Another Blast from the Past
Most strategy game fans would agree; there’s something curiously exciting about setting off in sail for mysterious new lands, founding a small outpost on the far reaches of civilization, and then gradually exploring and establishing a full colonial civilization through force or friendship with the native inhabitants there. Success is all the more rewarding when it’s attained in the name of freedom, which is what you must fight for after declaring independence. The essential mechanics of Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization should sound familiar. They’re not only the manner in which our own country was founded; they belong to a game you very well may have played over a decade ago.
Whether you choose to call it a standalone Civilization IV expansion, a remake, or by some other label, Colonization is a modern take on one of Meier’s classic strategy games of the same name that was originally released some 14 years ago. Reinvented from the ground up using the Civilization IV engine as its foundation, this revitalized simulation of the trials and tribulations of the European colonization of the New World combines a classic design with updated gameplay and a snazzy new look. Digging deeper reveals the game’s old school mindset also has staying power too.
Though it was built with the massive Civilization IV engine, Colonization offers a more streamlined and decidedly linear gameplay progression than its cousin. Rather than focusing on creating an expansive empire with open-ended paths to prosperity and success, the goal is to establish a colony of explorers in the new world, gain a foothold among the native tribes, and dig in deeply – all in hopes of gaining enough power to cast off the shackles of your homelands before time runs out. Then, of course, you must survive the ensuing bloodbath caused by incurring the king’s wrath. Knowing well ahead of time the ultimate objective is to stir the fires of revolution, gameplay steers towards that aim. Exactly how you choose to get there is still up to you, but the general path is firmly set.
After initially selecting a governing character to lead your colonization efforts from among the four European empires (English, French, Dutch, and Spanish), you’re dropped onto a single ship with an extremely meager force and sent out to eventually make landfall. It takes little time before you’ll discover and stake a claim to the unexplored patch of earth where you’re new colony will begin to take shape. Once settled, the immediate task at hand becomes a matter of growth and expansion. Crucial necessities like food, lumber, and ore must be gathered to bolster your colony, while other goods can be produced for export, trade, or to outfit your militia. Upgrading buildings is a slow and costly process, but it allows you to expand in interesting ways, including prepping your townspeople to be battle hardened warriors – a necessity later in the game.
As you continue to accrue resources and grow, more colonials will become available to immigrate to your settlement, and it becomes important to train them to specialize in different professions. With the religious fervor of missions, you can also occasionally recruit natives to join your band of explorers. Eventually even founding fathers will want to move into town, bringing with them important bonuses. Continued growth also attracts the attention of your empire’s king who snarkily becomes increasingly demanding and turns wrathful when you cease kissing his backside for too long. His irritating meddling does a great job of pushing players further towards their revolutionary goal, dissuading any thoughts of peacefully retiring to the native countryside. When you finally do build up enough of a rebel sentiment to declare independence, the bastard will throw everything he’s got at you but the kitchen sink, so it’s best to be prepared. Instead of fizzling out later in the game, things heat up substantially as your rebellion culminates in a full-scale war.
No one said making a colony was easy. Some native tribes will welcome you as best pals with open arms and can prove to be useful allies. Others will not take kindly to your trespass into their region, sparking wars in the process. You’ll also come across other European colonists seeking to establish their own settlements in the newly trodden territory. You’re free to choose whether or not to play nice or conquer them in battle. Each course of actions has its advantages and disadvantages, and taking a different tact on repeat playthroughs can yield slightly different gameplay experiences.
The game engine may now be a few years old, but Colonization is still a treat on the eyes and ears. A high level of zoom lets you survey the land from afar or get right down into the nitty-gritty. The land is nicely populated with shrubs, mountains, and other detailed land features, and the water effects are particularly impressive. Unit movements are well-done, and the game has an appealing level of polish. Battles aren’t the most exciting affairs – they typically consist of opposing forces takings turns attacking the hell out of one another until someone drops – but the sounds are quite entertaining, and the animations are interesting.
For being greatly pared down from Civilization IV, Colonization belies an incredible amount of depth. At the same time there’s a sizeable learning curve to overcome here, but the useful Civilopedia is an excellent resource for delving into the game’s deepest facets Civ IV players will be ahead of the curve here, even though Colonization throws plenty of new ideas and content into the mix. With time and familiarity, the smooth interface makes micromanaging less painful than necessary.
The original design holds up surprisingly well over almost a decade and half’s time. In this case, mixing old and new ideas proves to be an intoxicating concoction that fans of Meier’s work and strategy gaming in general will likely consume gleefully. Colonization is far more than a simple mod or add-on; it clearly stands alone as a fully fledged blast from the past. This is one walk down memory lane you’ll want to take.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
A firm visual style based on the now aging Civilization IV engine. It looks great all around but shows some minor signs of age. 4.2 Control
The interface is easy to use, once you get used to the new elements to manage. Controls are effortless. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cool sound effects bring the game to life. 4.0 Play Value
It takes time to fully figure out all the complex mechanics, but you’ll be well rewarded for your effort. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.