X3F Review: Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution


History teaches that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (or "The Gandh" to his pals) was an influential spiritual and political leader of India, a man whose pacifist ways solved many political problems. According to textbooks, kissing babies, implementing civil disobedience for causes such as poverty, and being an all-around nice guy were Gandhi's favorite hobbies.

That's what history says. So there I was in 2024 A.D., trying to bring the Greeks to greatness while mostly minding my own business, and Gandhi decides to show his dark side. Let's be allies, he said. We'll share technologies, he said. Family barbecues, he said. Next thing I know, Gandhi and his lackeys have Sparta, my main science city, completely surrounded by tanks and bombers, the Americans took back New Orleans by overcoming my tank with a catapult (it was a really, really big rock) and Cleopatra decides to stab me in the back by taking the 1200 gold I paid her to attack the Indians for 10 turns and signing a peace treaty with The Gandh after only five turns!

All of that, and why? Because my trigger finger was slick with sweat and accidentally nuked India? Big deal! I said I was sorry!

If there's a video game that better demonstrates the medium's potential for non-authorial storytelling better than Sid Meier's Civilization, I've yet to play it. Rewriting history to my design always proves more fun than decapitating zombies or battling any number of demons. For years, the appeal of Sid Meier's "One more turn!" opus has been enjoyed primarily by PC gamers with ten-plus hours to kill if they want to experience a complete campaign.

Probably to the chagrin of significant others across the globe, Firaxis Games released Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution in early July, a Civ developed specifically for consoles that, while not as deep an experience as any PC version of Civilization, is more than enough to captivate couch-bound gamers looking for something more involved than the never-ending stream of FPS titles.

Civilization Revolution presents would-be conquerors (or pseudo pacifists!) with 16 different civilizations and four ways to achieve success: a Cultural Victory, achieved by accumulating a combination of 20 Great People or Wonders and then building the United Nations; an Economic Victory, earned by reaching 20,000 gold and then building the World Bank; a Domination Victory, in which you capture four capital cities; and the Technology Victory, which entails launching a space shuttle to Alpha Centauri.

Each available civilization features unique bonuses that affect the game's course. Though some boons might seem greater than others at first glance, the attributes vary such that each civilization has been designed to appeal to certain types of players. Those with a lust for expansion might choose the Greeks, who begin with a Courthouse, which offers more pliable land squares and thus begets faster city growth. More refined gamers might assume the mantle of the Egyptians or Americans, whose starting bonuses of a Wonder and a Great Person, respectively, provide a boost toward a Cultural Victory.

That's not to say that the Americans are only suited for cultural pursuits. Besides starting bonuses, each civilization also receives benefits as the game progresses through Ancient, Medieval, Industrial and Modern eras. The Americans gain a two per cent bonus on gold reserves, making the Economic Victory a lucrative option.

Properly coordinating army movement, caravan expeditions, spy sneaking missions and the like has proven to be intuitive with the mouse, but in CivRev, the Xbox 360 controller proves an able substitution. The on-screen HUD changes depending on your scenario, efficiently relaying how to perform functions such as assembling three of the same unit into an army, assuming defensive positions, zooming out for a better lay of the land, paying off one civilization to attack another via the Diplomacy screen, and more. Scrolling a list of choices to select something near the middle feels unwieldy, but is better than navigating a cursor using an analog stick that will never respond fast enough.

Whatever nation and victory condition you choose to employ, you'll be growing your civilization on a randomly generated map with a preset size -- and it is here that CivRev's preference for wading in the shallower end of the pool becomes evident. PC Civ titles allow users to choose from a variety of map sizes and aesthetics; CivRev features one map size and one general appearance. True, that one appearance encompasses vast deserts, rolling fields and plains, winding rivers, and plenty of sea with islands sprinkled throughout, but even though the terrain is always randomly generated, it always has roughly the same appearance that, while colorful, will quickly become all too familiar.

PC Civ players might also be somewhat disappointed in CivRev's gameplay, which is not as involved as its many keyboard and mouse counterparts. City management is more hands off, with players not needing to create workers, but rather, seeing them created automatically as the city's population grows. Workers can collectively be assigned to focus on gold, science, food or production with a single button press, but can also be individually assigned to applicable grid squares. The latter customizable option is nice for players who want to spread out their peons, but PC players will miss building workers for a specific task.

