Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (PC)




Genre: Strategy/Simulation
Platform: PC
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (Violence)
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: 10/25/05
Official Website: http://www.2kgames.com/civ4/home.htm

System Requirements

Review System: Pentium IV 3.0GHz Processor with 1GB RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, Onboard Sound, Windows XP OS
Box Contents: 2 CDs, Tech Tree Poster, Manual

Many gamers may not have heard of Sid Meier, especially console gamers. But to people who have been PC gaming for a long period of time, Sid Meier is a legend. He belongs in a league of designers who defined PC gaming for years, along with names such as Ken and Roberta Williams (Sierra – makers of Kings Quest and Space Quest), Richard Garriott (Origin – maker of Ultima) and Chris Roberts (Origin – maker of Wing Commander). Sid Meier is known for his strategy/simulation titles, such as Pirates, (the underrated) Alpha Centauri, and SimGolf. But Sid Meier is probably best known for his Civilization series.

Civilization (which will henceforth be known as Civ) was a great game, but Civ II was even better. In fact, it was widely regarded as being better than the game that followed it. Civ III featured improved 3D-ish graphics, but didn’t have any improvements. It was basically Civ II with better graphics.

One thing that is apparent with the release of Civ IV, however, is that it is NOT the same as the previous games. Some pretty major changes have been promised. They have listened to the fans and worked to make the game more enjoyable. I’ll try to cover some of those changes in this review. But the real question is does the game meet or exceed the expectation of fans who are looking for a new classic? We’ll have to see about that.


Story
To be honest, Civilization really doesn’t have a story per se. Like every other Civ game, you start the game off with a Settler, which you use to build your Capital. Your mission then is to expand your territory, build more cities, research new technologies, and win the game. When the game starts, you start out in primitive times, and you work your way up technologically to the present, and then the future.

So while the game doesn’t give you a story, you can basically make your own story. You can play however you want to play and can win in several different ways. You can expand and keep increasing your land ownership until you control a vast majority of the world. Or you can dominate the other countries with your military and destroy or capture all their cities. Or you can focus on technology and build a spaceship to send to Alpha Centauri for colonization. Or if the game goes to the year 2050, whoever has the highest score wins. So you can play the game however you want, choosing from quite a few different famous world leaders (all past, no current leaders) which gives you bonuses. So YOU make the story. Oh, and even if you win, you can keep playing afterwards too.
Rating: 7.0

Graphics
None of the Civ games have ever been on the forefront of graphics technology, and it’s totally understandable considering the subject matter. It basically equates to a board game, and so it doesn’t need the prettiest graphics to be able to make it a good game.

Despite that, the graphics are pretty good, and a significant improvement over Civ III. Firstly, the game is in true 3D. You can zoom in and out of the map at real time, and get a good look from far over head, or zoom into a more isometric view up close. I don’t think you can rotate the map any,but I don’t see why you’d want to.

The units are fairly detailed when you zoom in closer, but about average in detail to the standard strategy game. What is really cool is when you zoom in close to cities. As your cities get larger, they spread out to the surrounding area and you can actually see the different buildings you build. For example, it was nice to zoom into my capital city and see the Pyramids, the Statue of Liberty and Notre Dame. And this isn’t a separate view either; this is the map view that you use to control all your units.

There isn’t a whole lot else to say about the graphics. The cut scenes are pretty crappy, to be honest. But on the other hand, you only watch them once, and again, it’s not supposed to have really good graphics. You also can see animated renderings of the various Civ Leaders, and all are very well done. There is a definite caricature style to them, but the quality is crisp. There is even one of Sid Meier himself during the tutorial stage. And the User Interface is very well laid out and is quite attractive. So overall, the graphics are good, but not great. They’re excellent for this type of game, but not for games overall.
Rating: 7.0

Sound
Really, it’s hard to rate this one high or low, simply because there is little sound in this game. There is the occasional snippet of music to be found which isn’t bad, but is forgotten the second after it plays. There are standard sound effects that you get when your units attack and when certain events happen, but none of them are really special or anything.

The only real “sound” to note is that there are only two primary voice actors in the game (there may be others that do incidental stuff, but you can’t really tell). One is Sid Meier himself, who teaches you how to play in the tutorial stage. The other is none other than Leonard Nimoy, who narrates the game and reads off quotes every time you finish researching new technologies. As always, Mr. Nimoy’s voice is very distinctive and a pleasure to listen to. Sadly, I can’t give it a higher score JUST because of his voice, but really it’s the only sound worth mentioning.
Rating: 7.0

Gameplay and Control
If you have played any Civ game in the past, you will be pretty much at home. While the game does feature some significant differences, it does have the ultimate feel of a Civ game, and most of the controls are the same. The NUM Pad can be used to move your units in any direction, or you can use the mouse to direct the units by right-clicking. All of the keyboard shortcuts I used are the same, such as F for Fortify and R for Road building. For those who are newer to the Civ games, I’ll give you a brief (or as brief as I am capable of) rundown of how the game starts and plays.


First, you start by selecting several things, like the size of the map, what type of land mass is it on, how fast the turns go, and things of that nature. These things mainly determine how long the game will last. If you have a HUGE world with only a few enemies, it will go for a long time and will be mainly technology based. But if it’s a small world, it will probably end much quicker with a military victory. You also pick your leader at the beginning, and there are quite a few leaders. Each one gives you certain bonuses, and each nation gets a special unit that no others can have.

