Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Strategy games haven’t had the best history on consoles. To date there’s only two strategy games I think I’ve truly enjoyed that haven’t been on PC. One was a Command and Conquer rip off for Nintendo DS that is just begging for lawsuits called Command and Destroy and the other was a very basic version of Civilization released for mobile phones. The reason these were both successful in my book is because they kept menu-mucking-about to a minimum, which is what console strategy games often fall prey to. If there’s one absolutely truth throughout the universe when it comes to gaming, it is that menus are boring things. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, the moment you have to stop to push your joystick around at right angles to navigate through menus, it becomes very tedious. Even on the PC, they’re only tolerable because you’ve got the really agile control method of the mouse which allows you to do what you need to do quickly, and then get back to the core of the game. There’s been a lot of ways to tackle the not so agile nature of the gamepad in the past, a lot of which revolve around hot buttons which allow you to jump to your management command like building bases, ending up with as many button presses as you would be doing with the thumbstick. The other popular one is a virtual mouse idea where you have a permanent cursor on screen, and try to use it as a mouse like you would on the PC. This also fails because its too slow, too fast, or doesn’t react quick enough to what you’re doing with the thumbstick. So it was apparent from the word go that Firaxis had some pretty big design decisions to make if they were going to bring the menu heavy, micromanagement burdened Civilization to console.

Firaxis seems to have also come to the conclusion that menus are terrible things, and a lot of Civ Rev’s gameplay decisions seem to revolve around that. Sure it’d be great to build a road out to a particular bottleneck and reinforce a blockade quickly, but would it be so great if you had to go into your city management menu, build a worker, move him out there and then go through another menu to select that you wanted a road? And then do it eight more times to get your full road connection? Probably not, but we’ll never know as a lot of this stuff has been heavily automated or removed entirely. What has been cut or automated though is arguably the games biggest strength though, as it leads to a very fluid experience where you don’t feel dragged down by the clumsy gamepad.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If you’ve lived on console games your entire life probably none of this is meaning much unless you played one of the terrible PC Civ console ports in the past. The whole goal of Civ Rev is to build a civilization that stands the test of time. You’ll be able to select one of several civilizations, ranging from Greeks, Chinese, Mongols, Zulus and the not so historically accurate Americans (the game starts in 3000BC) along with half a dozen or so more. From there you’ll be thrown into a randomly generated world with a settler, ready to establish your first city. Ultimately your goal is to not get completely obliterated by one of the other Civilization and archive one of the four victories. As a quick idea, you’ve got the Technology Victory, which you win by being the first Civilization to land people on Alpha Centuri, Culture which is the goal of having a total of 20 great people or other civilization’s cities covert to your side, Economic in which you amass a total of 20,000 gold in the treasury and build the world bank, and lastly Domination which has been remixed from the previous games; instead of holding the majority of the worlds land or wiping everyone out, you must capture all other civilization’s capital cities. Hold all of them for a turn and victory is yours.

Once you’ve established your first city it’s your choice how to play. One thing you’ll find though (especially if you’ve played other Civ games) is that Civ Rev is fast. Only about five minutes will have passed before you have your first contact with another civilization. You will also find that civilizations are very aggressive in the game. They’ll declare war on you at the drop of a hat almost simply because they don’t like you. The whole aspect of international tension has been removed for the most part, which is another blessing in disguise. Really simply, it keeps the game moving. For the most part wars aren’t the result of some mindless AI decision, but rather exist to keep the game from getting stagnant, especially with its somewhat stripped down gameplay options. They won’t go to war with you if they’re going to lose or are busy elsewhere, but when the time is right they’ll come at you hard. Typically I play a very cultural/technology focused campaign while trying to remain the dominant power so others think twice about trying to go to war with my Civ, but at least once every game I’ve wiped out an enemy civ just so I didn’t have to blow so much production time on building defense. One of the not so clever aspects of the AI however is occasionally they’ll declare war on you with no way of really reaching you or the forces to back it up. During one game I spent the entire match in an war state with the Germans but neither of us fought a single battle until the last stages of the game when they developed flight technology, and even then it was kind of like swatting flies out of the air. Basically what it comes down to though is war is what keeps every civilization from just playing the game within its boarders. If it wasn’t for the cut to the chase nature of enemy civs it would be pretty easy for everyone to just go get locked in a very repetitive race for one of the other none combat victory objectives.

