Civilization is the game and Sid Meier is to blame! “Blame? What blame?” you may ask. Well, the guy is to blame for making extremely addictive games that keep you playing for so long that you forget all about time! Instead of studying for school, I spent a full year playing the original Civilization. When Civ2 was released, I couldn’t be bothered with learning for my university degree but instead wasted again a full year on this sequel. I somehow managed to skip Civilization 3 but now Meier has released Civilization IV and my marriage is going downhill as I have no more time available to give my wife any attention! Hell, this game even managed to get me away from EVE:Online!
For those youngsters amongst us who’ve never heard of Civilization I’ll give a short idea of the concept: You pick a nation, start off in the beginning of time (well, not the exact beginning of time as there are no dinosaurs or anything), build cities and progress your civilization. Meanwhile, other nations are growing as well and before long you’ll start with diplomatic negotiations and if those don’t go too well you’ll end up with war.
There are different ways to win a game. The simplest is a time victory. Here you just have to make sure you’re the largest civilization by 2050 AD. Diplomatic victory (be chairman of the United Nations and get every UN decree voted positively while you’re in charge) and Conquest when you’ve annihilated all other nations are already a bit more difficult. Domination means you’ve got 2/3 of all available land under your government and Cultural victory comes along if you’ve got three cities with “legendary culture”. Space Race, meaning that you’re the first to go into space, is also one of the easiest ones.
Up to now it still sounds quite normal for todays’ games eventhough there are multiple angles you can follow to be victorious. The catch, however, is that the whole game is turn-based on not in real-time as so many other strategy games these days.
So, how does this play then? Well, you start off with a settler and either a warrior or a scout, depending on the nation you’ve chosen. You also have a couple of technologies already but these are very limited. Think stuff like “the wheel”, “mining” or “hunting”.
First you get your settler to found your first city which will automatically be the capitol of your empire. Make sure you put it in a good location which means it’s best to have water or other commodities nearby. The better the location, the fast units will be built and the quicker your civilization will grow. Don’t search too long for a good spot though as the other civilizations will be doing the same and you can bet that they don’t look around long.
Meanwhile, you can have your warrior or scout look around for small towns that can give you money, technologies or a piece of the map. Or you can choose to stack him in your city as a first defense against barbarians.
Barbarians will come by now and then and may attack your cities so it’s best to make sure you’ve got some defense present. Archers are good for this in the beginning but don’t put everything on your capitol. While you grow your city, it’s best to create more settlers to increase the amount of land you occupy. The more you have, the easier it will be later on in the game. The other civilizations will be doing the same and the more cities you have, the more units you’ll be able to build at the same time. After all, it’s a turn-based game and after each action you do, the others will have their turn.
Occupying land and building cities is of course not the only thing to do. In the meantime, you’ll be researching technologies which will allow you to build buildings in your cities that will increase their value. Granaries, barracks and forges in the beginning but after a while you’ll get factories, hospitals and airports. As your technology progresses, so will your civilization. Next to buildings, also your units will progress. While you start with archers and warriors, you’ll grow and get crossbowmen, war elephants and later in the game even gunships and modern armors. Also water units are present and these go to mighty battleships and carriers. To get access to those, you do have to make sure you do enough research, but everything costs money and also keeping your economy is a necessity. If your bank account reaches zero, your research will drop to a lower percentage to make sure you have enough money each turn to keep your society running.
Already find it getting a bit complicated? Then add to that the fact that your neighbours won’t leave you alone! They’ll be asking for technology (sometimes in exchange for stuff they have) and if they think they’re powerful enough, they’ll even ask money in the form of tribute! Go along with them and they’ll despise you, say “fuck off” and there’s a big possibility that they’ll start invading you. It’s up to you to choose
Now, this all sounds very complicated but although there’s a fat manual accompanying the game, once you’ve started, everything gets very clear very rapidly thanks to the very decent user interface. There are advisors for about everything and each time a city has built something, you’ll get a window with possibilities of what to build next. There will even be some suggestions present on what to do.
