PC REVIEW: CIVILIZATION IV

Unlike real civilization, the PC version of Civilization just keeps getting better and better. by Mike Chasselwaite

January 10, 2006 - Virtually everything that you loved about the Civilization series has been improved in the new Civilization IV. Built on the same great foundation, Civ IV is faster and deeper. With new additions to combat, diplomacy, technology, multi-player modes, the all-new religion element, and the fact that some games can be completed in about an hour, there's no reason not to become civilized once again.

Beginners are welcome but should be warned about the learning curve. Even those that have been through the last three versions will recall that the first game wasn't exactly a cakewalk. You're going to have some learning to do but you can set the options in the game to make things less complex when you start out. If you've got a friend or an internet geek willing to explain things to you it will make it a lot easier to get into deeper territory. With millions of Civilization fans, and gleefully helpful nerds out there, a tutor shouldn't be hard to find.

This is truly a great game but before I gush all over it let me get a few of the negative aspects out of the way. As usual the interface is still a bit of a mess. There are various layers and windows that aren't exactly intuitive to access. Although you certainly get used to it, it adds another level of confusion for the beginner to navigate. There are key shortcuts that the vet will still be able to access but it can be a daunting task to commit to memory if you're just a casual gamer.

Historical accuracy has been forsaken in exchange for faster paced gameplay. Epochs will fly by with little regard for period-specific technologies. Few will argue with the hastened pace but just in case, there is the normal epic mode for purists that want to take their time.

The game begins by setting you up as a world leader. You could be Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Gandhi, Julius Caesar, Gengis Khan, Qin Shi Haug or Bismarck, to name a few. There are 18 civilizations and some will have two leaders to choose from such as the U.S. which offers both Washington and Roosevelt and England which offers Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

You're ultimate goal as leader is to rule the world. There are several ways to accomplish this: Through military might; technological development or diplomatic means. Unlike previous versions, technically advanced civs will have the upper hand in warfare over less developed civs. Each civ's army is rated by the same arbitrary strength meter. This ensures that a caveman throwing stones is no match for a machine gun. This is something that should have been cleaned up in the second game.

The progression of a society from its founding to world domination can be sped up. There is less micromanagement to deal with if you choose. Although factors such as resources, finance, construction, moral and religion still affect your civ's progress - or lack thereof - many of these elements can be taken care of by the AI. You will receive alert messages indicating when buildings have been constructed, when scientific discoveries have been made and when you've passed into a different time period. Just keep throwing various points into these areas and they will virtually take care of themselves.

Diplomacy has a few new features. Not only will you continue to trade with your neighbors but the new border system allows you to maintain relations with good neighbors while blocking questionable or untrustworthy nations. You can keep your borders open to friendly nations and close them to suspicious ones. In this way you can watch the development of the other civs without fear of invasion. But if you don't come to the aid of your allies it may come back to haunt you in later developments as they will remember that you didn't offer them help when they were in need.

Religion is a new inclusion. There are seven different faiths available. To make your civ run smoother it's advisable to convert your population to one faith. You can even try to influence your neighboring nations to convert to your faith through the use of missionaries that can be sent out on your civ's behalf. Cites in harmony with the state religion will erect temples which will produce gold that goes to the founding Holy City, so you can see that having other nations producing gold for you would be a very sound financial move.

Having an organized religion will make the inhabitants happy and more productive. It will also help to expand and expedite your civ's cultural development as the building of temples will generate more cultural points. On the other hand, a conquered nation with a different state religion will be very unhappy and harder to control. While religion will never be a deciding factor in your ability to rule the world, like a bonus feature, it can help you get there a little faster and also adds another layer of strategy to the gameplay.

Another good "bonus" feature is the ability to generate "great" people from your population. These great people may be artist, military leaders, scientists or prophets. Their works or deeds can expand your borders and give you a healthy increase in cultural development points to let your civ zoom to the finish line.

All of the civs start out with the same advantages and disadvantages. The going is slow at first but picks up speed based on your strategies. Working units aren't restricted to repairs but can produce revenue-generating projects such as farms, banks, hydro stations and supermarkets. Other buildings such as hospitals, theatres, libraries, laboratories, jail, lighthouses, castles and walls will educate, heal, entertain, protect your population as well as and advance various disciplines such as science and art. You only have so many points to work with so you have to choose your strategy carefully.

By saving production points over turns you can amass quite a quantity of them to construct wondrous monuments such as Mount Rushmore, Stonehenge, The Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus. These wonders will commemorate the success of your civ. In this version you really have to think before you commit to such undertakings. Production points used in the construction of such a wonder cannot be transferred to another project should you change your mind midstream.

The AI programming for the other civs is much more realistic than the previous Civ versions. They aren't as prone to cheating and won't immediately attack your most vulnerable areas. They react a lot more, paying attention to developments and not just lunging ahead. It appears that decisions are more calculated. But if you want to play with humans there couldn't be any more options. You can play online, LAN or via email and multi-player hotseat. The quick-game option ensures that games won't last days, as some games can be completed in a couple of hours or less.

Leonard Nimoy narrates the game. His authoritative voice commands respect which manages to bring the game's status up a few notches - even if it is just perceived status. There are different musical themes for each civ which are well recorded and perfectly suited for all nations. Unfortunately the music loops and Nimoy's narration is repeated for every game.

Slightly improved graphics make this the best-looking Civ game yet but it's still not amazing. The portraits of the leaders come to life but their outfits don't change with the times. The combat animation is much more fluid but there are times when clouds will spoil your view. You can zoom in and out. You can zoom so far out that you can see the entire planet. This allows you to keep your sights set on your ultimate target.

Civ IV is definitely one of the best strategy games of all times. Following three other classics in the series it has a great pedigree and manages to uphold the tradition of great gaming set forth by its predecessors.

By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Civilization IV (PC)
4.1
Graphics
Best combat animations so far but it's still not a great looking game.
4.4
Control
Once you manage to get used to the interface and hotkeys you'll be wheeling and dealing in no time.
3.5
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The narrative voiceovers and the music are great but they lose their luster after the 50th time.
5.0
Play Value
With single-player, multi-player online, LAN, E-mail and Multi-Player Hotseat the replay value is off the map.
4.6
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PC
Dev: Firaxis
Pub: 2K Games
Release: Oct 2005
Players: 1 - 12
Review by Mike C.

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best