Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Civies

Two new Sid Meier's Civilization games came out recently, and like the fanboi that I am, I had to try both of them. Civilization IV: Colonization for the computer and Civilization Revolutions for the Xbox 360.

The first one I got was Colonization. Seeing this game come out was a bit of a surprise to me. I was a big fan of the original Colonization, but it was probably the least popular of the early Civilization type games that included Master of Orion and Master of Magic.

Colonization puts you in the role of one of the major European powers that colonized the Americas. You build up your colonies until you're ready to break away from your mother country in a revolution. You win by being the first player to successfully win a revolution.

My initial impressions of the new Colonization were very favorable. The game played like I remembered the original one playing right up until I got to the endgame. Simply put, the endgame revolution is far too difficult. I was pretty shocked since I started on an easy difficulty level which in Civ games usually means that you almost have to try to lose in order not to win. Not in Civilization IV: Colonization! Based on comments on the web it looks like the difficulty setting actually does nothing, or at least nothing noticeable to many players. Achieving a victory requires a very narrow and specific strategy, without any of the ability to explore options and play around at lower difficulty levels. That's not something I expect or accept in a Civ game.

Hopefully they'll fix this in a patch eventually, but in the meantime I have to rank this as possibly the worst Civ game ever, and that includes the games that didn't have Sid Meier's name on them.

Thankfully, Civilization Revolutions is an entirely different story. This adaptation of the game to the console is a great success. In simplifying the game for the console they managed to distill it down to some of its best elements. The result is a game that can be played to completion in a couple of hours from start to finish, and yet give you the same satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment as a game of Civilization IV that takes many times longer to play.

I find that the shorter playtime allows for more experimentation with strategy and tactics. I hate to mix things up in a regular Civilization game because by the time I find out if my strategy works or not I've already invested several hours in the game. The most you lose in Civilization Revolutions is an hour or two if your strategy doesn't work out. The game is also supposed to have a decent multiplayer mode, although I haven't tried it.

The simpler interface does lose a few nice things, like automated exploring, but the shorter nature of the game makes this less noticeable than it would be otherwise. One of the biggest changes veteran civ players will notice is the lack of workers. Development of the tiles surrounding cities is done through technology research rather than through workers. This eliminates a lot of micromanagement. You don't have to develop each city separately, you don't have to manage a lot of workers, and you don't have to worry about protecting your workers when war breaks out.

Speaking of war, I like the way it's handled. The engine is very similar to other civ games. Playing up through King level in difficulty the odds seem to be fairly reliable indicators of victory. The underdog can win, but it doesn't seem to happen nearly as often as it does in other civ games. This means that the infamous civ battle anachronisms are very rare. I'm talking here about tank armies being defeated by archers and other such silliness.

The diplomacy leading to war is also nice. Reactions tend to be a lot more predictable when you refuse a demand. Up to King level no one just declares war on you out of the blue. They only do it if you have refused a demand, in which case they do it immediately, or if you are about to win the game, in which case the entire world often turns against you to try to prevent your victory. Both situations are predictable, and therefore can be worked into your strategy.

Having more predictable results may not necessarily be more realistic, but they feel more realistic to me.

Overall, I think this is one of the best Civ games ever, which was a very pleasant surprise for me after the disappointment that was Civilization IV: Colonization.

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