By Dominic Orlando
Kalypso’s Urban Empire is a unique, PC exclusive, strategy game centered not around City Building, but city managing. You'll assume the role of mayor in an early 1800's town where you will plan, build, and manage over the course of 200 years and several eras. The twist, you can't simply do with your city what you please. You must work with city council to gather the votes necessary to advance your policy proposals. This core facet of gameplay makes Urban Empire a game unlike many before it, that deserves at least a glance from veterans of the genre.
The gameplay will be the main attraction for Urban Empire. As a city builder, even a novice to the genre will notice a lack of depth. While it's understood that city building is not the core tenant of the game, having more fleshed out building mechanics would have put more meaning and motivation behind the players political moves. As previously mentioned, the main attraction to Urban Empire is the political simulation. Instead of giving the player complete tyrannical control like most games in the genre, Urban Empire requires every decision to be agreed upon by a city council comprised of members with varying political ideologies. Want to raise taxes on your citizens in order to improve infrastructure? Put it up for a vote and use one of several strategies to swing the vote in your favor. These strategies at a high level include; appeal, demand, and threaten. Some of these strategies may prove more effective than others, and experimenting to figure out which work is at best fun, and at worst interesting. However, after a few hours you will have established what works and will find it much too easy to manipulate city council to act in your favor. This lack of depth and longevity to the core gameplay makes a great idea start to feel disappointing. There is so much good here, it just doesn't quite deliver in the long run.
The presentation is about what you would expect from a sub $60 experience. The textures and details that comprise your city are not to the quality of big budget games in the genre, however, everything still looks good. Just don't expect to be blown away by the graphical fidelity.
Performance is also very "ho-hum". When played on a PC that exceeded the minimum hardware requirements, I experienced occasional frame rate drops and persevered through the game crashing twice in just a few hours of gameplay. Nothing here breaks or ruins the experience, just minor nuisances that never ceased. However, this combined with a few odd spelling errors scattered throughout the game left me wanting a little bit more polish.
While it may fall one level short of the dramatic scheming in the Netflix hit series House of Cards, Urban Empire's core gameplay is a novel and unique attraction. I am unaware of any other game that supplants the player in the middle of a political landscape. Unfortunately, after several hours these core mechanics begin to lose their luster in what ends up feeling like a game that simply lacks depth, an unattractive attribute of a strategy game. Occasional bugs and lack of polish are visible but don't hinder the experience. Despite these shortcomings, the politically passionate will find much enjoyment in this title and a huge amount of potential is left on the table to elaborate and polish the core idea in a sequel.
-Unique idea and core systems that surmise to more than just a God mode city builder.
-The initial frustration is authentic and indicative of a real life political climate, the politically savvy will initially love the systems at play
-Eventually becomes easy to manipulate city council, these mechanics will feel shallow and repetitive after a while
-Can't expand your empire beyond the limited city areas
-Some minor bugs