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Posted on Nov 15, 2005 in Electronic Games

Civilization IV – Game Review (PC)

By James Lombardi

Introduction:

It’s hard to think of a gaming franchise that carries with it the prestige and power of the name Civilization. I suppose more specifically, Sid Meier’s Civilization. Maybe there are some franchises out there with more clout and influence, but I doubt there are any that have ruined as many marriages. There were fantastic promises made with Civilization IV, enough that some gamers probably contacted their lawyers ahead of time and asked for the divorce papers to be drawn up – requesting only that they be left with the family’s computer. So how does this one stack up to the rest of the series? Will we see a significant rise in divorce statistics? Will the tank finally win against the lowly spearman?

Gameplay/Interface:

As any fan knows, this is the meat of a Civilization game, and what makes or breaks it; graphics, sound, and other bells and whistles all take a backseat to gameplay. No one needs (or wants) fancy particle effects or real-time dynamic lighting. We want to guide our young civilization to world domination, even if it takes 6000 years to get there. There’s nothing here that would alienate a long time Civilization player, but there have been some changes, so don’t brush this one off just because your copy of Civilization II is still on your hard drive (if all you have on your hard drive is Civilization III, seriously what are you doing? Get this game!).

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To give a quick recap for those readers who haven’t played a Civilization game:

There is an awful lot to a Civilization game, but the general idea is that you start as a budding civilization in 4000 BC and you have until 2050 AD (although now you can actually disable the time limit) to lead your civilization to victory. The beauty of these games (and Civilization IV is no exception) is that the victory conditions are wide ranging. One can conquer all the other civilizations, win by simply controlling a vast majority of the world’s area and population, be the first civilization to send a mission to the far reaches of space, spread your culture throughout the world, reach a diplomatic agreement of victory, or simply have the highest score when the time runs out. To get you there, you build cities, develop them, develop your infrastructure (roads, agriculture, etc), discover new technologies, and wage war.

It’s a little known historical fact that Confucianism and Taoism were both founded in St. Petersburg, Russia. You can now see the specific reasons why that other civilization hates you.

Several of the systems have been revamped in this incarnation of the game. For example, the diplomacy system is fairly different from before. You can clearly see why you have a good or bad relationship with another civilization. Also, civilizations no longer can run about through your borders unless you agree to have open borders with them – and if they declare war on you, their units are transported out of your territory. However, opening borders with other nations increases trade (and your civilization’s revenue) and generally keeps other civilizations happy with you and less inclined to declare war with you. Also, after problems in Civilization III, managing a large empire is easier. Corruption doesn’t become crippling – in fact, there is no corruption. Rather, some loss is factored in for each city your country controls, so you have to balance expansion with the economic strength of your civilization. Overall the changes made to the game are generally for the better.

However, long time fans also know one of the biggest complaints of the series is the handling of combat. Stories of great woe were often told of that fortified group of Pikemen taking down a Panzer unit. During my first game of Civilization IV, (I was playing as the Germans – so I did in fact specifically have Panzers), I launched an attack on one of my neighbors – Gandhi. I had just attained Panzers and was ready to flex some muscle (before everyone caught up to me). I rolled up to a city with my tank…and enjoyed a defeat by the hands (well, arrows) of a couple of Archer units. I didn’t quite agree with the logic of the result given to my Panzers.

To be fair, they did revise the combat system so this is slightly less likely. The way it seems to work now is that each unit has a strength rating, and for those gamblers out there the strength ratings are basically just odds. My panzer had a strength of 28, and that archer had a strength of 3 (but modifiers such as terrain, fortifications, etc., increased this to about 8 if I recall correctly). The battle worked out to 28:8 or so. My panzer wins 28 times out of 36, or roughly 78% of the time. Sure, I might settle for slightly worse odds in gambling, but that is why they call it gambling. Still, the system at least makes some more sense and luckily the game is extremely moddable, so a person can tinker and make things fit a little more to their liking.

Additionally, a few new features made it into this version. A civilization can now see the birth of a “great person.” Taken from history, examples of great people emerging from a civilization would be Da Vinci or Einstein. They fit into categories such as “great scientist,” “great prophet,” “great artist,” and “great engineer.” Each type conveys certain bonuses and each has a variety of uses. They can join a city’s population permanently to convey powerful bonuses (adding a great scientist to a city greatly boosts its scientific output). They can produce certain one-time effects, such as building a certain structure, speeding construction, speeding certain research techs, or my favorite – the “artist” can add a large amount of culture to a city – great for expanding borders and attempting a culture take over of a neighbor’s city.

There’s no longer one type of government. Your civilization can be customized in a number of different areas. By looking at the info screen, one can see where they rate in a number of different ways. Here – my power (orange) against the rest of the world.

