A longtime fan of the Sid Meier’s oeuvre, I was more than a little bit eager to experience a curled up on the couch console version of of the game. Famed for intense, detailed and lengthy gameplay as civilizations battle for glory a successful console translation seemed improbable, and what Civilization Revolution makes clear from the get-go is that it is far from impossible. Building an empire to stand the test of time is different this time around, and largely successful. A traditional turn-based strategy title, the player’s challenge is to guide their civilization and its associated culture (everything from Greece to China to France) to victories just as varied. Growing cities, creating world wonders, advancing technology and of course some military enterprise all combine to create a fantastic blend of gaming delight. At this point it may go without saying: I’m more than a little bit of a Sid Meier fangirl.
What Civilization Revolution gets right straightaway is that it is not a port of the latest installment, or even a sequel. Designed properly for a console experience it is just as accessible to a gamer unfamiliar with the franchise as a die hard Civ fan looking to spread the love to other systems. The former crowd was kept very much in mind as Civ Rev could easily be written off as a distilled version of the PC game; this description only applies if PC gamers really expected to find the same experience, turn for turn, on the console. I may have missed some of the micromanaging qualities of my PC favorite but Civ Rev deserves to be judged on its own terms.
There are sixteen civilizations for the choosing, each with unique attributes that will give your civilization perks from start to finish (Ghandi and the Indians for example begin the game with access to all resources, the Egyptians with a World Wonder). Games that could last well through the night on the PC can now be completed in a dedicated evening, making the experience far more friendly to the uninitiate and busy initiate alike. With five difficulty settings, you can pretty much determine the length of the game, though multi-player is a reasonable variable in that equation.
In addition to Civilization’s new found brevity, map selection may be a bit jarring. Don’t expect to be choosing your map or terrain, they are randomized and the appearance and scope of the terra firma is a surprise every time. The tempting mien of the maps, as well as the ability to name geographic features like deserts and forests is enticing. Even if you are not very expansion-minded early on exploration has a payoff with features like the discovery of ancient artifacts (Lost City of Atlantis among them), which yield significant bonuses to your civ. These types of additions foster the addictive gameplay fans know and love.
With the maps a bit small it doesn’t take many turns to bump into other civs, who will initially extend peace. That olive branch snaps like a twig as soon as they detect weakness or something worth having. Your neighbors will threaten you often and seemingly without cause; they can always be bribed, but eventually you will find them too needy to not destroy. On the diplomatic downside, lasting treaties and alliances are a no-show and resources aren’t trade-able, they only affect nearby cites. The lack of open borders is a serious trial unless you are fortuitous enough to quickly establish your civilization in such a way that none may enter – a well placed city on a narrow strip acts as an effective stopper to your larger swath of land.
Victory can be won through Cultural, Tech, Economic or Domination means. Conquest on the easier levels is simple to achieve and players can land a cultural win in a couple of hours by accumulating twenty great people – handed out like candy from a stranger – and raising the United Nations. As much as I love a bit of Cultural Domination there is some serious fun to be had by combining three tanks into a tank army and rolling over neighboring civs . Upgrading units with victories is still in place, and ninja armies are plain awesome. Ships may no longer be able to bombard, however placing them in coastal areas near the battle will boost your land units in combat; a handy bonus.
Even with the myriad changes, feeling your way through a game with a traditional Civ strategy will get you by. Technology, diplomacy and the handy Civilopedia are all at the ready, though you won’t have to keep tabs terribly often. City management is simplified and allows players to prioritize their workers or just let them do their thing. Furthermore, roads can simply be constructed by paying a lump fee. Standing in for palace construction is the Trophy Room, where gifts from far off civs are displayed, and it’s about as entertaining and as necessary as the palace was.
In single player you can choose a civilization and tackle some AI at the difficulty of your choice. Should you tire of this, Scenario mode (which carries the promise of more content via DLC) has some interesting variation, like sped up technological research or Barbarians with extra oomph. I can’t be the only one disappointed with the Beta Centauri scenario though – advanced technology and a trip to outer space only to find similar terrain and the same old barbarians? Fighting barbarians, even “alien” ones just isn’t as troublesome when you’re equipped with modern infantry.
Multi-player offers up to four players online with AI supplementing as needed – even in the middle of a game – and players can choose between team match or free for all. For the average player multi-player won’t seem too different from the single-player experience, especially if half the group is AI. The more experienced player, however, when matched against three properly erratic human beings, will appreciate the challenge.
I was pretty skeptical about a working control scheme, and with much relief and joy can say that the controls are great. Most of the work can be done with the analog sticks, and it’s very intuitive. Sights and sounds are where Civilization Rev shows some symptoms of maladroit development. The PC giant has disappointing audio and the frame rate can get choppy. Animations for the barbarians and advisor types that leap onscreen are fun and as culturally insensitive as we can expect from a Civ game, but their delight doesn’t really compensate for the ungainly bits.
Those new to the series will likely discover a tantalizing world of possibility, and while they may never leap over to the PC, Civ Rev provides a largely satisfying and successful iteration, only marred by longing for more. I’ll vainly encourage my hardcore strategy-loving brethren not to dismiss the game, but love it for what it is. Compromised might be the suggestion, but compromise has won the day and much of the changes in Civ Rev are of the give and take variety ultimately streamlining gameplay with little sacrifice.