Civilization IV Review - 19/11/2005

The Civilization series can easily be described as the most addictive strategy collection of all time. Civilization 2 was arguably the best of the first three, with its core turn-based gameplay begging you to play on - it was near to perfection. But now, number two has been bettered…
2K and Firaxis have kept all the great things from the previous games, with loads of small, yet significant changes, improving the system. Civilization is a turn-based, strategy series, centred mostly (but not exclusively) on combat. The old 2D game engine has been replaced, and fully animated and 3 dimensional characters take the position of the cardboard cut outs of the old versions. This is the most noticeable improvement as you start the game, and a hugely customisable zoom on the camera allows you to play exactly as you wish. When you zoom out a certain distance, moving clouds appear, and you begin to notice a curve in the map – keep going and an entire globe is in view (see seventh screenshot), showing off the graphics in all their 3D glory.

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, it is essentially an empire management game. You build cities, control food supplies, the army, research and religion – as well as other key areas. This is all done through a much improved navigation system. Now you can alter and tweak almost any part of your Civilisation, through two clicks of the mouse, or even a singular press of a key. While all this modifying, politics and resource management sounds inhumanely dull, Sid Meier and his team have once again achieved a perfect balance in styles.

You can of course try to go through each game, amassing a huge army, but you won’t win, and it’s the
 anticipation of unlocking the gunpowder technology, or the Christian religion etc., depending on what sort of experience you want from Civilization IV, that makes it so addictive and enjoyable. In this edition, it takes a good few different researches to get you to a certain military unit. So, you can no longer just use the tech tree to find the tank and instantly research its respective technology.

In terms of the timeframe of Civilization IV, it can begin at the dawn of time, with ape like men wielding wooden clubs, and finish with space elevators, and the ultimate move off planet Earth.

As a possible disadvantage to the game, there is no campaign, and you simply have a choice from multiplayer, skirmish, or scenario. With these basics covered, we can talk about some of the great new features that have been brought to the Civilization series.

The key to success is now where you build your cities. Unfortunately this means you rely on the map generator (if you choose to use it), to give you nice grassy terrain, and not a huge section of ice in your territory. With an initial settler selected, a trio of symbols is displayed before you on the map. It’s all divided into squares, but it’s not a garish yellow grid as before, although it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between tiles. The abovementioned symbols: bread, hammer and coin, represent food, production, and money output respectively. Some squares have no assets, and if you decide to place your city here, it will take a very long time to grow.

The bread means you can feed more people, which crucially allows your city’s population to grow. The hammer represents the ability of your city to build, or train men, and the coin is for the tax and monetary value the city gives you each turn. It is also important to have clear spaces around each city and water tiles nearby. As the city is built, a purple border surrounds it. This grows as the city’s ‘culture’ rating increases, and pushes the white border of your civilisation out further. This can be done through increased population, more social buildings, and having important people in your town.

Onto the more interesting things, and there are loads of civilisations to choose from. Most have two possible leaders for you to be, or you can make your own race, although your picture will still be from the stockpile. There are nice animations for the other civs during the game, with accurately reconstructed leaders showing their emotions and feelings to you as if through a camera. While some of the animations are repeated for different people, it is still nice to move from a purely text based interaction.

If you want to succeed with the other leaders in Civilization, then you will have to get plenty of resources and a strong army behind you. I find that if you start going down the scoreboard, then it is very difficult to get back out, as the stronger countries then declare war on you, and pinch all of your resources. That brings us to another possible flaw - if you are in a bad position at the start of the game, without copper, iron or oil, then you will find it almost impossible to win. These resources only appear after researching certain technologies, and so, when the time comes to use oil, you may find none in your country, and all the other plots taken, as the map is likely to be full by that point. Without iron and copper you cannot produce spearmen or swordsmen, two of the best units early in the game. Without ivory, you can’t produce elephant units, without horses, there’ll be no mounted troops, and without oil, you can say goodbye to any hope of modern ships, airplanes and the best tanks.

Having said this, it makes a good dash for supplies, if you discover the technology to utilise and see oil first – you may have to use all your military might to invade a country and steal their resources, before they get to see it themselves. It does also happen to the AI as well, there are plenty of occasions when they have no oil, making themselves an easy kill for you. Online it is much easier, as your human allies should feel a bit of sympathy for you and trade barrels of the fuel with you, for extortionate prices of course.

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The trading system works well, most of the time your ‘allies’ will suggest a trade, and it’s usually pretty silly not to agree to it – they tend not to offer you ludicrous money for anything, and you have to trust their judgement with everything else going on in front of you.

As well as simply building your cities in decent positions, you will need to utilise the ‘worker’ in order to get resources. They build houses to boost population and reduce crowding, they put paddocks on horses, sheep and cattle, they build mines on gold, iron etc., as well as refineries for oil, farms for food, and build all important roads and railways. Fortunately, you can set them to ‘auto-improve’ or ‘auto-trade network’ – which means they will improve all you cities or boost the speed of troops to move between them with roads, and all without intervention from you. They cannot defend unfortunately, and annoyingly raise their hands if an enemy unit enters their square, surrendering.

