Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)
Despite being the type of game made for replayability, Urban Empire strangely has the vibe of a one play through type of game. Though that one campaign you play, oh it will keep you attached to your computer and unwilling to close that window.
Play Through Time
One Campaign Took Me 3 Days
It all begins with you choosing a family, each of which has come to prominence through one method of another and, over each era, you’ll make small decisions in regards to how their personal life turns out. However, the bulk of your work will be dealing with trying to grow your city with the caveat that a group of elected officials support you. In my campaign, I’ve had anywhere from 4 to 8 different political parties to appease as I tried to do what you always do in city builders: Make more money than you need. Which, at times, especially if you want to rely on taxes and things of that nature, wasn’t easy. For while those familiar with Tropico maybe used to dealing with Kalypso’s brand of politics, things are a bit more serious here. There aren’t comical characters but people you may have to blackmail or try to wipe their party out in order to get your way. Mind you, that’s just in the first few eras you can really do that. After era III, or within era III, you have to start worrying about getting yourself re-elected by the people who obstruct the progress you desire. Which, for my playthrough, wasn’t hard, but could be if you are passionate about something.
It Balances The Fun of City Building with The Difficulty of Politics
With me being a horrible gamer and generally sucking at anything which is more difficult than a TellTale Game, I was surprised how much fun I had playing this. There was so much to do, so much to build, and while the game, unless you play the scenarios, doesn’t make its victory conditions a big deal, you feel constantly engaged. After all, you aren’t like El Presidente or some nameless being. You are a person who can choose to socialize or be someone who keeps to himself, you can be a person of the people or someone who only appeals to the corporate and elite interest, and that includes when it comes to social matters. Though I played as a left leaning liberal, there is the option of supporting child labor, being against LGBT rights, and against the rights of women. Something which, so it seemed, would be playing the Hard Mode of this game since I usually passed those laws with ease.
Though, at the same time, the politics side of the game gave me the tools to make it easy. One of the big things about this game is learning to work with political parties through either goodwill, blackmail, or attempting to get their party voted out of the council. All of this can potentially backfire for while some parties get voted out or become obsolete, some do return and it seems parties, through the goodwill system, do carry grudges. Thus making you, not always, but fairly often, having to moderate how you plan to run the city you control and whether things you feel are necessary for your town to thrive, if they must be done that instant.
The Tutorial Is Trash
I’ve been watching a YouTuber named Quill18 play this, horribly may I add, and I was thinking with him getting a pre-release copy that is why a lot of things didn’t make sense. Well, even with the game’s tutorial on, I still felt left in the dark about some things. Well, mostly what I felt left in the dark about was shifting the demands of industry, commercial enterprises, and residential. What is called, “The Wheel of Life” dealing with services people wanted, that wasn’t strongly explained either but common sense, and previous experience, helps with that. However, trying to make it so you could have more commercial businesses, much less for them to do well, was perplexing.
Part of the reason for this is because a lot of the economic stuff isn’t explained. For example, you’ll often see certain edicts or laws making it so sales or demand go down certain percents. However, it is rare to see or have access to an institution, a city-wide building providing benefits, or edict which has the opposite effect. Though, if you watch Quill18’s video, link to first one here, and watch all the way through, you’ll fully understand how frustrating this is. For it is really easy, even with council approval, to go in debt. Something I have done into the millions twice in my playthrough. Yet, when things rebound and you make money, honestly it seems like it is out of pure luck than skill. That, or, random chance.
No Various Difficulties
Alongside this, I play Civilization VI and one feature strangely missing from this game is various difficulties. Something which bothered me since, in general, I play easy mode until I feel comfortable or too powerful. With this game, though, there was no option, like Fallout 4, where midgame you can make things harder or even, before you start, up the ante. It seems the sole difficulty is from dealing with more political parties and then having to worry about getting elected. However, once you understand the system and mechanics, that is such a breeze. For between blackmail, giving in to minor event pop-ups, and not spending up all your goodwill, neither pose a real threat. Leaving you feeling, even in later eras, you are being given a handicap.
Weak Replay Value
While there are multiple families to play through, as well as different landscapes to build on, I feel like they are just different shades of paint on the same experience. For, as noted in the “On The Fence” portion, your traits which come from pop-up events, honestly they are never pushed to be important. They may affect how much goodwill you get from one party or another, but with some pop-ups happening multiple times, throughout the whole game, there is no strong sense of urgency or need to really think about decisions long and hard. If only because, in the end, they just barely change you as mayor and perhaps the way your kid’s traits will pop up.
On The Fence
Your Personal Story
As noted, you do get pop ups dealing with making your avatar more than just some picture. You can choose who you marry, how you raise your kids, perhaps how the people see you, but it often seems more so optional than something which would really affect your playthrough. Many times I’ve just left this game running since it isn’t like there are natural disasters or even armies to worry about, and one missed decisions would have a dramatic effect on my character’s personal life. None of them seemed to swing things hard one way or the other. Yet, while I say that, I have to admit it was interesting, these little plots written, when it comes to seeing how these series of small decisions affect the family and their lives.
Overall: Mixed (Rent of Watch Play through)
I honestly wish that PC Gamers had the same luxury console gamers do when they could just rent a game for a week and that be it. For, while most of my time is spent on strategic simulators like this and Civilization, when it comes to Urban Empire, I don’t foresee me playing this over and over again. For while it is fun, and the political aspect presents a minor challenge, that is the problem. As long as you have patience, and perhaps good timing, you don’t get much resistance. On top of that, being that you are dealing with just your city and don’t have to worry about outside forces invading you or threatening you, and the later era mayoral elections not being that hard to deal with, it leaves you wondering what is the point of playing again? Like most strategy games, unless you have nothing to do, it is going to take multiple days to reach the end of a campaign. However, like most games released which have full-on storylines, it is like you get your thrill on the first play through and after that, you just play again because of how much you paid for this and because you got nothing else to do. That is unless you want to play toward a different political leaning each time hoping the game adapts and may actually try to go against you. For I can tell you right now, while making decisions for your avatar’s life was ok, it wasn’t a selling point.