Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/Empire Building
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: 07/08/08

The Civilization franchise has been kicking around for twenty years now, and has maintained a fairly decent amount of popularity across the various PC fans it has accumulated, but surprisingly enough, there have been very few console versions made of the product (a couple for the PS1 and one for the SNES, pretty much). One could guess the reason for this is because the franchise, known for its depth and long play time, doesn’t seem as though it would fit well in a console environment, where experiences tend to be more based on fast-paced gaming in small spurts, though on one hand, plenty of in-depth games do exist for the console market… on the other, not many of them are huge money-makers. Well, it seems 2K has realized that this is something to be rectified, and as a result has provided us with Civilization Revolution, a title that’s not only designed with the console player in mind, but is for the console market exclusively (if one counts the DS as a console). It’s streamlined to offer a less micromanagement oriented experience, visually enhanced to make the experience more animated and lively, and meant to retain the same classic Civilization feel in a way that’s engaging to the console player without being to “dumbed down” to the previously exposed PC fanatic.

And it mostly accomplishes these things reasonably well, to be honest.

For those who are keeping score, there isn’t really a story to the Civilization experience so to say; you choose a society from history, each of which has bonuses to make it worth playing as, and you basically try to win by either by Domination (taking over everything), Cultural Supremacy (having lots of Culture/Wonders/Great People and building the UN), Economic Supremacy (having a ton of cash and building the World Bank), or Technological Supremacy (sending off a space ship that reaches Alpha Centauri), depending on what route you take. As such, the game is based more on its options of play than anything, and in this regard, CivRev is pretty solid. You’re initially offered the options of Single Player and Multiplayer modes, as well as the “Play Now” option, which starts a single player campaign under the last rules you used. Single Player modes include your basic starting and continuing basic campaigns, as well as the ability to play various scenarios where the rules are more specialized, and “Game of the Week” for those with Live support where you can jump into randomized scenarios to play each and every week, free of charge. Multiplayer offers the standard player/ranked matches we’ve come to expect, with various options for play in these modes, as well as System Link play for people with two consoles and two TV’s. It’s a shame that there isn’t any same-console multiplay (though it makes sense in one respect, as versus matches would be impossible, it would still be nice to have allied matches on one console in some form or fashion), but otherwise there’s plenty to do in CivRev and lots of fun to have with the game all in all.

CivRev certainly looks and sounds great, though. The graphics are bright, colorful, and very well animated, and the various cities and such have all sorts of small details that make them come to life. The game also features all sorts of advisors and leaders who will pop up on screen from time to time and show their opinions by way of gibberish speak and cute animations, which is doubly amusing when one cuts another off and the prior person gets pissed off and stomps off-screen. The game is great to look at and has a ton of personality to spare, and there was obviously a lot of effort put into the visuals of the game, no question about it. Aurally, the music is generally good and fits the tone of the experience nicely, in the same way that the music in Sid Meier’s Pirates! worked in its favor (come to think of it, in the EXACT same way), and the battle and construction effects and silly gibberish speak the people make fit the theme and design of the product well enough to fit in nicely with the overall experience.

With any Civilization game, however, everyone’s going to be wondering most about the gameplay, and for fans of the series, CivRev certainly plays as well as we’ve come to expect from the franchise, if not in as complex a fashion. Simply put, you are given a cursor to maneuver around the map with, which you can use to highlight various things on the map, as well as to move around your troops and such. The overworld map is where you’ll spend about half of your playtime, as this is where most of the action occurs. Basically, you’ll move around your various units to create new cities, plunder barbarian camps or other cities, discover more of the world, and so on, as well as meet all of the various other civilizations that occupy the game world. Each city has various icons surrounding it, indicating what sorts of materials are being harvested by the city as food (to increase population growth), gold (to increase economic stimulation), production (for increasing production materials) and science (for increasing scientific research), and as cities become more developed, they can collect resources from more distant locations, making them even more viable as they grow. You can also specialize what sorts of resources you’re most interested in if you want a city to focus in a specialized direction, or you can simply leave the resource gathering to its own devices, depending on how involved of an experience you desire. Of course, neighboring armies can step into your controlled sphere of consumerism and disrupt farming from those locations, but you can do the same to them.

