Urban Empire is a city-building game that spans two hundred years of European history starting in the year 1820. Developed by Finnish developer Reborn Interactive and published by Kalypso Media, the same people who brought you the Tropico sequels, it sets out to put a unique spin on the city-builder subgenre. Unlike other city-builders such as Cities: Skylines or SimCity you are actually playing as the head of a political dynasty. Playing politics is a big part of the game, for example instead of simply plopping down some new residential zones you actually have to put it to vote in the city council to build new districts, upgrade infrastructure and pass edicts. As such, it is billed less as a city builder game and more as a city ruler game.
There are four political dynasties you can chose to play as:
- Von Pfilzens: Militaristic aristocrats of German descent with conservative political views. They are traditionalists by nature, favoring a strong social hierarchy and preferring stability over rapid change.
- Sant'Elias: An Italian family known for being patrons of inventors, innovators and notorious risk takers. Strongly supportive of technological solutions to problems and holding a fierce disdain for conservatism and traditionalism.
- Kilgannons: A working class family of Irish descent with a history of involvement in political and labor movements. Tend to be very popular with the lower classes in the game.
- Shuyskys: A rising Russian immigrant family known for their patronage of the arts and theater. They are new-comers to the politics of the Austrian Empire.
After choosing your dynasty you are then tasked by the Emperor of the Austrian Empire to establish a new city in the fictional province of Swarelia. What direction this city will take over the next two centuries is up to you, assuming you can keep your family in power.
Tropes Featured In Game:
- Alternate History: Needless to say, the Austrian Empire didn't found your city in 1820. Nor did these influential political dynasties exist in the Real Life Austrian Empire.
- Blackmail: It is possible to spy on the political parties once you have access to camera technology. You can than use this to either force them to vote for legislation they are normally opposed to or to damage their chances as the polls come the next election.
- Bling of War: The Von Pfilzen characters have a tendency to wear some rather stylish military uniforms while on the job.
- Blue Blood: All family dynasties, except Kilgannons and Shuyskys, are mainly aristocrats of Austrain Empire who managed to adapt to post-Imperial independence.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Just like in SimCity residential, commercial, and industrial zones are colored green, blue, and yellow, respectively. Though the game does add a a mixed residential / commercial zone which is colored light blue.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance:
- A choice in the first era involves the PC's heir falling in love with an utterly unsuitable (read: lower-class) woman. There is no option to let him choose his own wife; only how gentle or cold the PC's method of breaking off the relationship will be.
- Some of the edicts are based on the general social views based on certain eras, which one of them include whether to maintain or reduce punishment for homosexuality.
- Even the game's political alignment on "conservatism" and "liberalism" are different from eras to eras, especially for American audience's perspective, where the first era's "conservatives" tend to have socially conservative but tend to support welfare and regulation while the "liberals" are laissez-faire in addition to being socially liberal.
- Domestic Abuse: In the third era, the player character will see an assault victim fleeing from one of the Pfilzens. They can help the Pfilzen catch her, point him in the wrong direction, or confront him and give her money for a hotel stay; your relationship with the Pfilzen-led political party will change accordingly.
- Emperor Scientist: The Sant'Elias dynasty in a nutshell. For example, the second head of the dynasty, Giaccomo, views his mayoral duties as secondary to his scientific research.
- Everything's Better with Llamas: Penultimo can send you a llama as a gift. Choosing to accept the gift instead of pawning it off to some farmer increases the city's fun rating.
- Fictional Political Party: Your city council is made up of several of these, though some- like the Free Democratic Party- are based on Real Life political parties in Germany and Austria.
- Informed Judaism: Vasily Shuysky's bio mentions the family being Jewish (the implication being that Vasily was a Nouveau Riche immigrant who made his fortune in more tolerant Austria and gained influence within its court to earn a nomination). There is no other indication of that in the game whatsoever.
- It Will Never Catch On: The game milks no small amount of humor from its newspapers being adamantly opposed to new inventions and societal innovations that are recognized today as roaring successes.
- Moral Guardians: The Von Pfilzens and political parties of the Conservative bent.
- Permanent Elected Official: The goal is to make each generation of the family this for the city, as (except for the first character in the dynasty, who is appointed directly by the Emperor), they can be voted out of office.
- Shout-Out: To Tropico, not surprising since they have the same publisher. Penultimo can send your player character a gift in the form of a llama.
- This Is Gonna Suck: At the beginning of the fourth era (i.e, the Cold War), the game openly tells you that Shuysky players will find this era the most difficult. It was not a good time to be a Russian.
- Working-Class Hero: The Kilgannons, having come from a working class background themselves and being heavily involved with the labor movements.