Monday, August 11, 2008

Sid Meirer's Civilization Revolution reviewed

By Tyler Barber

Publisher: 2K Games | Developer: Firaxis Games | Platform: Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 | Rating: E10+ | Players: 2-4 via Online & Wi-Fi



Final Grade: B+
In three words: Deep, Accessible & Addictive

I was at E3, at a demo of Borderlands and BioShock, when 2K rep came over, asking if I wanted a demo of Sid Meirer's Civilization Revolution.
"No thanks," I responded. "I have a meeting in 15 minutes, and I don't want to be late."
"It only takes 15 minutes," the rep quipped.
"Thanks, but I gotta get going," I said, thinking myself: "Yea, like I'm going to miss my hands-on with Fallout 3 to see the absolute train-wreck of Civilization's PC exodus to home consoles."

And my pessimistic attitude stood firm, until I got home from E3 where a review copy of CivRev was waiting for me. I felt a little bad for declining the demo at E3, so the first night I got home (even though I'd had my fill of gaming) I popped the disc into my Xbox 360, and gave it a try. Next thing I know it's 4 in the morning, and I've just won my first campaign. CivRev is addictive in the "just-one-more-turn" kinda way. Each new turn meant I would have another infantry unit to defend my home base, that I'd be one more turn closer to finishing my nuclear research. Would a great leader abandon their civilization at a time like this? Hell no.

The turn-based system is the sole reason CivRev works so well on consoles. It plays more like a board game where each side takes its turn (think: Risk, Monopoly) than the PC counterpart, which plays without any turns whatsoever. And with that, developer Firaxis Games has struck gold with a winning translation of a revered PC strategy game to the home and portable consoles.

You won't find the immense depth of the PC version, but I wouldn't call CivRev shallow either. There are the 16 civilizations to choose from, and you can still win a campaign through means other than the total annihilation of your enemies. Technological, financial and cultural domination are all other paths to victory, but a main complaint I have with the game is that it doesn't give the player enough cues of how to win with these other ways. And, it's much easier to just farm out the most military units and win with military might.

When you're engaged in combat, there's this great one-to-one/dice-roll mechanic. Your troop's stats will factor into the dice-roll aspect of combat, but there's also this one-to-one system where the actual animation of your troops deal damage. If your troops move in right away, they'll gain an advantage on the offensive, but if they back-up, they'll be handicapped. Likewise, if your troops are on a hill, or defending a home base, they'll gain defensive bonuses. And even the map and characters interact. If one of your archers gets struck by a warrior unit near a mountain or building, he'll fly backward and actually bounce off of the structures.
There's also much less micromanaging. Your villagers collect resources near your home without having to be directed to do so. They'll automatically balance the type of resources they collect, but you also have the options to tell certain villages to mine more technology, gold or food.

Another element that was designed specifically for the console versions is the small size of the maps. And while I don't feel that they need to be bigger, it is a little concerning that you'll always be surrounded by other civilizations competing for the same resources. And, things get claustrophobic quickly if you don't make alliances, or dominate a neighboring civilization early. But at the same time, the size of the maps, or lack of, is also a factor that helps speed up the game -- you can complete a campaign in about three hours, whereas some campaigns on the PC can last upwards of eight to 10 hours.

Given that real-time-strategy games usually suffer when brought to consoles, CivRev is able to side-step the traps of the PC translation. Other console RTS games suffer from the pacing and controls, the size of the characters and maps, but developer Firaxis Games turns the disadvantages of the hardware into advantages, and paves the way for the console RTS' revolution.

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