Saturday, September 02, 2006

Computer Game Review: Civilization IV

Civilization is the greatest turn-based strategy computer game ever designed. Created by Sid Meier, the original still stands as a triumph in terms of it's groundbreaking gameplay, with later editions mostly tweaking the gameplay and updating the graphics.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Civilization starts you on a randomly generated fractal map of the world as a great civilization, such as the British, the Romans, the Zulu, the Egyptians and so forth at the dawn of civilization, in 4000 BCE.

From there it is up to you to colonize new lands, build military units to fight battles and defend the areas you have settled and research new technologies to progress from the Stone Age to the Space Age and beyond.

To win the game you must achieve supreme mastery of one aspect of the game: military, technology, culture or diplomacy are all ways to win. If no one achieves a clear victory, then the highest score at the end of the game (in the 21st century) wins instead.

Since the last edition, Civ III, was rather disappointing, with resources drying up randomly leading to chaotic games and games that took forever (even by Civilization standards which says a lot), it stood to reason that Firaxis would release a new edition sooner rather than later.

In Civ IV, they finally have a game that not only matches the classic play of Civ I and Civ II but surpasses it.

Civ IV keeps many of the interesting editions to Civ III, such as strategic resources. Strategic resources are required to build certain types of units. So horses, a key early and mid-game strategic resource, is required to build Horse Archers, Knights and Cavalry. Oil, a crucial mid- and late-game strategic resource is required to build fighter jets and bombers.

Strategic resources are enhanced by the removal of resources randomly drying up. Civilization is a pure strategy game that involves very little luck when at its best. The fact that resources could disappear randomly (and with the game being so long, they often did) could seriously cripple your civilization out of nowhere.

It represents reality nicely, but it added a little too much randomness to the game. Suffering a serious setback by a random event after playing a game for 30 hours is not a good thing.

Another great addition to the game adapted from Civ III is the concept of Great People. As we all know, history might be written by nations and their leaders but is frequently carried out by extraordinary men and women.

While Civ III had the concept of great leaders who could form armies or spur a city on to great productivity, Civ IV introduces a host of Great People (but not, oddly, great military leaders). Great People can be great artists, great engineers, great scientists, great religious leaders and great merchants.

The effect of each great person is profound. A great scientist can discover a new technology for you instantly, found a great center of learning or be turned into a "super citizen", providing a science boost forever.

By contrast a great artist provides a big culture boost, great engineers productivity, great merchants cash and great religious leaders can found centers of religioun in certain holy cities.

Great People are more likely to be born if your society pursues a specific strategy as well, making a strategy that promotes culture more appealing. If you're building cultural wonders of the world, like Shakepeare's Theater, the odds of a great artist being born into your society increases and so forth.

And the game plays quicker as well. While at times it seems as though you're flying through history, this is a welcome change after Civ III, where completing a game was a chore due to its length.

And while the gameplay is amazing and some of the best seen since Civ II, the scenery is lovely as well. This is the best looking Civilization game ever from a graphics standpoint. In fact this is really the only negative the game has. If you don't have a high-end PC with a decent graphics card, you won't be playing this game at all. It simply will not run without a good processor and video card.

Still, some things are worth a new graphics card and this game is one of them.
It is one of the best computer games I have ever played and might just be the finest strategy game ever written.


1 comment:

Chuck said...

Thanks for the kind words (and the link!)


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