There’s a case to be made that Urban Empire is a perfect city sim for our times. Many traditional city sims grant us autocratic control, and the whims and wants of the populace largely remain abstractions and jumbles of figures. Urban Empire, though, focuses on the grim reality of the bickering, backstabbing, and befriending that goes on in a mayor’s relationship with multiple political parties before any proposal becomes a reality. It’s an approach that’s commendable for its realism, but in this case, it’s one that quickly grows predictable and occasionally dull.
It starts out promisingly enough. Urban Empire keeps its ambitions manageable by limiting the gameplay to the two-century span between 1820 and 2020, and it injects some volatility by mirroring the economic effects of events like the recession of the 1840s and the First World War. It drives home its focus on people by making you not a detached puppet master, but rather a member of one of four dynasties with different histories and ambitions. There are the starkly conservative Von Pflizens, for example, and the Sant’Elias clan who believes good technology can fix everything.