The village wakes as the sun rises over the jungle-covered mountains. Workers move swiftly to make the most of their day: constructing camps to trap wildlife, quarries to make use of stone, farms to provide food for a growing nation. Archers and warriors keep silent vigil, guarding the outskirts of their lands.
Suddenly, a horn is blown, echoing through the village ? an enemy has been spotted. Riders on horseback spring into action, rushing to reinforce the defenders. Astonished, they are met not with arrows or spears, but with technology they have never seen before. Thunderous sounds crash through the jungle as several warriors fall from a barrage of musket shots.
Terrified, the leader of this primitive tribe offers to trade his resources and discoveries with the warring nation in order to be spared. An agreement is made and there shall be peace, at least for now. This is but one of many scenarios which players are likely to encounter while playing Sid Meier?s latest work: Civilization IV.
Civilization is a game about choices. You start out as the leader of a primitive, vulnerable nation. Even before you decide where to found your first city, the game sends players down a complicated path of decisions: what to build, when to expand, what to research, where to explore, how much money goes where, who do you trust? One player (thanks, CivBen) put it bluntly: ?It?s like chess on acid.? Luckily for the novice, the computer will always give you suggestions with what to do next, and many of the maintenance functions can be almost completely automated. This way, players can take more control over their game as they feel more comfortable, while OCD micro-managers can jump right into the fray.
Over time, civilizations will grow and nations will flourish. Discoveries such as bronze working, animal husbandry, sailing, construction, feudalism, democracy, electricity, free trade and religion will affect citizens? happiness, the cultural influence which your civilization has on other nations, its military effectiveness, etc. The game is played out until one ?civ? has proven to be superior to all others based on predetermined parameters. Victory conditions include world domination via military control, cultural domination (cities can actually be coerced into switching loyalties via cultural influence), being the first nation to construct an interstellar spaceship, or having the most points after a set number of turns.
On the subject of religion, it must be stated that the game tries to treat all religions as equal in order to avoid conflict or hurt feelings. It cannot be denied that religion has played a huge impact on the development of this earth?s civilizations, and Firaxis takes care to not qualify any particular faith as being more important than another. To create a balanced game, the player is limited to a palette of seven choices: Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, and Confucianism. The civilization that founds a religion will get bonuses for each city (even those belonging to the enemy) that practices the religion.
Battles are fun to watch unfold, as units duke it out with their tiny weapons. With more than 80 unit types in the game, some unique to each civilization and most of them geared towards military action, military strategy is a huge part of the game. Utilizing natural defenses (hills and trees) and grouping units that compliment each other are necessary for survival. Individual members in a unit (for example, an archer unit consists of three bowman) may get knocked out, even if that unit wins. Afterwards, healing the unit will bring back the missing soldiers. This level of graphic lushness will require a somewhat beefy system, however multi-unit visuals can be disabled for horsepower-challenged players.
As in previous titles, players desiring a less militant game experience can choose different victory conditions, civilization interactions rules and can even set the game to eliminate warfare altogether. The size of the game world is also adjustable, and can be almost as huge as our planet or as small as Rhode Island. Due to the new full 3D representation of the maps, the largest maps of Civilization IV are slightly smaller than those found in Civilization III. The game?s turn speed can also be lengthened or shortened, changing the pacing.
These options can be particularly useful in multiplayer games to ensure that each player understands just what he or she is getting himself or herself into. It is not uncommon for multiplayer games to last for three or more hours. Online games can reportedly hold as many as 18 players, but at the time of this review network stability issues made such loads difficult to maintain. In the event of a disconnect, players can ?hot-join? a game that is in progress and with their password, pick up where they left off. If the other players get tired of waiting, they can vote the absent player out and open their slot to a different player, who takes over where they left off.
The option to play as a member of a team is also available, which allows different civilizations to work together towards research and to share their resources. Multiplay seems to flow better with the ?turn-at-once? option turned on. This means that each round will last a certain number of minutes or seconds and each player must make his moves during this time. If players get weary of a long online session, the game can be saved and resumed later. An option to play by email is also available.
Game Play- 9 Civilization IV delivers a complex and rich gaming experience, however it does have room for minor game play and stability improvements. The multiplayer lobby, for example, is somewhat confusing– scrolling through the constantly moving game list using the arrow keys instead of the mouse isn?t very intuitive and can be occasionally frustrating. Entering the desired room can be a chore as the highlighted game moves up or down the constantly refreshing list.
Network issues exist which can make it difficult for some players to be in the same game with each other. Also, occasionally the game session must be restarted in order to let dropped players rejoin. We also suffered random crashes to desktop, unexpected application shut-downs and system lock-ups. According to online game forums, this is a situation that has been experienced by a broad spectrum of players, regardless of system specs. Fortunately, the game auto-saves at regular intervals, but it can be very annoying to frantically rejoin a multiplayer game or to have to wait for dropped players to reappear.
Graphics- 9 Visually, the game has been completely revamped, using the same 3D engine as was previously used in Sid Meier?s Pirates. This elevates the game?s graphics above and beyond anything seen in previous Civilization titles. The trade-off is that while Civilization IV?s landscapes and units are beautifully rendered, the system requirements are much steeper than players of the series might be used to.
The payoff is how beautiful the landscapes can look and how smoothly the interface is integrated into the game. For example, players can quickly and easily zoom out from a close-up of a single village to a ?from outer space? shot of the entire globe, which can be spun and zoomed back in upon seamlessly. The ability of the game to show so much detail while up close and keep track of potentially thousands of units is no small feat.
The world?s ambience helps alleviate the ?stuck on a checker board? feeling that other grid-games sometimes invoke. Animals graze and pace around in their location, birds startle and fly away when a previously unoccupied foliage square is occupied. As time passes, cities, roads, mines, farms and the like will spread across the land and eventually ?modernize? to correlate to the era the civilization is in. Units also carry the flag of their nation to more easily identify their allegiance.
Sound- 8 Civilization IV?s music is effective without being distracting or overbearing. Tribal sounds can be heard when zooming over small villages, and the music in the game becomes quite ambient and ?muzak?-like. Players might realize they?re in the Renaissance due to the gothic choruses heard after building the Sistine Chapel. In a game that intends to hold you captive for as many hours as a day job, it?s good that the music is not intrusive. Sound effects are also subtle but effective in the same way. As grandpa used to say, ?Units should not speak unless spoken to.?
Value- 10 We?ll admit it?we became quite addicted to Civ 4. We needed to find out whether the game?s hook was a temporary fad or if the game could indeed hold the attention long enough to pay for itself. Between the multitude of challenges that players must overcome in the single player campaign, the mods that can be made and played with the included World Builder and the ever-changing multiplayer scene, we?re happy to say that Civilization IV should hold the attention of the strategy gamer for months to come.
Curve- 10 As great as the game is, Civilization IV isn?t for everyone. The game?s steep learning curve and the enormity of its world can be daunting to newcomers. This is a game that tries to encompass the whole of human development, culture, religion and conflict into one game that spans thousands of years. Patience will be required. But, as winter approaches, threatening to make many of us want to stay inside, many gamers should find this deep, challenging title to be a good reason to huddle by the computer to keep warm. Personally, I?m praying for a snow-in.