“Honey, these weird creatures are building some massive structures out of the sand” – this might have been the response of ancient Egyptians when they saw the pyramids being built by magic. Few knew how groundbreaking these “structures” would turn out to be (and cause debate about their origins for generations), but it sure was an enjoyable task having a look at the big things being built while the slaves toiled about with the construction (haha sarcasm). It is not possible to bring back the time to the dawn of civilization in the valley of the Nile – but it is possible to experience it through the simplest simulation game known to mankind. Yeah, I’m talking about the Pharaoh franchise (especially for the folks who probably played the original game back in the day).
Pharaoh: A New Era is an HD remake of the original Pharaoh games, bringing city management and simulation games back from the dead. The game features 4k textures for all of its sprites and comes with a modernized UI that helps make the task of micromanagement a lot easier. The game was released for the PC on 15th Feb 2023 on Steam.
Birth of Civilization
The game at its core is about building a thriving simulation in the heart of the Nile. There are no objectives to fulfil and rules to follow at all – one gets to design Egypt to their heart’s content. The game is a remake of the original Pharaoh, which was built on the same premise. While the game has significant elements of strategy, the features of the simulation make it a proper city simulation (and possibly a precursor to the SimCity 4 remake that we all deserve to play one day should it come out). However, the game does have ways of spicing up the fun by offering alternative ways of having fun, especially for people who want to have more fun.
The game has a campaign mode which is spread into a number of missions. Each mission teaches some aspects of the gameplay so that people starting out do not have a problem playing the game. The missions are well spaced through and teach game mechanics at a reasonable pace. One suggestion before jumping into freeform city building would probably be to learn how Pharaoh works in the first place – there might even be something new to learn (especially for folks who have played simulation/strategy games before)! The game can either be played as a custom scenario, with a certain goal to be reached (where custom events are also added for adding a sweet twist into the mix) or in freeform mode, where there is no end goal in sight – the only goal is to keep expanding the city and make it as big as possible. One thing that the game probably needs is custom scenarios where one does not start from zero and has to achieve something. That would make it much more challenging than simply making players start from zero and dealing with a mess of a city that is already in distress.
Ancient Sim City
Pharaoh was first built and shipped in an era when video games were first starting to become popular. Needless to say, some of the features (and the overall feel and look of the game) might not be at par with the other more graphically intensive city builders like Cities Skylines. However, even today, the game continues to be a powerhouse of simulation mechanics that few other simulation games can boast of. The main appeal lies in how simple some of its features are, yet how complicated they might feel in some scenarios. One basic example would probably be the pathfinding of workers and recruiters from service buildings – they move in all paths from their starting point till they complete their goal (and might even get lost in the process). Dropping roadblocks and removing unnecessary intersections helps solve the problem to a small extent, but players still need to keep the scenario in mind before continuing to design the city.
If a service building lies in a desolate area, the gold paid for maintaining it is probably more than required to render the service to the citizens living nearby – it makes sense to completely rethink the placement of the building in that case. When the city becomes big, it often needs a lot of service buildings to help keep the citizen’s morale up. Trading unnecessary items that the city has a surplus of can help earn a lot of gold for the coffers that help offset the drain because of the additional buildings that need to be constructed and maintained. Of course, planning out layouts properly before putting down the foundations go a long way in ensuring a balance stays between income and spending.
Just like the origin of Egypt in real life, water is a precious resource that ultimately heralds the growth of civilization. Watery areas allow the cultivation of crops, and for pumping of water to households to ensure their needs are satisfied (unsatisfied citizens are more likely to rebel and cause damage to the city). When higher needs are satisfied, the settlements evolve into more sophisticated lodgings. Needless to say, better lodgings also means more taxes for the palace and more funds to help build more unnecessary pyramids to house the Pharaoh’s ego – I mean pride. Pharaoh’s idea of having evolving settlements was adopted into other games like Anno eventually, becoming a must-build feature for most simulation games eventually.
Players also need to think about the Powers That Be when they plan their cities. Egypt wasn’t built in a day, but it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the ancient Gods watching over them. Temples and shrines help curry more favour for the gods in the Pantheon. Gods are themselves prone to the seven deadly sins they condemn humans of – so if a God strikes down the city for currying the favour of another God, players shouldn’t be surprised. Festivals for the gods in the city square help maintain the fragile balance of power in the Pantheon so that Egypt can live on and continue to tell its tale after thousands of years (spoiler alert – they did survive long enough to become a chapter in the history books).
Landmarks mark the pinnacle of civilization, especially when they are developed in harsh living conditions. To mark the glory of the Pharaoh, players can construct several monuments that stand the test of time. These monuments do not serve any purpose but help the city look better and more akin to what Egypt is in real life. Construction of these monuments takes time and a lot of resources, so it is always worth being prepared for a possible resource crunch before laying the foundations for the construction of such a vanity project.
The new UI looks much better than the one used in the original Pharaoh game. I was pleased with the addition of “filters” that help analyze and understand how the different sections of a city are performing – which I frequently use to plan countermeasures. If an area is prone to fire, it is good to keep a Fire Station nearby. If an area is susceptible to criminal activity, it is advised to set up a Police Station near it – and so on. The enriched UI (besides the new textures) help rebuild the dawn of civilization in the Nile valley in a very pretty way while staying strong in terms of mechanics.
All Hail the Pharaoh’s Eternal Glory
Pharaoh has done an excellent job when it came to the remaster. It is exactly as a remaster should be – adding a touch of modernity without losing the features which made the game known in the first place. The textures for buildings look really crisp, especially for the monuments (if players ever get to construct one) – even though they are well-designed sprites and not 3D models. Some players may find it irksome that not enough has been done to build the graphics up to par with modern-day simulation games, but I don’t share these emotions. However, I really do think more work was needed for animations – the walking animations for all humans look a bit weird when compared with the fleshed-out design of the buildings in general.
The game runs flawlessly without framerate issues or hiccups. Some mechanics like the pathfinding of workers and recruiters do feel buggy at times, but that could be because of the randomness associated with the feature.
Pharaoh is a fun city-building simulation that is challenging to understand, but very rewarding when players manage to pull it off. It is definitely one of those games where players will either spend an hour and quit, or continue to play until the major half of a day is over. Players looking for a challenge and don’t have a problem with the dated graphics should definitely try this out.
FINAL RATING: 80/100