|Dev: Firaxis Games|
|Pub: 2K Games|
|Release: October 24, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is… wait for it… CIVILIZATION! IN! SPAAAAAAAACE! More specifically, it is a sequel, or at least a spiritual sequel, to another Sid Meier game, Alpha Centauri, the first take on a sci-fi Civilization. However, the game follows the trend of modern day Civilization games in becoming simpler and easier to understand, which unfortunately removes a bit of the original Alpha Centauri’s charm. In fact, I’d say that Beyond Earth is even more simple than Civilization V was, and this is a double edged sword. While the sci-fi motif makes the game a treat to play, people who are looking for a deep and complex strategy game might find that the game is more one dimensional than advertised.
Here’s the basic concept behind Beyond Earth: we screwed up! We used up all of the Earth’s resources, and so we need to set out into the stars in order to find a new home. Luckily, we do! It’s a huge planet abundant with natural resources. Unfortunately, it’s also home to a number of hostile alien life-forms, a planet wide miasma which can kill you just by breathing it, and of course… the rest of the settlers who don’t necessarily see eye to eye with you. Will you be able to see eye to eye and create a new utopia for humanity?
NOPE! In fact, the game is almost a depressing commentary on the war-like nature of humanity. The main feature of the game is an affinity system which pushes you toward Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony. Purists want to recreate the comforts of old earth, Supremacists want to advance humanity beyond its limitations through the use of technology, and Harmonists want humanity to evolve with the new planet they are on in order to avoid using it until it becomes a dried husk.
These three affinities both affect the technology that you can research, and set the stage for the conflicts you will encounter over the course of the game. You’ll find harmonists riding alien beasts into battle against supremacist tanks and robot suits, as if it were a scene right out of James Cameron’s Avatar. You’ll notice that each affinity shifts your needs and resources in small ways. Maybe you’ll take a hit to happiness to keep everyone fed. Maybe you’ll cause unrest in order to better deal with aliens.
These are the types of decisions that are supposed to flesh out the personality of your civilization. There’s even a short questionnaire at the beginning of the game that determines what technologies and affinities you start out with. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t have nearly as much of the personality that the great leaders did in Civilization V. There are only eight factions to choose from and they are all kind of bland. Unique units rarely take the stage. The new tech web, which makes technological research much more non-linear, is a welcome gameplay addition as it lets every race pursue a different research path, but at the same time it sort of whitewashes everything into a sort of samey conglomeration. I found that each affinity played different enough from each other to insert some variety into the game, but two games with the same affinity are depressingly similar.
Another thing that whitewashes the game is the game’s focus on combat. A majority of the technological advancements all have to do with upgrading your combat units. Cities are very hard to defend and having a small standing army is virtually impossible. A small group of melee troops is more than enough to take many cities, meaning it’s easy to catch other players with their pants down. Inevitably, each game eventually becomes a military race, which is a shame considering there are a host of other victory options, including a unique victory condition for every affinity. Once again, this may be a form of social commentary, stating that any sufficiently advanced civilization will always be teetering on the edge of war, which is all well and good but it does make the game a little one dimensional.