I'll be perfectly frank here: I'm not writing this review to show off whatever stylish finesse in manipulating words and syllables I may possess, or to get publicity, notoriety, or anything of the sort. No, the matter at hand is simply that I have spent countless hours on this game--starting in the middle of finals week, mind you--and still suffer the insatiable urge for more. I'm not an expert at Civilization 4, not by a pig's eye, but I feel a slight digression on the new title and my experiences with it may redeem the time spent. There is also a major update to the title, in the form of the 1.52 patch (to be retrieved here or here), which is not discussed in the original GR review, and with good reason, but which nevertheless deserves mention.
Should you, the kind reader, not be aware of the legacy behind the Civlization series, you may read the countless reviews to be googled out there, or you may accept my laconic summary. You are offered a historically great empire to control in a rivalry against several other such opponents. Victory comes in numerous ways, although the traditional means are of military conquest or spaceship race; one may also produce cultural behemoths or become the UN leader, or simply live out the handful hundred turns with the highest score (although, indeed, most games don't reach such maturity).
To start the game, a civlization must be chosen, a city founded with the one settler granted from the get-go, and technology researched. With succeeding turns, the player explores the world around him, develops it with industry, and advances through historical epochs until one of the victory conditions is met by a participating civlization.
With this account, applicable to any of the series' titles, I may account for the differences Civilization 4 brings to the table. To be concise, a fancy list is presented, to replace flowing structure one may encounter elsewhere.
The new sequel to the series now offers a fully 3D engine, with options to zoom in, rotate the map, and even look at each city's buildings on the world map. All of the units also now have graphical representations of their strength--a fully-charged warrior will show three men, while a wounded one will only have two. The engine also allows the world to be zoomed out to global view, with clouds and all, to be rotated about at will.
Each of the 18 civilizations has unique attributes, including the two technologies it starts with, the two bonuses it receives regarding numerous aspects of the game, and the unique unit it may at some point produce. The Greeks, for example, start with Fishing and Mining, while the Incans with Agriculture and Mysticism. Though the difference may seem vague, they entice different approaches to the game in its earliest, and most crucial, periods, allowing greater variety and less repetition. The Greek player may, with Mining under the belt, head straight for Bronze Working to be able to cut the forestry around his cities and speed up their production, while the Incan will have to research Mining first, and so is discouraged from wasting precious turns to do so. Each civilization is encouraged to pursue its own unique attributes, preventing a universal way of playing the game.
The Greeks also, to set them apart from the Incans, also receive the Philosophical and Aggressive cultural attributes, while the latter are Aggressive and Financial. Ultimately, this means the Greeks will find it easier to produce Great People, like Leonardo da Vinci, while the Incan player will have a greater income as his cities will produce more gold--and both are better at producing stronger military in comparison to non-Aggressive countries.
Lastly, each civilization receives a unique unit which possesses an edge over the generic counterpart other nations produce. The Greeks, to follow the example, may produce Phalanxes, which are stronger than the generic Spearmen, while the Incans get Quechua, who is also stronger than the regular Warrior and receives a bonus in fighting archers.
A knowing observer may note that all these factors were present in Civlization 3. The difference between the two lies in the introduction of numerous leaders to the new title: a lot of the civlizations have two leaders (while others like the Greeks only have one, Alexander the Great). It is the leader who gives his country properties like aggressiveness or financial aptitude, which allows nations like the Russians to be either Expansive and Philosophical, or Financial and Creative.
Civics, Religions, and Tech Trees.
Civilization 4 differs from its predecessors by allowing greater flexibility with the technological tree. Advanced technologies still have more ancient prerequisites to be researched first, but they are no longer separated into eras as in Civ 3, which means a player may research Feudalism while still in the Classical period and reap the benefits it offers without having to advance an era. Such flexibility allows one to plan out his advancements with greater efficiency, as "useless" brances need no longer be researched for the simple sake of leaving behind the Ancient period.
As before, some technologies offer the player new forms of governance. But while before the governments came in preset packages, Civilization 4 offers "civics," which grant one the option to customize his government with several options in five categories like Economy, Religion, or Labor. No longer does a representative republic automatically imply emancipation.
Religion is also a new feature of the game, spanning such faiths as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Each has the same attributes so as to retain balance, but all require different technologies to be discovered, and nations of differing relgions will have a hard time staying friends. The new feature also grants the player a new way of maintaining cities' happiness, finding sources of income, and even increasing production.
Civilization 4 also offers numerous advances in the ways the game is played turn-to-turn. Civilizations may no longer trespass others' territory without an "Open Borders" pact, for instance, and two units from different countries may now occupy the same land tile without declaring war. Barbarians may now also build cities, and even animals now prowl the landscape to threaten your explorators (to be sure, they cannot enter your cultural borders, so the productive forces like workers are quite safe). Intra-city corruption is now rid of, replaced by city maintenance, proving an effecive limit to over-expansion. When thinking of engaging enemy units in wartime, the player no longer needs to rely on speculation and blindly charge pikemen with helicopters only to be defeated; the game now offers a "battle odds" feature that compares the two units' strengths with all territorial advantages accounted for, and even shows the probability of winning the battle. All this miscellaneous changes prove to have a drastic impact on the overall gameplay.
Even the AI is now more manageable, as it no longer blatantly cheats with foresight for where the territorial resources will appear. It even remembers, in diplomatic affairs, what has happened in the past and accounts for it in relations with the player. No longer will the computer forget your military assistance or generious trading deals made fifty turns ago.
This, it seems to me, is the gist of the updates Civilization 4 provides in comparison to its predecessors. A full list may be found here. The heart of the game is still the same, to be sure, but the new features and countless other minute updates to such aspects as Great Wonder production, offer not only a fresh incarnation of the old game, but also promise countless new efforts at besting the computer with the numerous approaches to victory that the game now allows. Even if the kindly reader would still like to conquer the world, he will still have several paths to choose from in pursuing such a goal. For this, the game surely deserves an A.