In PC Civilization titles, attacking cities was a task that required planning. One particularly crafty (and mean) strategy was to carpet bomb farms so that your city's populace would starve, reducing once-thriving metropolises to barren ghost towns. In CivRev, the city and all of its buildings are collected in one area. To attack it, you simply move troops to adjacent squares, settle the cursor on the city, and press A. So long as the besieged city has defensive units, it will stand; otherwise, it falls.

Diplomacy options are also somewhat lacking. Hostile A.I. civilizations can negotiate with you, offering a certain amount of gold for a certain length of peace; your options consist only of peace or war, and you can only live in peace for a certain number of turns when a civilization makes an offer to you. When peaceful, you can buy or sell technologies, and even pay off one civilization to attack another. While necessary, these few options are a far cry from the positive and negative personality factors that affect diplomacy in Civilization IV.

With all of these "disappointing" and "not as involved" features that I've mentioned, it is important to keep one thing in mind: this is not a PC Civ title, and that's just fine. CivRev has been built for consoles, and in that respect, it is more than deep enough. Quite honestly, I rather enjoy having my workers automatically generated. I'd rather spend my time and resources constructing buildings or other units such as attackers, spies or caravans while quickly assigning my workers all to one task or spreading them out -- but only if I so desire.

True, attacking cities on the 360 doesn't offer the nearly limitless possibilities of PC iterations, but there are still plenty of tricky ways to wipe out your opponents' cities and claim them as your own. Position various armies (formed by placing three of the same unit on one square and pressing Y) attack while the others defend on one square adjacent to your enemy's city and have one or two attack while the others block access to the city. Naval units can rest in nearby squares and will automatically provide backup when you attack, significantly increasing your per-turn damage, and spies can be sent to steal gold, kidnap Great People, or sabotage defenses, increasing your chances of victory.

Maps are all one size and feature one aesthetic, but hey, they're randomly generated each and every time you play. Who cares about the graphical palette when you'll literally never play the same map twice? Additionally, CivRev features many scenarios such as Beta Centauri (civilizations begin with all technologies) and Eternal Kombat, a Domination-oriented mode. Most of the scenarios are only slightly modified extensions of the core CivRev game, and it would've been nice to experience scenarios in PC Civs such as those that re-enact famous wars. However, the Game of the Week scenario should offer continually fresh experience for those who tire of the included game types and need a change of pace from the main CivRev game.

One console-specific feature that CivRev could do without are the advisors, animated characters that were created to help new fans better understand the tech tree, the function of each building and unit, et cetera. Rather than a real language, the advisors speak gibberish, which is cute at first but grows aggravating once you realize they never quit talking. I opted to mute the sound after a half hour of play simply because the quality of the music and SFX couldn't compete with the annoyance of the advisors.

The advisors' appearance also causes slowdown, especially during the late-game phase when the map is filled with attackers and cities. More frustrating is the advisors' animations, which sometimes block on-screen text and force you to wait until they move their arm, head, or shoulder to see what the game is trying to tell you.

Unfortunately, there is no option to disable the advisors. Fortunately, another CivRev exclusive, the Hall of Glory, is more than enough to make up for their presence. A virtual museum, the Hall of Glory contains portraits of the Great People who have joined your civilizations over the course of your play-time, as well as models of the Wonders you've constructed. The included Civilopedia, which is accessible in-game and within the Hall of Glory, encompasses not only the function of every unit, building and civilization, but historically accurate biographies and pictures as well, making the game both a form of entertainment and education, the latter of which is completely optional.

Frankly, as a veteran game designer, Sid Meier is aware that there's only so much complexity and intricacy that can be accomplished with two analog sticks and eight buttons. That's not a PC elitist comment; it's a simple fact. This is not a shoddy port of a PC game; it is a console game, built for eight buttons instead of 128 keys, and is still plenty complex and addictive enough to provide hours of fun to PC Civ players who go in knowing that Civilization Revolution is something different, as well as gamers who have wanted to experience the One More Turn lifestyle but have been scared off by Civ's complexity.


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This article was originally published on Joystiq.