Gaetano Prestia – After about 2 hours of gameplay, I found myself maintaining all of these big cities, some of which had been captured from other civilizations by my massive army. Not only was I heavily focused on my military, but I was dedicated to my civilizations culture, finances, buildings, legal system and religion. What I’ve found with other simulation games similar to Civ. Revolution is that once you choose to go down a specific path, the game limits what happens and you’re suddenly on a predictable path that turns out to be fairly repetitive. However, with this game, you actually feel the stress and burden of running a large, breathing and stable civilization. It can be really, really challenging and that’s the point. Forget about just focusing on your objectives, which people you have settled in your city or how much gold you have in your reserves. You’re running a large civilization that is totally dependant on your decision. You’re god and it’s a lot of fun.

Combat has also received a bit of a jazzing up to make it a lot easier to manage. Have three of the same unit on the same tile and they can form an army, and permanently grouped strike force which will leverage the power and special abilities all in one attack. There’s two benefits to this, the obvious one being more power in one hit, the other is that instead of going through three move/attack actions, your only going through one. Again, it makes you forget that you’re playing with a gamepad and allows you more focus on the task at hand. The idea of support units is also a lot stronger, if you have a battle ship station in the a tile adjacent to combat, it’ll provide fire support, greatly increasing your chances of victory. Navel stuff is something I really try to avoid in past civ games but it was actually quite enjoyable setting up these strikes on enemy cities. Also nuclear weapons have been greatly increased in power with the ability to blow a city right off the map (except for capitals, which just have everything in them destroyed and population reduced to zero), but only one player will get them and there will be only one in the entire game. For the most part it serves as a deterrent to war, and if used can pretty much shatter the enemy civs war machine. That being said they’re not the be all and end all, once used you’ll never be getting another one, and the repercussions once used can be pretty damaging if not used right.

Gaetano Prestia – I found the combat AI to be rather inconsistent. As Matt mentioned earlier, civilizations will threaten you with war but their location on the map will make this impossible until the suitable technology is researched. Furthermore, you can have an impenetrable army based inside a city and you can overun an enemy army over and over again, but they’ll still keep coming back. It’s not until 5 or 6 turns later that the enemy will offer peace in exchange for gold or a technology, even though they’ve clearly been beaten.

Culture is also another interesting part of Civ Rev that feels like its been injected with steroids to some degree. The idea of expanding your cultural boards so close to another civ that the boarder city abandons the mother land to join you isn’t new, but it’s a lot more paced and a lot more predictable. One match I simply kept pumping the cultural buildings such as temples and cathedrals out on my boarder with the Arabs and pretty much took over 9/10ths of their Civ without sending out a single military unit. However bare in mind that the exact same tactic can be done to you, as I had the Zulus pull the same stunt on the other side of my nation. On the topic of culture and other nations, civ relationships have also been greatly streamlined. As we said before, war is a pretty common occurrence within the game, but it is literally the flip side of the only other alternative, which is closed boarder peace. There is also a degree of ceasefire options in the game, revolving around giving them a tech, great person or money for them to bugger off for a set amount of turns. All the in betweens such as open boarders, alliances and such have been removed which given the scale and length of most matches is a really good thing. As you’re facing off against a much smaller number of civilizations in Civ Rev, having two on you would pretty much spell the end with few avenues for you to follow.

New to Civ Rev is progressive abilities of the civs you pick. Typically in the past civilization games you’ll get some starter bonus’ along with a very general gain in the long term to suit your play style. Civ Rev on the other hand does that but also gives you a series of perks that you unlock as you pass through the ages. In a way, Civ Rev does call for you to plan ahead in some degree. While none of these perks are really going to negatively affect the ability to win at a certain objective, you will find that they do push towards one or another stronger the others. If you want to win the space race for example, it can pay to have have a late game science perk which will allow you to put yourself in the lead with technologies available. While there’s still nothing forcing you in one direction or another, taking these into account with the objective you hope to win will result in a serious edge.

