The Settlers series has never been a worldwide chart-topping game, but it has seen a fair share of popularity, more so in Europe, for its uniquely complex gameplay and cute cartoon graphics. Unfortunately, it seems the developers of Settlers 4 should have tried harder to push the series to the next level, rather than simply reinforcing the old formula.
You're not going to be looking at a game that throws thousands of polygons and high-resolution textures at you, but the graphics do tend to fit the game and the series. Settlers 4 still retains the 2-D cartoon-like cute graphics of the others in the series, but improves upon it with a few special effects and some crisp and clean textures. The only time any blurry or pixilated textures are apparent is when you zoom in unreasonably close, which is never necessary. A nice advantage of these graphics is the very low system requirements. Got a Pentium-200 or greater? You could probably run it. This makes the game a very attractive package for anyone still running an old computer.
This is probably the most intriguing portion of the game. Building your city in Settlers 4 consists of some of the most complex management seen in real-time strategy titles, much like the previous Settlers games. For instance, in order to assure the miners had adequate food, I had to first build a Hunter's Hut, then a Fisherman's Hut, a Sheep Ranch, a Waterworker's Hut and Grain Farm to feed the sheep, and a Slaughterhouse to kill the sheep. For the bread I needed to build a Grain Farm, a Grain Mill, and a Bakery. You'll commonly find yourself building large strings
of different types of huts in order to accomplish just one task. As you can see, the game's economics can become very complicated. Learning what to build and when to build it is confusing and will take a good chunk of your time to learn. Depending on the person, this complexity could either make or break the game.
There are four different campaigns to play through in the game, three of them being short campaigns where you can either play as the Romans, Vikings, or Mayans. The fourth campaign is a lengthier one, involving the world of the Dark Tribe. Unfortunately, most of the missions seem like repeats of each other, where your basic mission is to simply build your city and defeat the opposing force. There is also the standard custom game option, where you can chose your own settings for a single game.
Sound and Music
The sound definitely isn't the most inviting aspect of the game. You have your basic clangs of hammers on metal, saws eating away at wood, and water splashing onto the shore, but it definitely isn't up to par with the quality of most recent games. Sometimes it can even get a bit annoying, namely when you repeatedly hear your geologists' high-pitched voices yell happily about the resources they've found. It was funny at first, but soon it simply became mild irritation.
You can play multiplayer over a LAN or on the Internet via a java applet you download off the site. This mode consists of the same gameplay as the single-player game, but with human opponents, which is always more fun. The part that isn't fun about it though, is that the games are still just as long as the single player mode. Most people would rather have a short and quick skirmish instead of playing a long game that you won't be able to step away from for quite a while. Overall the multiplayer mode wasn't really any more exciting than the single-player mode.
In the end, this game doesn't really give you the rewarding experience that it had the potential to do. It will offer some fun times, but if you've played the series in the past, or even if you haven't, you could probably live without this one.