Have you ever contemplated your hometown and thought, wow, our mayor is an idiot, I could run this city way better than (s)he does? Urban Empire allows us to play with such notions of hubris, confined to the safety of a video game where we run no risk of completely running an actual living city into the ground and ruining numerous lives. Plus Urban Empire allows your mayoral reign to span 200 years and five eras, which you will not be able to do as a real mayor unless you incorporated some Elizabeth Bathory type of rituals into your reelection campaign. As with all democratic societies, trying to please everyone is the secret to failure, so in addition to running a city in a way that matches up with what the citizens want, you have the freedom to bribe, threaten and blackmail the other members of city council to impose your will. After all, this is a city ruler simulator, not a city building one.
Okay, that last statement included an element of hyperbole. Part of ruling the city does involve a substantial amount of city building, but this is just as much a political simulator as it is a civilization simulator. The premise is the emperor has tasked the mayor (you) to build a new city. The first order of business is to decide which political party to align the mayoral party out of several choices that fall on all parts of the left and right continuum, so the choice of whether or not you want to have your rule be based on traditional values or you can have a more progressive stance. It wouldn’t be much of a city ruler type of game if you weren’t free to rule as you see fit. It should be noted that Urban Empire was designed with Europe in mind, so that is the basis for the greater number of parties and not just the standard Democrat and Republican we are accustomed to on this side of the pond.
The political party affiliation is based on which ruling family the players selects their mayor from, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention to political news. There are four ruling families, each with five different characters. The different families have different political goals, such as the Kilgannons who are equal rights and social justice advocates, or the Sant’Elias, who focus on scientific progress and the pursuit of knowledge. Regardless of which political affiliation you choose, there will be supporters and fans as well as opposition in which you will have to choose how you want to sway their votes. Which brings in another aspect of morality. While this may not be as salient as the good and evil dynamic might be in other games, the player can choose to run an honest position or sway the votes through more shady measures, such as maybe doing a favor exchange.
As the mayor, the town will take the shape that you decide to create. Unlock Sim City where you would build a residential zone here, factory here, police station here, you plot the area and zone you wish to develop and the game kind of distributes the zoning for you. Instead of micromanaging each individual building, the choices made in office will also influence development and impact whether an area becomes an affluent paradise with nice schools or a rat’s nest that police won’t even enter. The citizens will not be shy about letting you know how satisfied they are with issues like public safety and general happiness. Since the game begins in 1820, you will have the opportunity to introduce new and amazing technological advances to your citizens, such as the electric tram, antibiotics, and even video games, though that last one might just be a passing fad.
With multiple political affiliations and a 200 year time period, there is nearly limitless potential in how the city can be shaped. There are 800 dynamic events that will factor into the mayoral decisions, which include events such as the hippie movement, child labor and women’s suffrage. Major events like the World War and Great Depression can also factor into what decision the Mayor makes regarding the city’s well being. Urban Empire is attempting something new with its city rule approach where city building is combined with political scheming while incorporating significant historical and social events. It is too early to tell how well it will succeed at its ambitious goal, but based on the demo there is a great deal of potential here.