As you encounter new civilizations, their leaders will contact you from here to negotiate peace, declare war or demand/offer tributes as the situation dictates. Exploring more of the world dissipates the fog of war that surrounds the environment and allows you to discover the various barbarian settlements and civilizations that inhabit the game world, as well as various places of high resource value. Units can be moved by simply moving the left stick to a location and pressing A, or they can be instructed to hunker down and defend their present location, wait a turn, heal, form up armies when three of the same units are in one location, and so on, all at the press of one button. Moving units into occupied locations will generally start some sort of engagement, which will either involve combat of some sort or another, or will involve the enemy forces screaming and running for the hills if you’re drastically more powerful than they are. Each different unit is rated differently in their offensive and defensive abilities, which can also be modified by general research or Wonder modifiers, as well as by their present location (with units who are defending cities and such generally having a solid defensive edge over invaders, depending on what enhancements you have built into your cities). As units win in battles they develop inherent power-ups, such as the ability to heal (replenish lost troops) from anywhere, the ability to judge city invasions, and the ability to add to their power when attacking cities, among others, and further successes can improve their statistics and add a General to their ranks, increasing their abilities even further. In other words, keeping a fighting force alive is greatly beneficial and makes winning easier the longer the force lives (though it’s never guaranteed; even a force of archers can beat a tank squadron under the right conditions, oddly). As you accomplish various things or as various amounts of time passes, your advisors will step in to advise you of various things (as is their job), whether it be to ask what technology you would like to research next, to tell you someone has changed their government type or built something you haven’t, to advise you of victory conditions, or to tell you it’s time for you to save your game, maybe. You can also ask for their advice in various situations (diplomatic dealings, for instance, IE do I blow this guy up or do I let him live and take him over culturally?), making them fairly useful, though you don’t entirely need them once you get the hang of things. In general, the overworld manipulation of things is incredibly simple to manage and work with, both in general exploration and combat and in diplomacy and advisor dealings.

The other major screen you’ll be spending a decent amount of time in is the city management screen, which is where you handle your construction and resource management. Basically, from here, you can dictate what things each of your cities will attempt to construct, be they buildings (which impart various benefits to your city), units (for colonization/invasion of other civilizations), or Wonders (special buildings that impart additional benefits upon your civilization, occasionally under specified restrictions). You can also build roads between each of your cities if they are close enough to reap the benefit of such a thing, which decreases travel time for units immensely. You’ll often see this screen pop up as you’re developing your cities, as every time a building or Wonder is complete, you’ll get the option to build something else in this city, though a repeating build order (IE for combat units) or a simple press of the B button will resolve this if you don’t care to continue checking it. Here you can also specify what sorts of resources you want your laborers to focus on, or if you want to have a fully balanced resource gathering city structure, though this is balanced by default if you don’t want to micromanage it.

The basics, as noted, are very simple, but it’s once you begin really digging into the meat of the experience that CivRev begins to truly shine. Now, here’s the thing: you can accomplish “victory” in one of four ways, as noted above, but how you choose to achieve these ends is entirely up to you. If you want to build huge armies and take everything by force, knock yourself. If you want to use your dignified culture to entice cities to switch sides and join your empire, you’re more than welcome to do that as well. If you want to simply fortify your borders and focus exclusively on playing political games, spying on opposing civilizations, and generally manipulating other forces, rock out. There’s a significant amount of depth to what you can do and how you can achieve your ends, thanks to the benefits things like Wonders (again, special buildings like the Pyramids and the Manhattan Project that impart benefits to your civilization) and Great People (historic figures that grant you either long-term bonuses or one-shot boosts to help you attain global dominance) can impart on your cities and civilizations, depending on how you plan things out.

There’s also a ton of stuff to do with the game. Aside from being given the choice of sixteen different civilizations to command, each of which has its own different great leader and benefits across the four ages (Ancient, Medieval, Industrial and Modern), and all sorts of different research projects and governments to choose from (each, again, with its own unique benefits to work with), you’re also offered five difficulty modes (Chieftain, Warlord, King, Emperor, and Deity) each more difficult than the last, and each one remembers the types of victories you have achieved while playing in it. You’re also offered the Game of the Week, which offers you randomized situations (well, randomized at the time, anyway) every week (with a set civilization by default) to try and achieve high scores on to match up against other players online (if you have Live, of course). There’s also the option of Scenario Play, which offers similar gameplay to your standard game, except there are often specialized conditions (access to or restriction from various technologies, removal of or increases in barbarian activity, etc), as well as winning conditions (removing specific winning conditions or only allowing one, IE “Attack of the Huns” which only allows Domination victory). You can also play CivRev online, in Ranked Matches and Player Matches. Player Matches offer Quick and Custom options as well as Private Matches for you to play with friends, and also allow timer settings per turn to be changed (between 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 120 seconds, or none at all). Ranked Matches do not offer Private Match or Timer options, however, but they improve your rank online if this matters to you. You can also play via System Link if you have the equipment necessary to do so. All online modes offer three play types: Head to Head (compete against another person and random CPU opponents), Teams (two humans versus two humans with one lone CPU opponent running about), and Free-For-All (four players, one CPU player, winner take all). There’s also the Civopedia to look around in, which contains a metric ton of knowledge about the game and some general historical facts, and as you play you generate all sorts of records of the Great People and leaders you encounter and such for you to poke around in.

