play, you can first go through a twelve-chapter tutorial, which explains the basics of gameplay, and there's of course, the custom game mode, which allows you to fight the computer on a map of your choice.
Interface has been much improved. All the options are clear and easy to use. The players familiar with this genre will have no trouble in finding their way around the game even without the tutorial. There are some changes in comparison to the earlier installments, but you will swiftly learn these with the assistance of the efficient help system. The newbies should be able to learn the ways of the game in no time.
Some buildings have changed their function and the way they work, but this aspect didn't undergo any major overall changes. You will still have to build at least ten structures before you can muster any soldiers, but this should be far easier to perform, as there are no more roads to complicate matters. All tribes use the same buildings with different design (for instance, Romans will eat mutton and drink wine, Vikings will eat pork and drink mead, and Maya will eat goats and drink Tequila).
Each of the tribes will have two standard units: footman and archer, and one specific unit. The Romans will have a field medic which will be able to heal units in battle, the Vikings will have an axe warrior who is quite proficient in attacking an enemy territory, yet useless in defense, and the Maya will use their blowgun warriors which use poisonous darts to paralyze enemy units for a couple of seconds. Each tribe will also have a specific vehicle. The Romans will use catapults, the Vikings will use Thor`s Hammer (A ship using Mana for ammo), and the Maya will be able to use the Firespitter (ancient flamethrower). The navy has also been improved, so that now each race features one transport and one destroyer. The readiness and efficiency of your military units will depend on the size of your territory, your economy, and the number of structures and people in your kingdom. Your troops will be in a better mood if you place some Eye-catcher objects in their vicinity (monuments, sculptures, flags, fountains)... And what would a fairytale be without spells and priests? Sacrificing alcohol will allow you to perform various miracles (fish turns to stone, enemy soldiers become butterflies, stones fall from the skies). As different tribes have different cults, they all have specific spells, but these are all well balanced and don't favor any of the sides.
Cute, colorful game presenting a great combination of RTS and management sim;
Monotonous missions that last way too long, doesn't stimulate you to finish it.