Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization (PC)

Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization (PC)
Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Release Date: 09/22/2008

The Civilization series is arguably the grand-daddy of all turn-based strategy games. Not simply for it’s longevity, but also for it’s popularity and prolific nature. This is the fourth of the Civ IV games, and the first standalone spin-off. And while it’s not quite a re-inventing of the game, it most certainly is a re-envisioning. How does it hold up to its illustrious predecessors? Let’s have a look.

1. Story / Modes

Civilization IV: Colonization revolves around a simple story. Fleeing religious persecution, you’re given a charter from your home country to set up a colony in the new found lands of the Americas. However, the king isn’t the friendliest of sorts and insists on randomly raising your taxes and demanding various sums of money for little to no reason. Of course, such meddling from the aristocracy cannot stand, so you’re left with no choice but to rebel.

While the story here gives some great new gameplay dynamics, it also hampers your world a bit. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve based the gameplay beautifully on the concept of founding a new country and fighting for independence. But such a narrow narrative constricts just where the game can go. Previous installments were huge, fast-paced, and open, but the story here can’t support such a thing. While it would be fun, gunning down Redcoats with an M-16 just doesn’t fit.

Colonization provides the basic selection of modes that you’d get with previous Civ installments. You can choose size and speed of the game (including an option to do continents or islands), select from scenarios, and play multiplayer online. More than enough options to keep you going.

Story / Modes Rating: Very Good

2. Graphics
Colonization boasts tweaked graphics built from the Civ IV engine. It’s not the most obvious, but there are some little touches here and there that spruce things up. Some shading mostly, and some water reflections I think. Not that they needed it.

Civilization has a great reputation for doing somewhat simple graphics beautifully. They’re not photo-realistic, but they’re detailed. Zooming in on a city and seeing the individual buildings and farms always provides a small bit of glee. The animations are smooth, both for movies and the constantly moving characters, and the only time I ran into any trouble was when 100 Spaniards swarmed my tiny nation at once, so I can forgive a stutter or two.

If I had to find fault here, I suppose I could say something about the 3D models in the Civilopedia, which just kind of stand there on a blank plain while clouds drift past in the background. Curse you Firaxis! Why couldn’t you make your encyclopedia more exciting? Why?!

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound
The music varies with the town and the mood, all while sticking to the historical era. Zooming in on a town will alter the music to whatever the town is like, including chanting and drumming for the Native American villages. Familiar themes pop up here and there, sounding close to traditional American tunes of the times.

The best use of sound, in my opinion, is when the King tells you to kiss his ring. If you agree, there’s a long, wet smooching sound, followed by the shocked noises and boos of your countrymen. Nothing fuels a revolution like peer pressure.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control / Gameplay
The controls for Colonization are mostly point-and-click easy, with an array of hot-keys for the more advanced gamer. Nothing to see here, move along.

So, gameplay. It’s a bit of a culture shock if you come from the previous Civ titles. I’m used to fast, expansive play. Shooting up the technological ladder and manufacturing lots and lots of the latest units. That doesn’t work so well around here. Colonization is a lot slower in terms of growth and development. It’s more about balance. You’ve got multiple goals to attend to at once. My first couple of games were complete disasters because I’d focus on one aspect, and before I knew it, the game was over. What do you have to keep in mind?

For starters, you’ll have to balance relations with the other nations. Nothing unusual here, except for the half dozen Native tribes that have already set up shop. They can be friendly, and can train your colonists with special skills, but it’s inevitable you’ll end up encroaching on their land, which makes things tough.

You’ve also got to manage relations with Europe. When the King wants something, he gets it. Failure to do so upsets him, and he takes it out on you by forbidding the trade of certain items and/or increasing the size of the army you’ll end up fighting.

And speaking of trade, you’ll need money, so you’ll have to ship goods to Europe. Manufactured materials fetch a higher price than raw goods, so you’ll need colonists to provide both. You’ll also need farmers to keep your colony fed. And blacksmiths to provide tools to build your buildings. And guns, don’t forget guns. Every revolution needs guns.

To revolt against the crown, you’ll have to build up revolutionary sentiment. That takes people too. In fact, you’ll need over 50% of your population to support revolution before you can fire the first shot. I lost several games due to a complacent public. (And let that be a lesson to you; go out and vote!)