When the actual game starts, you start off with a settler, and first you have to found your capital city. When you do that, you must then start building there. Your cities can build buildings, which improve your city (like city walls, which improve your defenses or barracks, which allow you to improve your troops. Or the cities can produce units, which move and can either attack enemy units and cities, or can defend your cities. The game is played in turns, like a board game. Every turn, you can move a unit and have your cities do stuff (though most turns, a city is in the process of building something). While the cities are building and the units are moving, you are also doing research and learning new technologies. The game starts out small, and you are trying to learn things like writing and bronze working, but as it progresses, you research fission and computers. Each technology allows you to build new units and/or city improvements. And depending on how you focus your research, you can either defeat your enemies with sheer force, or by being more cultured than they are.

Here is where we get into a couple of new features about Civ IV. First off, they have added religion. Religions can give you bonuses and allow you to build new structures, but religions are only gained by a Civ if they are the first to research a certain tech, and everybody else can only learn it from missionaries or if it spreads. Another new feature is Civics. In previous Civ games, you would have a Government type (Communism, Republic, etc), whereas in this game there are 5 categories that have different civic types that give you different bonuses. It’s like the governments were, but it gives you much more control. There is Slavery and Emancipation, Free Speach, Free Religion, etc. All determine how your country performs.

All in all, the gameplay is the guts and the glory of this game. It is the reason why so many people love this series, and it is what makes it tick. And they do not disappoint at all. They took what was already a great system, and evolved it even more. They removed irrigation and replaced it with farms. They added more terrain modifiers such as Windmills, Watermills, Lumbermills, Cottages, all which allow you to pick how you want the spaces to perform. And yet they kept what makes the game so great. It FEELS like a Civ game in every way. And it is so great.
Rating: 10.0

Replayability
This is nothing new to Civ players, but if you haven’t played one of these games before, then know this: every game you play will be different from the last. Even if you have the same exact strategy, your game will be totally different because the positioning of your opponents will be different, and the layout of the terrain will be slightly different, and everything will be different. Depending on the settings you choose at the beginning of the game, and the multitude of play styles available, there are literally an exponential amount of games in here. And each one is as fun as the last.
Rating: 10.0

Balance
There are quite a few different difficulties here. Most games give you two or three, but this game gives you 9 difficulties. They start off from the lowest, which is really easy, to the highest, which is damn near impossible. The lower difficulties give you a marked advantage, allowing you to produce faster and the enemies slower, but the tables are turned on the higher difficulties. Each of the 9 difficulties is a marked increase in difficulty, and you are given ultimate control of how hard the game is. If you want to play a million easy games, you CAN! If you think the easy games are too easy, you can go up several notches and play a challenging game. It’s really up to you. And yes, Easy games are easy, and Hard games are Hard, which is exactly how it should be.
Rating: 10.0

Originality
The Civ series has been around for over a decade now, and while the graphics have changed, the overriding concept has not. The game is still basically the same as it was with the first Civilization was created by Sid Meier. That being said, they have made some significant changes in how the game plays so that it is very different, but the same at the same time. It was a very thin line they walked, but they did so well. Still, the game is a Civ game, through and through.
Rating: 7.0

Addictiveness

Another thing a Civ player knows well. Digital crack, this is. I’ll put it into perspective. I bought this game on Saturday morning, but for whatever reason, waited until Saturday night to play it. I started playing at about 10pm on Saturday night. I would occasionally go an get a drink or go to the bathroom, but I didn’t really look at the time much. When I did look at the time, it was 6am. So I got up, went to the bathroom, and while I was distracted, I saved my game and closed the program. I went to bed, slept for 3 hours, woke up and started playing again. That’s how addictive this game is. You’ll sit there and keep playing and saying “one more turn”. In fact, after you win the game, you’re given the option to quit or keep playing, and the keep playing option is “one….more….turn…”. The game is one of the most addictive games I’ve played, as has been true with all Civ games I’ve played.
Rating: 10.0

Appeal Factor
This one is a toughy. Simustrategy type games aren’t all that popular. They’re more of a thinking man’s game, rather than the first person shooting games that had been so popular. But despite that, the Civilization series, and Sid Meier himself, has a huge following, and they will attract a lot of people by just having his name on it. It doesn’t hurt that it’s an awesome game. So while the mainstream folks probably won’t give a care, the fans of true awesomeness will love it.
Rating: 5.0

Miscellaneous
In the days post-Hot Coffeegate, or whatever they call it, many companies don’t want ANYBODY to mod their programs. Uh uh. No way, Jose. Firaxis was different. They said, “Please mod our game! In fact, here is the tools to do it! In fact, we designed the game specifically SO you could mod it! So get crackin!” They wrote the game using Python and XML, which are easily modifiable. They even threw in a World Builder, and a Game and AI SDK, which allows you to change just about every aspect of the game. I personally haven’t spent the time to look at what you can do, but it should be amazing. Chances are, to make and big changes will be difficult, but just the fact that they give you those tools is something to be commended.
Rating: 8.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 7.0
Graphics: 7.0
Sound: 7.0
Gameplay and Control: 10.0
Replayability: 10.0
Balance: 10.0
Originality: 7.0
Addictiveness: 10.0
Appeal Factor: 5.0
Miscellaneous: 8.0

Average: 8.1

Short Attention Span Summary
I feel I can say, without a doubt, that this is the best Civilization game ever. Civ purists may disagree with me and stick to their guns that Civ II is the best, but they are probably the type that say the original Star Trek shows were better than The Next Generation. Either way, Sid Meier and Firaxis went out of their way to make a game fans will love. They made the game based on fan responses to previous games, and also included the modding tools so the game can be configured. They deserve a lot of credit for a job well done. Civ fans, run, don’t walk, to your nearest game store and pick this baby up. It’s worth it!