Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution Review

Joe Robinson

Sid Meier is generally considered to be a pioneer of games. From Pirates! and the first Civilization game, through to Railroad Tycoon, Alpha Centauri and the later Civ games, Meier and Firaxis have gone from strength to strength as they release top-quality titles that entertain. Undoubtedly, Meier knows games… But does he know consoles?

Civilization: Revolution is the franchise's first iteration on the home-console, debuting on the Xbox 360. (PS3 and DS versions are also on the way, but the Wii version is on a permanent hiatus.) The thinking behind it: take the basic Civilization formula that everyone knows and loves, scale it down and give it a shot of adrenaline. And it works … nearly.

As your cities grow, they harvest more resources.

Revolution has almost been stripped bare compared to the last game: Civilization IV. Eliminating much of the micro-management and sub-concepts, Meier has streamlined this title for faster game-play, and city-management has also been simplified to allow easy maintenance for larger empires.

Whilst all of this goes a long way towards making the game more accessible to console players, it’s this very accessibility that appears to have nearly stripped the game of its heart and soul. Things like trade with other nations feel almost like afterthoughts, with limited options - the only thing you really can trade is technology. Diplomacy is virtually non existent, with no real depth. Whilst you can do some things with people you are friends with, eventually you’ll be at war with everyone because the AI doesn’t want you to win. Still, this game has an almost addictive quality to it, which is also a result of the scaling down.

Combat in past Civilization games has gone through many phases, and for Revolution, the combat system has gone back to pure attack versus defence. Modifiers like terrain, unit health and experience, also affect the outcome of a battle which leads to more tactical thinking. There are also distinct ‘classes’ of units, such as ‘ranged’ units which are good in defence, and assault units which are good for attack. As you progress through the ages, other types such as ships, siege units and planes become available to you, which open up more options. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own purpose on the battlefield, ensuring that a player utilises the right combination in order to effectively defend and expand their borders.

Having said this, the system is not without its drawbacks. The later stages in the game don’t always take into account the rise in technology. With a combat system based almost purely on numbers, you sometimes witness some strange outcomes. What will also become apparent the more you fight is that, there is an element of chance coded into the system, although this isn’t mentioned in the manuals. This can work in your favour at times, allowing you to win matches at a disadvantage, but at other times it can work against you – which is down right annoying.

Barbarians are dominant, use them as punching bags.

The simple combat system has another unfortunate side-affect on the civilisations themselves. Despite having a decent sized roster of 16 civilisations to choose from, the differences between them are almost negligible. Unlike Civ IV, you only have one historical figure as your leader, and the bonuses that each faction has don’t have any real impact on the game. Indeed, even the unique units that some nations have don’t always make a difference, as the simple combat mechanics and a limited military roster means that the bonuses they carry can be easily overcome.

This deals a serious blow to the longevity of the game as apart from gaining an achievement when you win with each nation, there’s no real incentive to try them all out.

Resource and city management have also been simplified. Cities now only have to worry about two key resources – ‘food’ and ‘production’. Food helps your city grow, and production lets you build buildings and train units. As you advance in technology, more and more terrain types can be used for either food or production, and certain buildings augment resources with bonuses.

Unlike previous Civ games, the unique terrain squares, such as oil, iron and other ‘special’ resources are no longer needed to build specific units. This, like many aspects of the game is a double edged sword. On the one hand it means that everyone is on pretty much an even footing when it comes to producing armies, but it also takes away from the tactical placement of cities, and makes a lot of the terrain elements seem redundant – what’s the point if it all means the same?

Maps are smaller in Revolution, with usually only about 5 out of the 16 civilisations, including your own, making it into a game. Random map generation for each run-through ensures that you never play in the same environment twice, however after a few play-throughs you will start to see similarities. Scenarios are included – each one changing the standard rules and concepts of the game in a way that will speed up or slow down game-play, make things more challenging, or simply turn things upside down.

Don't cross the border unless you're serious.

Going online with Revolution can be done in one of two ways– a fully implemented matchmaking system over Xbox live, or a constantly updated “Game of the Week” mode where players play maps developed by Firaxis to see how well they fair. The former does a good job at livening things up by pitting you head to head with up to four human opponents (and some AI’s). Games are controlled, with each player’s turn only lasting about a minute to cut down on playing time. This said however, these games tend to last for literally hours on end, which can make things difficult, especially in the ranked matches. Should you need to stop playing for whatever reason, you may find yourself screwed over because you have to quit. Also, there’s no option to create private lobbies or matches, so playing with your friends is difficult. The latter mode really depends on how good the maps that are being played are, but it allows for another method of competition without having to sit through really long matches.

All in all, Civilization: Revolution is fun game, but like everything, fun has its limits. Meier might have been a bit too hasty to cut elements from the game. As console players, 360 fans may not be as used to a lot of depth when it comes to strategy – but that’s not to say we can’t do it. The extensive micro-management and more complex game-play of the PC versions are what made Civilization the way it is, and without them, Revolution feels a bit empty. Players may soon find themselves bored of doing one play-through after the next in what seems like no time at all, and the added scenarios, whilst making things slightly interesting by shaking up the rules, don’t really go that far into pro-longing the game.

Don’t expect to find epic sonatas here; the audio consists mainly of sound bites, with the odd bit of theme music for each nation: the American’s ‘rock’ bite is quite entertaining. The character ‘voices’, depending on what day of the week it is, range from ignorable to really annoying.

Maps, units and people in Revolution are rendered to a good degree, but the game’s cartoon aspects mean that there’s nothing ground breaking here.

The controls are simple, intuitive and quite easy to use. The shoulder pads make switching from city to city easy so that empire management is as painless as possible. Be careful not to button mash though, as you may end up doing something you didn’t want to – there’s no ‘undo’ button.

Bright and cheerful, with simple menus and easy-to-use features. The ‘Civlopedia’ contains everything you need to know about the game, and can come in very handy when you’re confused.

Provided you do as much as you can, it’s possible to complete around 17/50 achievements in your first run-through. Most of them are mundane things like ‘winning a battle’ or ‘building a second city’, with 16/50 achievements simply winning a game with each faction – easy points for those who are looking to boost their score, but no real incentives for the casual gamer.

Fun, simple and addictive, this game is a worth-while addition to the 360 roster, but is a little light. Hardcore Civ fans may want to stick to the PC versions, but newcomers will feel right at home. Still, it’s probably better to pick this up cheaply if possible, as the longevity mainly depends on how well you deal with the inevitable repetitiveness.

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