Civilization Revolution Review - 25/06/2008

Civ fans across the world collectively gasped at the news that a new, console-exclusive Civilization game had been announced. Would this spell the end for Sid's legendary weekend-long epic multiplayer, and monstrously deep gameplay?

Perhaps for the hardcore Civ gamer, they may now never see a Civilization game they really want on a console, if they want one at all. It's been made clear with the announcement of Colonization that the epic Civilization that is the PC experience has many years left in it, but fans should not dismiss the new console iteration to the series as 'dumb', 'simple' or 'easy'. By no means. The game, in fact, comes up with quite a few new ideas that Civ on the PC would do well to implement.

It's important to say what perspective I am coming from here. I loved Civilization II, and love Civilization IV, while the others passed me by to some degree. I can easily waste a weekend on Civ IV, though due to the power of my PC and my inability to kill off games before the modern era, I rarely finish games – though still enjoy them immensely. I often find myself coming to stalemates where the enemy AI just hordes tens of units heavily fortified in their cities – I had left it too long to attack, and victory was a war of attrition that to be honest, I just couldn't be bothered to fight after 8 hours of preparation to get to that point.

It's definitely still Civilization.

Enter the Revolution. Civ Rev games take about 2 hours, though can be much quicker if you're on the ball on an easy difficulty. So first, the main differences to the PC version, and an explanation of what Civ's all about. It's a turn-based game charting the history of the world, from first human life to space exploration and voyages to settle on another planet. You build cities, and units and buildings within them, from a birds eye view seeing just a basic representation of the settlement. There are four ways to win: Domination, where you need to take each of the enemies' capital cities, or have the highest score when the time runs out at 2100AD; Cultural, where you need to produce 20 Great People (as a result of impressive culture in each city, gained by building temples, cathedrals etc.), Wonders (from building structures like the Great Pyramids, Hanging Gardens, Hollywood etc.) or Converted Cities (if your culture is sufficiently higher than a neighbouring enemy city, you can covert it to your Civilization) and build the United Nations wonder; Technological, where you must be the first to construct and initiate a Space Program and reach Alpha Centurai; and Economic, where you must collect 20,000 gold and build the World Bank wonder.

These victory guidelines change the game radically. If you're struggling you can now send naval fleets to try and take enemy capitals in a last-ditch raid. You can defend all your cities heavily and just stockpile gold, never attacking a soul. You can defend and research the space program. You can defend and go for the cultural victory. Reports that you have to go on the offensive are way wide of the mark. The AI are very aggressive however, once they see which type of victory you're going for they'll launch attack after attack on you, usually with all of them declaring war. In my last game, still photographically imprinted into my memory like every game of Civ the next morning, I was going for an Economic Victory, and two of the three other leaders declared war on me. I was just defending my cities, but had far superior technology as a result of the rewards you get for reaching certain economic milestones and the way I was managing my cities. After about 10 turns of attacks, I countered, to find all the AI's cities virtually empty. I was about 20 turns from victory, so they were just throwing everything and the kitchen sink at me to stop me winning – leaving themselves open for this decisive counter attack. They had to attack or I would win regardless – losing, for the AI, is not a viable alternative.

A nuke is always handy in both attack and defence.

The games are on a much smaller scale, with six-cities typically what you want to aim for. If you're on the offensive then of course, you'll take more, but the sprawling behemoth civilizations in Civ IV are absent here. Big improvements have come to make the game both quicker and easier for new players to understand. Why in Civ IV can't you take settlers on early naval vessels? It's insane. Purely there to balance gameplay and keep things constricted early on. In Revolution, you can put units on Galleys, the first naval unit, so if you're under siege early in the game, as you may well be, you can sail off to one of many uninhabited islands to start again. It's a viable tactic to have a boat waiting in the wings to whisk you off.

Exploration is very much encouraged early on too. There are easy barbarian villages to capture, ancient artefacts and iconic plots of land that you can take and name – like the Serengeti Plains for example, which will then display their name printed like a map over the top of them in black. For each technology, if you research it before anyone else, you receive advancements – maybe +1 production in each city, or a Riflemen unit in the capital – they really keep things interesting and exciting, as well as making any of the victory options pretty compelling to follow. As I said, with the economic victory you get things like free research of the Banking technology, a free Great Person etc. each time you hit an economic milestone respective to your gold reserves. A cultural victory will provide you with Great People too, and you can use them for various tasks depending on their type, such as increasing the money in your coffers, completing research, or even converting an enemy city.

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