A further problem in the game is the sheer power it requires. Late on, when you unlock the entire world map, turn loading times rise to about 10 seconds. Alright, while this isn’t going to kill you, if you’re used to the 1-2 second turn rotation of other Civilization games, and indeed the early parts of number 4, it gets frustrating. Sid Meier and Firaxis have also decided to change the relationship between turns and years in time as the game progress, as an example, one turn before 100BC may equal 200 years, but as you get closer to the second millennium, turns begin to equal as few as 10 years. This means that the loading times become even more blatant, as a casual glance at the year will reveal how slowly you are progressing, compared to the early stages of gameplay. This isn’t particularly a problem, as you tend to have more battles and get the better technologies as time goes on, thus giving you more activities to complete, and you wouldn’t want to finish the game unrealistically on 4,000AD.

Something which may disappoint certain Civ fans, is that health bars have been removed. They are now replaced with physical animations, and the number of units, or the image-represented damage, in the square show you the unit’s health. You can however turn on health bars, but the old problem of being destroyed by archers while in the equivalent of an Apache gunship, still remains. The game attempts to be helpful, by giving you the percentage strength of each unit, showing you which should win in a confrontation. Unfortunately, this is misleading, and when you send a tank in, fully expecting it to thrash the enemy’s machine gunners, after having been told it was a clear 5% stronger, only to see it crumble, it is very infuriating.

Most of the annoying parts of the game are simply because it is so addictive. Think Pro Evo 5, when you are stuck in what you can see will be another 1-0 loss, but fight on, through the fouls, near misses, and mistakes, purely because you feel that you can thrash the opposition. The fog of war (in Civilization, not Pro Evo…), while doing its job perfectly, is also frustrating. When you are under enemy attack, and they send in tens of units to battle you, you work so hard to defeat the first wave, only to see more of them zoom onto screen in a single turn, because the fog of war shrouds the rest of their journey – I lose so many cities to the opposition this way, and again, it is annoying, but not significantly detrimental to the gameplay overall.

Music and sound wise, it is an impressive title. The compositions in the background range from what sounds like a caveman, rhythmically grunting every few settings (albeit very effectively), to Mozart, and other ‘classical’ melodies. Each unit has its own unique audio, and most pack a suitable thump for their respective weapon. In fairness, you aren’t going to get immersed in the fights of a top down, strategy game, but you do feel as if you are in charge of a real country, rather than simply a nerd playing an 8 hour skirmish on their PC. A quick mention about the ‘pillage sound,’ which is a horrible screeching scream, and frequently annoys many owners of the game – Firaxis have confirmed that in the first patch, this will be (and is in the process of being) addressed.

Furthermore, the times of each match can now be chosen by you – with short, medium and long game modes available, with varying research and build times being the main factor edited to facilitate this. This is nice, and with a medium time scale, you will still feel as though you’ve lived the life of your civilisation, and it should take around seven hours to win a match on this setting. That could well be in one sitting though, as once again, Civilization has become the most addictive game available, on any format.

There is a fair amount of repetition throughout the game, and while each civilisation has its own unique unit, these aren’t major, and the set of technologies available will be eaten through in the first sitting, making not much political difference in the way you play each time. You will however think of different ways to approach each new game, depending on your last experience. For example, another new feature is that you can permit or deny other civilisations into your territory for ‘trading.’ This means the only other way for them to see your cities’ positioning is to directly attack you, or buy a suitable map from an ally. There are two sides to this, as if you don’t allow other people into your land, they will get annoyed, and so, will be more likely to attack you later in the game. Let them in, however, and they can put troops all round your main cities, before declaring war on you, but you will get money from trades with them – it is a tough choice, and there are many such decisions for you to make throughout the game.

The game will be hugely moddable, but check out www.2kgames.com/civ4/news.htm for more detail on that. It should add loads to the gameplay, when users are allowed to take advantage of the great possibilities.

There is so much to say about Civilization IV, and not enough hours in a lifetime to describe them all, so, we shall simply summarise our favourite points. I personally love the new religion and great people aspects, which I have neglected to mention. The religions basically affect your relationship with other civs, and give you money when other countries take them on board, if you founded that respective religion. The great people are persons such as Moses, Bach, and Isaac Newton, who spawn in your cities, and give you numerous options. You can use them to increase culture, finish buildings or research instantly, and to build their own special academy in your hamlet. They may also be able to convert other civilisations’ cities faith, if they are of a religious nature. It seems, reading back through this review, that I have mentioned far more negative things, than positive. Maybe it is because I have just spent 7 hours in a game, only to be defeated by the last other surviving Civ, and in 7 hours non-stop, you do notice some minor flaws *frantically finishes review and starts a new game*…

The ease at which you can play also deserves to be a top feature, and the sheer playability and longevity will make you think you could have spent a hundred pounds on this, and still have been completely satisfied with its value.



The most addictive game of the year - only Pro Evo 5 and Project Gotham 2 have been played as much by us, and there is not a strategy fanatic in this universe, who can come up with an excuse to be without Civilization IV. Upgrade your PCs if you must (although you shouldn’t have to), but buy this game – you shan’t regret it. 9.5 is TGSN's highest score so far.

By Michael Hazleton - Editor

Music - Here

Trailer - Here

Backgrounds - Here


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