Meier brings 'Civilization' to consoles

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

My longstanding love affair with the Civilization series is well documented, and I approached this console re-imagining of the PC franchise with no small amount of trepidation. Sid Meier and the talented team at Firaxis Games have proven me wrong and crafted a unique and compelling strategy game that retains Civilization's core ideals while streamlining everything about the gameplay. Civilization Revolution can't hold a candle to the labyrinthine complexity of Civ IV, but the experience is none the worse for a certain measure of simplicity.

Courtesy Of Firaxis Games
Courtesy Of Firaxis Games

For those unfamiliar with the franchise (both of you), the idea is to guide a culture from the dawn of recorded history to the near future. Victory comes in several flavors; you can win by cultural dominance, economic power, scientific knowledge or military might. Along the way, you'll settle new territories, develop cities into booming centers of research, trade, culture or industry, and interact with rival empires both peaceably and militarily. With randomly generated maps, every new game brings its own challenges. How you go about conquering them is wide open.

Any transition from mouse/keyboard control to a gamepad is cause for concern, but Firaxis manages it brilliantly. In dozens of hours spent conquering the world in Revolution, I can count the number of times I missed function keys or a mouse pointer on one hand. The interface efficiency is surprising to the point that the vastly more complex Civ IV would probably work just fine with it.

Every facet of Revolution's design is aimed toward paring down the often-tedious aspects of Civilizations past so that players spend their time making big-picture decisions: when to go to war, managing armies in the field and expanding and controlling territory. So much of the franchise's evolution has been stripped away in this iteration that it's hard to know where to begin. Developing and customizing your land via workers: gone. The vast number of city improvements: slashed. Micromanaging culture and Great Person production: gone. A part of me misses perfecting my empire's output in a dozen different ways like I do in Civ IV, but the rest of my brain is too occupied in having a great time with Revolution to care.

Rather than use Civ IV's careful approach to balance, Revolution embraces the overpowered. To the experienced player, every faction's abilities get a reaction of how is that possibly fair? Ultimately, though, since everyone is overpowered, higher-level play involves tailoring your strategy to take better advantage of your ridiculous bonuses than the other players can. I suspect the multiplayer community will quickly gravitate toward a handful of most-overpowered civilizations, but that would happen no matter how minor the differences were. As it is, experimenting with different factions and unconventional strategies is a blast - particularly in multiplayer, where the clever approach to time-limited turns speeds the gameplay up to an almost RTS-like hectic pace.

This is hands-down the best pure strategy title to appear on consoles to date, and easily worthy to bear the Civilization name.

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