All these skills and balances lead to one of the nice features of Colonization; all characters are interchangeable at what they do. You need food? Grab a colonist and throw him in the field. Ore to make tools? Just drag an indentured servant over to the mine. There are specialists, too, so a Master Carpenter will earn you more production, but in a pinch, you can throw him out into the woods to trap fur. But the best part is that when they’re needed, every single citizen can take up arms and become a soldier. (I’d like to take a moment here to mention how much I hate the National Guard ads at the theaters with Kid Rock and 3 Doors Down, because I couldn’t get their $#&!!* songs out of my head when this happened) It’s a great move and totally in the spirit of the game.

Which is really the strength of the gameplay here. Everything the game does fits the period perfectly. It’s a slower game for a slower time. When you were trying to get a colony up and running, you had to be able to do what you could for the good of your people. And when the time for revolution came, citizens were willing to grab their guns and defend their homes. It’s amazing how well thought out and put together the system is. Truly impressive.

Control / Gameplay Rating: Classic

5. Replayability
All the Civilization games are insanely replayable, and this entry offers no exception. Between the different modes, styles of play, and 8 unique leaders to choose from, you’ll have no trouble getting your money’s worth here.

Replayability Rating: Great

6. Balance
You can always find a difficulty setting that fits your gameplay with Civilization. That being said, this one’s got a steeper learning curve for those of us who’re used to the series. I’ve played through a few times now and still haven’t been able to win on the easiest setting. Which is okay, but could be off-putting to new gamers.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality
Being the 12th game in a series usually doesn’t leave much room for innovation. Colonization bucks the trend with it’s unique storyline and gameplay elements. It has all the familiar feel of a Civilization game, but brings such a fresh new feeling to the line that it could have been considered a new standalone.

Originality Rating: Great


8. Addictiveness
“Just one… more… turn!” There’s a reason Firaxis uses this phrase when the game is over and you want to keep playing. Because you really, really want to keep playing.

Anyone who’s played the Civilization franchise knows this already. So let this be a warning for you newbies out there. This is dangerous. Like, crack dangerous. Unless you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, or a very understanding family, don’t try it. I keep Civ IV uninstalled until the summer when I’ve got time just to make sure that I don’t end up forgetting to go to work. In fact, I literally had to pull myself away from playing just to write this review.

You’re welcome.

Can I go back now?

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

9. Appeal Factor
This one’s a rather tough call. On one hand, I love the game. But on the other, when you tell someone, “Hey, I just played the most awesome game the other day! See, you have to manage a colony, interact with natives, and manage trade not only between cities, but with Europe, and start a revolution, and write a constitution, and go to war, and declare independence!” chances are they’ve stopped listening at “manage a colony” and walked away after “manage trade”.

So it’s not for everyone, obviously. It may not even be for fans of the original series, as it’s a bit slower and constrained. But it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

Appeal Factor Rating: Very Good

10. Miscellaneous

So we’ve got a fun, addictive, historically accurate strategy game, but there’s something we still have to talk about. Race relations.

It’s a fact that the new world was built on the corpses of those who were here first, and those who were brought here against their will. So how are they represented?

The Native Americans (of both South and North) are handled quite well, actually. From the time when you first land and are graciously greeted with some darkly ironic foreshadowing (“You’re but a small, humble group of travelers! Please, enjoy!”) to the skills the different tribes are willing to teach you, to the inevitable conflict; everything seems in place. The French even get a bonus to relations with the native tribes and the Spanish get a bonus to fight them. It’s a well told tale.

Slaves, however, get only the barest of mentions. It’s not until you declare a revolution and write your constitution that the subject even comes up. Each article gives you a choice between two styles of government, each with its own bonus. Monarchy or democracy? Freedom of religion or theocracy? Freedom for all or slavery?

I know they’ve taken some flack for the inclusion of this option, but I say it’s a valid choice the player should have to make. In fact, I’m a bit upset that that’s the only use of slavery in the game. I know we don’t want to upset people, but it is only a game. No one blinks twice anymore when you can run down pedestrians and beat grannies to death with their own walkers, but somehow the mention of slavery in a historical game causes people to lose it? It’s a fact. A dark and ugly fact, but a fact nonetheless. Denial of something doesn’t make it go away and let things get better, it just allows them to fester in the dark and prevent understanding and progress. We can’t hide from our past.

Wow, that was a bit serious for a game review. I apologise.

*ahem*

Farts.

Miscellaneous Factor Rating: Great

The Scores

Story / Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control / Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Decent
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary
An incredibly addictive, wonderfully immersive, and relatively accurate simulation of the struggle for independence. History has rarely been this interesting. In fact, I can easily see this incorporated into Social Studies classrooms around the country.

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