After the excellent success with Pharaoh and its expansion, Cleopatra, Impressions Games went straight to work on its latest welcome addition to its city-building series, Zeus: Master of Olympus. Though it retains many of the aspects from the previous city-building games, Zeus establishes itself in a class of its own.
The gameplay and feel of the game is absolutely marvelous. While Pharaoh was more of a history lesson, Zeus is about ancient Greek mythology. There are several 'campaigns' to choose from with most of them based on famous Greek myths and epics like Jason and the Golden Fleece or the epic Trojan War. Of course, the game still is predominantly city-building, but this time you get to fight off monsters, deal with friendly or even angry Greek gods (worst thing that could happen), and handle diplomatic affairs or subjugate neighboring cities.
Several of the problems that existed in Pharaoh have been fixed in Zeus. One of the most notable of these is that labor recruiters from buildings do not need to actually go to houses. Once you build a building, existing labor is immediately recruited to work in that building. Some would say that this feature would take out the challenge, but I think that it makes a hell of a lot more sense since having a labor recruiter actually walk to the houses to have the building get labor was absolutely annoying and tedious. Also unlike its predecessors, you are given the option to build common housing or elite housing, which makes a lot more sense. The citizens and 'immortals' (heroes and gods) of the cities are also more unique than the ones in the previous games. Their names and the things they say or even the way they walk can be quite humorous. Dionysus, the god of wine, for example, has his own drunken, wobbling walk.
The sound in the game is not bad. The music of the game is quite good also. I'm not sure if it is classical Greek music, but it does add a mystical and mythological feel to the game. The graphics, in my opinion, are too cartoonish. The buildings don't really capture the unique beauty of classical Greek architecture. Most of the buildings have unusually curved sides and don't even have straight lines, making them all look bizarre. The landscape is the only thing in the game that doesn't possess a cartoon-esque nature. The animation that occurs in the buildings, like the dock workers pulling fish out of crates or the athletes exercising, are highly detailed and make the city seem much more alive.
The battle system in Zeus is not much different from Pharaoh. Control over your units can be quite frustrating since soldiers come from the housing, not forts, and you can't select all regiments at the same time. Since soldiers come from housing, the type of housing determines what kind of soldier you'll have and also soldiers have to come out of the houses to march to a battle, which can be very time consuming. In order to have an army a palace is required. Common housing will only give you Rabble, which are simply militiamen, and Elite housing can give you either Phalanxes or Cavalry depending upon whether or not the Elite housing has the necessary goods like armor and horses to train those units. The problem with Elite housing is that they demand a lot (damn aristocrats). This is better than the system because you just need to build a palace to recruit soldiers whereas in the previous games you have to build overly expensive forts that take a long time to train soldiers.
Another problem with the game is that the gods attack at random for no damn reason. This can make things really frustrating. The angry gods can even remain on their killing spree for a long time, causing massive destruction in your city. There should have at least have been warning messages about when invading gods intending to decimate your city would come. The most annoying thing that could happen, since events are generally random, is that a monster invades your city, an enemy army suddenly decides to attack, and a god who is angry for no damn reason attacks! Fortunately, heroes or gods inhabiting your city can fend off enemy gods, but the successes depend upon how powerful your defending immortals are.
Overall, Zeus is a decent game. Though several of its new features could make the game either too easy or too frustrating (especially when the bitchy goddesses are on PMS and the damn gods in their violent mood swings), several of them make up for the problems. The mythological atmosphere and humor gives the game an interesting and enjoyable feel. Zeus: Master of Olympus, though not as perfect as many hoped it would be, is still a worthy game to try out and would definitely be appealing to die-hard fans of Impressions Games' famous city-building series.
· · · Kane