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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Sierra

Ups: Beautiful graphics, lots of depth, better military that C3, high fun factor

Downs: Later missions can be complicated and longish

System Reqs:
P133, 32 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM
SVGA Highcolor (16-bit)

The history and culture of ancient Egypt continues to fascinate man to this very day.  No other civilization in history has left such lasting marks of its history as the ancient Egyptians did.   From the pyramids to the sphinx to the hieroglyphs that cover their ornate tombs, the culture of ancient Egypt lives on, evoking wonder and awe to all who study it.  With Pharaoh, Impressions allows players to design and build a complete Egyptian city, complete with monuments, temples and industries, and provides a challenging gaming experience in the process.

Based heavily on the Caesar 3 game, Pharaoh places the player in the role of a staunch supporter of the future pharaoh of Egypt.  To help accomplish his dream of uniting Egypt under his rule, this visionary has charged you to build and rule several cities, each devoted to the greater glory of Egypt.  The game flows as a series of missions, beginning with the pre-dynastic period and progressing through the 20th dynasty, which covers nearly the whole history of ancient Egypt.  This sweep of history is divided into five ages, each of which consists of several different missions.  In each mission, players must build up a city from nothing, molding it into a thriving center of industry, culture and trade.  Each mission has a different focus; some require heavy industry and trade, while others require a more militant approach.  As time progresses, new technological developments become available, such as irrigation and temple complexes.   This variation keeps the game interesting and challenging without seeming repetitive.

Pharaoh provides the aspiring city builder with many tools to accomplish his goal of building a great, thriving city.  Placing housing attracts immigrants, who become the lifeblood of the city.  To keep them healthy and happy, the ruler must provide food, employment, culture and diversion.  Food comes from a variety of sources, including farms, wild game, and trade, and is stored in granaries and distributed by bazaars.  Citizens want jobs, too, but are willing to perform a wide range of tasks.  Fire marshals, policemen and architects keep your city safe and stable, while physicians, alchemists and dentists keep the people healthy.  There are dozens of industries that can be built, and each provides a useful service or product that can be traded or used by citizens to advance their social standing.   Citizens also like government, and a palace is seen as the center of city government.  They also want courthouses to resolve disputes, and don’t mind paying taxes as long as everyone is taxed equally and fairly, which helps provide the city with income to pay workers and erect new structures.

Religion and culture play a big part in an Egyptian’s life.  Citizens like to be entertained, so rulers must provide booths, bandstands and pavilions where jugglers, dancers and musicians can perform.  Citizens also need temples where they can worship the Egyptian gods.   The gods play an important role in Egyptian society, and can directly affect the prosperity of a city.  Happy gods bestow blessings such as fertile crops and healthy citizens, or they can smite a city with plague, fire or famine.  In each city, a single god will be the patron deity, demanding more worship.  In later missions, a temple complex can be built, and is a great center of worship, raising the city’s culture and appeasing the patron god.  Rulers would do well to appease the gods, lest their cities wither and die from the wrath of the gods.

When ancient Egypt is mentioned, the first things most people think of are the pyramids and the sphinx.  Pharaoh doesn’t disappoint here, allowing rulers to construct these great monuments for the greater glory of Egypt and its people.  From the smallest mastaba to the great pyramids, building these structures is truly a monumental task, and will require tremendous resources from your city.  Laborers will work for years digging and laying block, supported by brickworks, mines and craftsmen.  The construction of one of these great monuments is a great accomplishment, and will raise a ruler’s status throughout all of Egypt.

As if the daily management of a city isn’t enough, rulers will sometimes have to worry about defending their city from foreign invaders.  Enemies can come from land or sea, so rulers must build shipwrights to construct warships and transports, and place forts to house companies of infantry and bowmen who will defend the city from enemy soldiers.  Infantry require weapons, so if a weaponsmith is not available they will have to be imported from other cities.  A well-trained military can keep a city from being razed and looted by unfriendly neighbors.  Companies can be given different formations and orders, such as hold ground or seek and destroy.  Unlike in Caesar 3, units in Pharaoh will actually engage and attack nearby enemies, rather than just stand idly by while policemen defend the city against invaders.

Graphically, Pharaoh is beautiful.  Terrain features are detailed and easy to identify and distinguish from one another.  Citizens and industries are similarly detailed, with individual animations that show the type of work being done, from digging gold in a mine to making papyrus.  Soldiers march into combat, firing arrows and swing swords, while ships sail through the water, carrying trade goods or firing at enemy craft.  Wild game move in herds, stalked by hunters who carry them back to the city for storage.   If a worker ventures too close to a crocodile, the crock will dispatch him, leaving a corpse.  One of the most fascinating procedures is the process of building a pyramid, where workers level the site, dig down to bedrock, cut a grid of fissures in the rock and fill them with water.  Then, they drain the water, chisel off the stone to the waterline, and fill the base with aggregate, which is compacted.  Finally, the blocks of the pyramid are laid.  Right-clicking on the pyramid site brings a description of the current stage.

The manual is rather thick, and does a good job of describing each game element.  There is a running diary of a visitor to an Egyptian city, describing what everyday life was like in that era.  One of the most interesting elements is the brief history of Egypt, from the pre-dynastic period through the fall of the 20th dynasty, which highlights the major events of each era.  There are also small sidebars that describe elements of Egypt and its people, such as the annual flooding of the Nile River, known as the lifeline of Egypt.  Audio is also well done, with appropriate, realistic sound effects and music that has a distinct Egyptian flavor but doesn’t overwhelm gameplay.

There are two main problems with Pharaoh that crop up during play, though both are relatively minor.  As the city grows, the elements of management begin to add up, and can bog down play.  Managing all the city elements, including industry, religion, military and municipal elements, becomes more and more difficult as the city grows.  There is a speed control that can compensate for this, but lowering the speed slows down gameplay even further.  Once a good balance is achieved, however, the city can basically run itself, freeing players to concentrate on expansion and other areas of management.  The other main problem, and one that does slow down gameplay, is the sheer amount of time it takes to build the larger monuments can make for some long missions.  The monuments can’t be started until there is sufficient industry and labor to support it, and the process takes a great deal of time to complete.  Though the process is historically accurate, game flow suffers a bit, but, in this case, realism wins out.

Overall, Pharaoh is a great game that provides an in-depth look at life in ancient Egypt while providing many hours of engrossing gameplay.  Players who enjoy building and managing cities, strategy gamers, and anyone who would like to learn more about Egyptian culture, as well as anyone who enjoyed the Caesar games, should give Pharaoh a try.  They won’t be disappointed.

--Derek Meyer