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URBAN EMPIRE from KALYPSO is a politically motivated entrance into City building throughout the years from the Great War towards civilisation as we know it.
It isn't a particularly lightweight or light-hearted game, it is actually quite deep and thoughtful, more cerebral than visual. If you don't get your decision making virtually spot-on you will find it difficult to get the Council to vote in favour of your choices, and that is a recipe for disaster, or a long trip back to the planning department.


It is also quite a slow process to plan, to prepare to build, to actually get approval of your plans - the City Council has four factions and getting them on your side isn't easy and you only get one shot at each proposal. So for example, if you set out your ideas on Taxation and they don't agree with them there isn't a back button you can use to create a new proposal, all you can do is try to get them on your side over over your other proposals. If you have ever thought of becoming a City Councilor for real then try this out first, it could well be an eye-opener to the boredom and chicanery of politics. I found it a little too dry for my personal taste but that didn't prevent me from spending a good number of hours trying to unclog my brain to the political side of city planning.

There are numerous city building games around, Kalypso have the popular TROPICO which has gone from strength to strength and edition to edition, there is the recent Skyline which has you building and running a City block, there has been Sim City and numerous medieval era build and conquest simulations, and now there is URBAN EMPIRE, a combination of just about the best parts from all of them, but taken to a higher and more serious level.

My personal experience became a bit of a nightmare because I am a player that wants things to happen at the touch of a key. I used to enjoy playing a City Building game on Facebook but got fed up waiting 10, 12, 24 hours or more for buildings to be put up. I play them as a game, an entertainment, not as if they were as near to reality as possible, and URBAN EMPIRE is pretty close to being real. I started playing and was shown a reasonably large township on the water's edge. By using the WASD keys I moved the map over to find the empty ground alongside the Western most road where I was under instruction to create more industry. I draw up a grid, well actually I chose from the patterns available, and tried to configure it into the space so it was along the Southern road and running adjacent, but not (yet) joined to the Western road. It took several attempts to get to a size that was acceptable by the program, you cannot start small and build up, you have to begin with a fair sized expansion.


I then started to place buildings, from those available, in the menu, into the grid. Having played Sim City, Colonisation and Civilisation type games I am used to the placing of buildings in games but I wasn't prepared for the difficulty in fitting them into the grid I now had in front of me. The majority of them I chose to begin with were smallish workshops yet I could only fit one of these into spaces that looked like they could hold two, even three buildings of the size of the Workshops. Still all was going well as I put in an Electric Plant and a Water Plant, a Hospital, School, Theatre, Police and Fire Stations and a park, remembering from the other games that people get peeved pretty quickly if there isn't somewhere that looks nice amidst all the steel and concrete.


My initial cash was zero so I had to rely on the Council to pass my ideas and free up the money for the building to begin. At the first voting a note popped up saying the Vote time was 10. It didn't say 10 minutes or 10 hours or any actual unit of time, it just said 10. So I hit the timer speed-up on the top right putting it to its highest which was 4 x (four times) but that didn't seem to make any difference as time still passed slowly with nothing happening. I had four edicts being voted on in the Council Chambers so I left the game running and went to the kitchen to make a coffee. I was back at the keyboard some 10-15 minutes later and still nothing had happened. I tried to save to come back later but the option was to continue or quit to the desktop, no save and quit option. I must have missed the "save" option because the game is too long and too heavy to play for more than an hour or two at a time, unless you are totally committed to political culture, but I have to admit that my initial enthusiasm had waned; not the fault of the game but my personal craving for something to happen got in the way.


The screenshots here are all from my game, none are stock photos, because I wanted to show that I had tried to play and that I had spent time playing. I don't know if I was supposed to wait 10 hours for an answer or what I was supposed to do. This is one of the problems with receiving game codes but no instructions. I imagine that I have done something wrong that has put me in the position I am currently in but I cannot see any way or what I have to do to get out of it. However I will say that the game looks like it is going to be a much longer, much more involved game than I had expected from Kalypso Games having played their earlier building game, Tropico, which despite being somewhat political, has all the elements of a build and budget game without the actual Council Meetings and Party confrontation.


For someone who likes games that are more than just click, build, spend, get rent, repair, build, occasionally fight off invaders etc Urban Empire is probably just what they are looking for. It is built on a sound political structure, as far as I understand (but my political knowledge can be scrawled on a pinhead with a crayon) but it is way too much for me to take in. There are constant cross-checks to be made on the Council charts, Research possibilities, the forthcoming War to consider, so much to think about and take on board, especially as the game structure is for a progressive build through the ages.  


In all honesty I got befuddled and confused with all of the possibilities, the chart after chart after chart, it really felt to me like a job and not like a game. I know players who will relish this and who will chastise me for my lack of concentration on the correct political procedures, and so I will say to them and anyone reading this who is of the same persuasion, that a game can be an entertainment without being what I would call entertaining. For me it's like the difference between Chamber Music and Heavy Rock. They are both music but one is a delicate sound that you need time to reflect on and listen to every nuance and instrument and the other is wham, bam, slam, yell, in your face. That's the one I prefer.






© Chris Baylis 2011-2015