Next to the standard buildings and units, you can also create “wonders” like the Notre Dame, the Parthenon and so on. These give you additional resources and also enlarge your chances for a great person. These latter have a few possibilities: you can use them to research technology quicker – something that’s best in the beginning, or you can have them join a city as a specialist. If you’ve got three unused “great persons”, you can combine them and start off a golden age which means things will be going a lot quicker in your cities for a certain period.
As said: Civilization sounds like an extremely complicated game and it is, but due to the extremely simple user interface, things go along nicely and you won’t have any trouble understanding what to do once you’ve played it for about an hour or two.
There’s plenty of difficulty levels going from extremely simple to extremely hard. Don’t expect only 4 like in first person shooters or so though, each level has a specific thing that will make it more difficult than the level before. The beginners levels will for instance focus more on the barbarians being harder to defeat, while the higher you go, the more your neighbouring nations will be a threat for your civilization. As of the “noble” level, your opponents will even be able to research faster than you and without the benefit of better units, it becomes A LOT more difficult to win. And then there’s still plenty of more difficult settings present!
“Plenty”. That also a word you can use a lot in a review of Civilization. Types of worlds available? Plenty. Types of climate available? Plenty. Playable nations? Plenty. Amount of different units? Plenty! Plenty! Plenty!
Every world is randomly generated so each time you start a new game, the world will be completely different and you can start exploring it all over again. How’s that for replayability? And then I’m just only talking about the singleplayer experience! If you think you’ve seen it all in Civ4 (in a year or ten maybe?) you can start playing against human opponents through several different ways including of course internet and lan, but even on one pc or through email are a possibility!
I could go on and on and on about all the possibilities in Civ4 but then my review would be as big as the manual that comes along with it so I’ll continue now straight on to the technical aspects and leave the special units each nation has, the world builder, the XML option and the possibility to add events yourself for you to discover.
On the graphical part, the zoom function has greatly been improved. Not only can you zoom in to see what a certain unit is doing on its tile, but you can zoom out up into space from where you can see your whole empire like you would if you were in space. Even clouds are present and I really need to emphasize that although zooming out so far doesn’t really help with playing, it’s a magnificent view to check out once. Your overall view will also change as your civilization grows making it easier to keep your overview. Of course you can zoom in and out as you want and as you need. In any case, you constantly can have the overview as you want it.
The units look nice and have no problem competing with those from RTS games at all. Also their animations are quite well done but from time to time you’ll notice minor flaws like when a rifleman points to the right when he wants to shoot one of your units, while your marine is in fact on the left of him. But that doesn’t really disturb the playing itself luckily.
Also the sound is decent, with accompanying music to whatever you’re doing, without ever bothering. Also each unit type has its own effects depending on what its action is.
So, are there no negative points to say about this game? Well, there are but they’re really minor things. Some units tend to have certain bonuses that make it almost impossible to defeat them. A longbowman or Rifleman defending a city is a pain in the ass to kill. More than once you’ll notice that certain units are a bit overpowered, mostly on the defensive side. On the other hand, there are units that you’ll hardly ever use. Fighters, bombers or battleships can’t help you take over a city and only deplete the town’s defenses. When those are returned to zero percent (which doesn’t mean there aren’t any defensive units present anymore), they’ll just sit there without being able to do jack shit. You can’t destroy a city without having killed all defensive units in it, and also there’s no possibility to destroy a town once you’ve occupied it and decided you want to keep it. No turning back on decisions!
Civilization 4 is like a massive game of chess. It’s different every time you play although the basics are always the same. That’s why it’s so addictive once you’ve learnt the rules. Just like chess, a game that’s still being played centuries after its arrival, Civlization is a game that has a concept so strong that it will never start to bore. The gameplay, graphics and sound have all been enhanced with Civilization IV but for me the best thing about it is that the concept is still the same and that Firaxis has kept it turn-based with completely randomly generated maps which gives it endless possibilities in both single- and multiplayer.