But at the core of it, with all this stuff either removed or simplified, does it still make for a good game? The answer is a definite yes. Everything that has been chopped from the PC’s Civ4 version of things has been done for the benefit of gameplay. There’s a lot of stuff that could have been quite easily included, but in doing that you would have spent a lot more time doing the more repetitive thing of getting everything into place rather than seeing the outcome of your actions. City management, unit control, research and relationships have all been redesigned in a way that makes it more game than process, which is what pretty much every other console strategy game fails to do. The biggest fault in the game is difficulty at the end the day. The game is still very challenging and will take you a while to master, but the lower tier difficulties are ridiculously easy and the highest are no where near the difficulty of the PC version. Chances are unless you have zero strategy experience you’ll be jumping on the medium difficulty, King, straight away, with only two more choices above you. As said the upper tiers will take a long time to master, but once done you’ve got no place to go. Civ Rev is a really strong game, both as a console game and a strategy game, but hardcore Civ buffs are gonna find themselves with no more challenges sooner rather than later. The flip side of that however is that Civ Rev isn’t aimed at matches that take weeks to play out, and that most of them are over in about three hours. The PC’s Civ4 does have a quick play option but it’s never felt quite right. Civ Rev though comes along and does it wonderfully, as every game does feel like a very full experience.

Gaetano Prestia – I was really impressed with the quality of difficulty. While the easiest mode is for beginners and can be completed within an hour, even the Warlord difficulty, which is the second easiest, can be challenging if you don’t plan your city right. The strength of the game lies in its ability to punish you if you’re not smart with your civilians, technology, army and research and while you shouldn’t be determined for one outcome, picking a particular area to grow in – like culture or technology – is wise.

One of the aspects that has helped Civ Rev make it as a console game is how alive it is. Whether it be your units on the battle field or your advisers popping up on screen, it’s pretty rare you’re looking at anything static. The land scape is no Oblivion but it’s not meant to be, it’s an overview of the world. But for what it is, it’s pretty rich to look at. There are flowing streams, water falls into the ocean, workers running in and out of your city and so on. When you go into combat it’ll present a very lively zoom in of the battle. The unit animation is a tad tacky but it makes them good to watch. Lastly you have the advisers and nation leaders, a series of characters who will pop up on your screen with great detail and animation. Civilization has always had a slightly comic edge when it comes to these guys and it’s even truer with Civ Rev. Your advisers will jump out from the side of the screen, and if you’re skipping through stuff fairly quickly they’ll knock each other out of the way for camera time. There is a bit of lag in some of the more intense graphical situations especially when lots of advisers are running around or the camera is zooming around the planet, but it’s not a major issue in the nature of the game.

Sound is probably the only thing that is a real mix bag affair in the game. While the sound effects and ambiance is pretty decent, there’s also a distinct lack of music in the game. Civ games have always been known for featuring really rich music in a variety of styles. However aside from the odd music cue and menu music, you’ll be listening to birds tweeting and tank blasts more than anything else. Music does eventually get turned off in all Civ games by hardcore players because there is only so many times you can listen to the music, but it’s disappointing not to even have the choice this time around. There is one thing however that I am going to flat out call a mistake, and that was the decision to use ‘Sims’ like speech for the advisers. Having it as background noise in something like The Sims is one thing, but when its so in your face with the advisers it can make you cringe.

Summary:
Civilization Revolution is basically the prime cut of some of the best concepts from the PC versions, along with a few additional things designed specially for the game itself. While Civ fans may find it a little lacking initially, there’s also something new and wonderful to be discovered in the quick play nature of the game. If you’re brand new the the Civ saga then Civ Rev is a great place to start, as it’s still very rich without being bloated and unfriendly to the new player like Civ4 is. Like all Civ games it is a little rough around the edges in presentation, and the AI isn’t quite up to scratch as past Civ games, but for the most part it’s solid and enjoyable, and is a really great edition to any game collection. The best part is however that just like every other Civ game ever, once you start playing it’ll suck the life out you for hours as you conquer the world.