Another new feature comes in the form of religion. Previously untouched in Civilization games, you can now found a religion and proselytize to other civilizations to gain favor with them. Civilizations tend to frown on those of different religions and become quite friendly with those of the same religion. Unfortunately, that’s the only real effect of religions, no special bonuses or units are given – they are all exactly the same, but are discovered at different times (by researching a specific tech before anyone else, you found the relevant religion). Still, it’s another layer added to the already complex game that adds a little extra character to the game.

In regards to the complexity of the game, I think this is the best of the series in minimizing the micromanagement required to run a successful civilization. Workers all do what they need to do intelligently, the computer generally recommends smart production choices for the a city, and the civilians within each city seem to maximize the city’s strength well on their own (I haven’t once had to shift which tile a city is drawing from in this one, whereas I was doing it constantly in Civilization II). The interface in the game flows well, necessary information is provided effectively, and controls are generally well laid out. About the only thing that took some getting used to was remembering how the production queue works. You can’t queue up buildings or units simply by left clicking them, instead you have to hold shift while clicking. A single left click overrides the previous production and starts whatever was just clicked instead (however progress made on the previous item remains, so when you switch back, all the progress made previously will still be there).

A final area worth mentioning is the multiplayer. I still haven’t gotten it working with the built in Gamespy service, but a direct IP game ran fairly well. The new option for simultaneous turns speeds things along in a multiplayer game. You and the other players are taking care of things at the same time so you’re not sitting around bored waiting for the slow guy on the other end to finish his turn. You can at least spend some time micromanaging your forces while you wait for him to finish (or he waits for you to finish if you happen to be the slow type).

These are, of course, just a few of the changes and features in the gameplay, but I could probably write a 500-page book in the time it takes to explain them all. The development team really seemed to start from scratch on this one, they kept the basics the same, but approached this game from a new angle in a lot of ways. The fundamentals remain the same, but the details are all new. An experienced player of the series can easily jump into a first game and enjoy the action – picking up the new things along the way without any trouble.

‘Looks like this should be an easy conquest, they’ve only got bows and arrows and we have Panzers…’ -This example of ‘Famous Last Words’ brought to you by Civilization IV.

Graphics/Sound:

When talking about a Civilization game, this tends to be the least interesting section. However, the graphics are much better than any predecessor – actually taking a step into 3D graphics. The maps are interesting, cities and tile improvements grow on the map and really show the progress your civilization is making. There are unit animations for combat, although they aren’t anything to get too excited about, unless you happen to be watching that spearman poke your tank and make it blow up. I suppose that could be considered exciting.

The sounds are much the same as they were in previous games. Your tanks making rolling noises, your soldiers march, when you enter a city you hear the background noise of a city. Each building has a sound it produces when it is completed (although that can get annoying when you build the same temple in ten cities and they all complete in a row, letting you enjoy the same slightly annoying sound ten times in quick succession). On the other hand, one nice sound feature is that your units speak in the appropriate language. Germans say phrases in German, Russians in Russian, and so on and so forth. Nothing revolutionary, but it does help get you immersed in your civilization.

Installation / Technical:

In the multiple games I’ve played of it so far, I haven’t run into any significant problems. One minor bug where I loaded a game and ended up as a country different from the one I was playing as in the game, but otherwise it’s been smooth sailing. Unfortunately, it seems it hasn’t been that way for everyone. There were a lot of intial problems with the game, mainly with ATI cards, but Firaxis quickly released a fix. However, that hasn’t been the extent of problems – a rather large number of players complain about memory leaks where the game becomes altogether unplayable towards the end. Supposedly a patch is coming soon (I’ve heard rumors of it within a week or two), and the game can be fully enjoyed by everyone.

Documentation:

Civilization IV comes with a fine example of a manual for other games to follow. The preorder/Collector’s edition received a spiral bound manual and a number of other goodies, but the regular release still includes some useful documentation. The manual is a hefty 224 pages and there’s a small poster sized sheet with the tech tree, unit upgrade tree, and a number of other useful reference guides on it.

Conclusion:

For both new gamers looking to find out what all the hype is about this series, and the long time fans, Civilization IV delivers plenty of fun. This version provides loads of new features and extensive overhauls of existing features so that it stands on its own in the series. With the ease of modding in Civilization IV, players can already modify many aspects of this title, and when the SDK is released (hopefully Spring 2006 at the latest) almost every facet of the game will be moddable. This means there will be plenty of reasons to keep bringing you back to Civilization IV, and plenty of reasons to plunk down your cash on this one. Sure, you played the last three versions, and you might be thinking, “I’ve conquered the world so many times, do I really need to do it another 30 times?” Unfortunately (for many marriages at least) I think we all know the answer is: “Yes.” Because really, does world domination ever get old?

Armchair General Score: 92%

39/40 — Gameplay
14/15 — Graphics
08/10 — Sound
13/15 — Interface
03/05 — Installation and Technical
05/05 — Documentation
10/10 — General’s Rating

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