So, with so much depth, style, substance and replay value, the game is mostly good and certainly sells itself well, but there are a few flaws poking around. For one, the game feels the need to limit the time spent playing to a set amount of turns, which is fine if one is playing in multiplayer, as its meant to accelerate the process and get things going, but in a single player campaign, there’s not really a point to this sort of thing. For another, while the single player campaign is fairly expansive and vast, the multiplayer component doesn’t really feel as strong; you can’t customize AI difficulty, you can’t save online games, and while the idea is to complete the scenarios in a single sitting, unless you’re looking for the Domination victory each and every time, this is actually a longer and more tedious experience than attempting to do so in a single player campaign, because the game simply takes longer to complete across the board. You also can’t play anything but the three aforementioned modes online, meaning there’s no option to play scenario mode online, and there’s also no local multiplayer, which is completely understandable for versus modes but not so much for the exclusion of co-op play. The game also has odd frame-rate hiccups and stalling as it loads various things up, and while these do not impact gameplay in any noticeable way, they are annoying and slow down the pace of the game further.

Certain gameplay elements also don’t work as well as they should in their actual implementation. Attempting to cross through the sphere of influence of a city belonging to a rival civilization is grounds for war, no exceptions, and if this is the only way to get to a location (or, at least the most expedient one) you’ll either need to declare war on the civilization or find another way around, which is really tedious. Also, other civilizations will eventually go from desiring peaceful relations with you to wanting you dead or threatening you into bribes, even if your forces outnumber theirs a billion to one and you’ve done nothing to upset the rival civilization. On one hand, I completely understand the need to win the game by any means necessary, but it seems silly for a civilization with only their capitol city left to threaten you when they’re surrounded with tanks and you’re aiming an ICBM at their palace. The biggest issue, though, is that the game feels like a less in-depth version of older Civilization titles, and while that’s fine for a brand new player who has never experienced the game before, for fans of the older games looking for CivRev to do what Pirates! did as a console experience, you’re going to be left somewhat disappointed.

That’s not to say that Civilization Revolution is bad, as it certainly isn’t, so much as that it’s simply a different experience entirely from its PC brethren. Focusing more on quicker, simplified gameplay, CivRev offers a gameplay experience that’s moderately in-depth, exceptionally stylish, offers plenty of play and replay value both on and offline, and generally scratches the strategy itch in a very satisfying way. Online and offline play are solid fun, there are all sorts of interesting options to keep you coming back, and the game is deep enough to remain interesting multiple times, but not so deep as to be overwhelming. There are technical flaws and slowdown issues from time to time, the online isn’t as in-depth as it could be, some of the gameplay elements don’t work as well as they could, and players who are used to PC Civilization games are going to find this a bit lacking, but for those of you who have little to no experience with the franchise or are just looking for something simplified to play with, Civilization Revolution offers a fairly solid and enjoyable experience that’s well worth its asking price.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GREAT
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: VERY GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Civilization Revolution is a surprisingly robust console-specific strategy game that takes the core ideas of the Civilization franchise and puts them together in such a way as to be palatable to the more casual console player. The end result is a game that someone with no prior Civilization experience can jump into and enjoy, as it’s slick, stylish, easy to play, complex enough to keep your interest, and offers a wealth of single player options and single/multiplayer modes to play around with. The multiplayer isn’t as deep or customizable as it could be at this point, there are some minor technical issues here and there, and the gameplay isn’t as deep as the PC products and features odd rules that can be annoying to a player who has played the more in-depth and open-ended PC games, but for someone looking for a simpler experience or someone who has no experience with the franchise otherwise, Civilization Revolution is an exceptionally solid version that’s well worth every penny.



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3 responses to “Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. Alix Talbot Avatar
    Alix Talbot

    Damn, now I wish I’d had a chance to play 360 version :(

    Maybe I’ll see if it’s rentable

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