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Casino Empire is a gentle management sim which challenges the player to run a series of casinos on the Las Vegas strip working their way up from a two room operation to a glittering multi-level money making palace. The game-play is simple and easy to pick up, the progression offers a few hours of fun and while the art style is basic and the game has some flaws this is mildly diverting stuff and justifies a budget price tag.
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There have been countless management sims over the years and even several based on gambling in Vegas so the concept for this game is easy to grasp and the game-play relies on established mechanics which won’t provide a seasoned strategy gamer with much of a challenge. You begin with a failing casino and each level has a different target you must reach, generally a certain rating or level of cash.
The simple isometric view and easy to use menus allow you to place out slot machines of various types, card games, roulette tables and gambling pits. You also have to provide amenities for your gamblers from cash machines and bins to cafes, toilets and hotel rooms. Finally you hire a few staff to keep things ticking over, give the place some security to prevent thieves getting away with your profits and watch as the crowds pour in. You can also spruce up the external view of the casino via a separate screen with flashing signs, fireworks and transport links.
As the place fills up and the casino improves the class of clientele begins to improve and you’ll get punters with more disposable cash in their pockets. You can click on the individual customers and comp them if you think it will encourage them to stay longer and ultimately spend more. Eventually you may be graced with the presence of VIP’s who are obviously based on various famous Hollywood stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood. This is a nice comical touch and they provide a real contrast to the rather dull tourist patrons.
You can also hold tournaments or basic card games of either Blackjack or Poker and join in yourself as a player. This puts you round the table in a game with a very basic interface, irritating opponents and a serious lack of AI. These games offer little challenge and become dull very quickly, although it is a nice idea, it just isn’t executed very well.
The sand box mode is too directionless to offer much fun and since the choices of games, buildings and ornaments are fairly limited the best option is to play through the campaign mode which will give you a gentle challenge and provide around 6 hours of game-play.
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The fixed isometric view from above on the 3D action cannot be altered and you can’t zoom in either which makes it visually limited. The outdoor screen for decorating your casino exteriors is a simple 2D drawing. The various games are modelled and animated competently, as are the ornaments and other bits and pieces. The character animations are good enough to give the impression of a busy casino but there isn’t much of note going on here artistically. The various casinos ape the real Vegas in style with different historical backdrops or themes including ancient Egyptian and classical styles as well as a circus theme. Even at the time of release this was fairly mediocre visually speaking so it looks even more dated now.
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The familiar annoying chimes and tunes of a busy casino are employed here along with theme music for each level which will make you want to plug your ears. It all fits the backdrop but since the backdrop is a noisy crass casino the sound is inevitably a tad annoying. The best feature of the sound in this game is the voiceovers for the comedy VIP’s as they utter short comical phrases which cement the reference.
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This is quite dated now so all you’ll need to run it is a 300MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, 500MB of hard drive space and a video card that supports an 800 x 600 resolution and DirectX 7. The game will run extremely smoothly on the vast majority of modern systems.
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Casino Empire is a fairly cheap take on the management sim genre with very little depth and it only provides a gentle challenge. Strategy gamers looking for a difficult campaign should look elsewhere. It is also quite limited in terms of choice and graphics but the game retains a certain charm and it is undeniably fun to play through once in a while. It won’t keep you hooked for weeks on end but if you prefer things to be fairly easy and straightforward then Casino Empire will provide you with a decent night’s entertainment. If you want a Vegas game with real depth then check out Vegas: Make It Big.