"Hey guys, let's create a game!" said the chief designer of 1602 A.D. to his team.
"Great," said one team member. "I'd love to make something like The Settlers."
"And I want to have battles there, just like in the Age of Empires," added another member.
Soon, more team members expressed their ideas.
"I want to have the development based on relative prosperity, just like in Caesar, and not on technological advances," said one.
"And I want to discover new islands, settle them and compete against other colonists, just like in Colonization," suggested another member.
The last member of the development team, until then quietly playing Heroes of Might and Magic II suddenly said: "I love the sounds in this game, let's rip them out and add them to our game!"
And so they did, and created 1602 A.D.
Okay, the conversation might not have gone exactly like that, but it feels like it, once you play the game. Basically, you have to settle islands, and build cities. When your city reaches a certain size, new buildings become available. In order to upgrade your inhabitants to a higher level (and get more advances), you have to satisfy the current needs of your subjects. This includes building churches, taverns, public baths or schools, and producing alcohol, tobacco, food and much more.
Diplomacy and trade plays role in this game, too. Occasionally, you'll run into pirates, or one of the other players decides to take you apart. You have to build (and upkeep) armies and fleets.
But that's not all - you even have several choices of play. You can either play a SimCity-like continuous play, or chose one of numerous campaigns and standalone scenarios. Or you can play a Settlers-like campaign, where each next scenario appears once you finish the previous one. In each scenario, you have a harder goal to fulfill.
So much about what the game is all about; let us take a closer look at the details now:
Graphics: Even though the game supports a resolution up to 1024x768, I did not notice any difference between that and the 800x600 resolution. Furthermore, you won't be aware about the higher resolution just by reading the manual - it states the 800x600 resolution as the highest one.
Once the game starts, you will watch a couple of bad movies. You can skip them by hitting the escape button, but I highly recommend watching them at least once - after that the game graphics will look much better. You have three levels of zoom in the game. However, only the largest close-up allows you to play the game, if you don't want to make mistakes while placing the buildings and roads. In this resolution, however, the terrain, buildings and people appear very pixelated.
A special graphics category is the design of buildings and the environment. I must admit, 1602 A.D. totally bombed here. While in Settlers or Age of Empires you have a certain architectural style for each culture, here you run into a total architectural chaos. Roman-like farms mix with German medieval castles and churches, the houses, looking like a combination of Maur and Spanish architecture in the introductory movie, look like shags at the beginning, and later evolve into houses you are likely to see in the rich New Jersey suburbs.
Sounds: The game has five or six catching tunes, which are being played over and over again. You can turn the music off and listen only to birds, the sea and workers in your city. However, this is not the Settlers, and those sounds are rather sporadic. My biggest gripe, however, is with one certain sound - listen closely when you build a new warehouse. The sound it makes is identical with one event sound in Heroes of Might and Magic II (when you drink from a luck-granting fountain, I believe). This sound well represents another problem the authors of the game created - the sounds do not correspond with the building you just erected. Remember the sounds of SimCity 2000 when you erected a school, or built a prison? That's the kind of sounds I want to hear here.
Gameplay: Two words - utterly confusing. Unfortunately, the authors took the worst parts of all the games they copied. Just as an example - in order to expand, you have to build marketplaces. People are running around, collecting goods you created, and store them in those marketplaces. However, the overall storage capacity depends on the kind of warehouse you have, and not on how many marketplaces you built.
Another problem is with the supplying of goods to certain artisians. For example, the iron smelter guy needs iron and wood. However, if you have the ore mine on one side of the town and the iron smelter on the other side, the iron ore gets stored in the warehouse, and will never get to your iron smelter.
The game has several other serious drawbacks. For example, you will be constantly low on resources. You will be able to buy them from free traders, but so will your competitors. You'll end up waiting for hours to amass the right number of resources to build whatever you had in mind (while I was waiting for 20 tools, I was able to prepare a dinner, eat it and wash the dishes).
Another problem is the lack of objective measurements. Your citizens eat, drink, smoke and much more. Often, you'll hear them complaining that there's no food or booze. However, there is no way for you to determine how much food is eaten in a certain period. This goes for all consumer products, and so you'll end up checking your stores all the time to make sure you are not running low. This brings me to another thing - the time. The time goes by, but is not measured either, which creates a problem with taxes, since you never know how many taxes you will be able to collect in a certain time period.
The interface is poor, too. The game is displayed in an isometric view, but the map is top-down. Also, while you can rotate the main view, the map does not rotate along. As a consequence, accessing other parts of the map by sliding the main view is utterly impossible; you will always slide in the wrong direction.
The good: Maybe now (if you read so far), you might be wondering why I gave such a terrible game three point and a "recommended to friends" rating. As bad as this game is, it has one shining point, which makes it an essential game for anybody crazy about building strategies.
This game introduces the notion of a regulated growth. In fact, this notion provides the only way to beat this game. It goes like this: the more advances your inhabitants become, the more they demand. As a consequence, you cannot build like crazy; you always have to watch your stores and production capacity. This way, you will be always pressed on the budget side (more citizens means more taxes, but also more requirements for consumer goods). The notion is so unique, that you realize it just after a couple of games, which you lose because the demands of the citizens become too big. However, once you figure it out, you will be surprised about this genial idea.
Another thing that makes the game playable is the ability to set trade routes. This way, you don't have to take care of the ships, and still have all the supplies you require.
Overall, this game is recommended because of one unique notion (which I hope to see in other games, too), a controlled (and restricted) growth. However, the graphics are unconvincing, the music too repetitive, the movies poor and the overall gameplay strongly hindered by tons of micromanagement you end up doing. If you look for a god-like building game with an excellent production tree, play the Settlers II again. According to your tastes, you might want to play Age of Empires, Caesar or Colonization, too. But as long as you want to try something harder with one unique trait, chose this game.
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