Give me your hearts and minds, or I’ll burn down your damned huts!
In a virtual world of global domination and diplomacy, there’s just no ‘diplomatic face’ to put on this: I have seen the PC version of Civilization just ruin people. We’re talking lost sleep, malnutrition, late arrivals at work, neglected and eventually lost girlfriends—the Whole Nine Ages. Such stories are legion in the gaming world. So what does developer Firaxis do? Why, naturally, they commence to make the bulk of the Civ experience even more accessible, even more addictive, even more of a ‘gateway game’!
Of Civilization Revolution, Sid Meier has been quoted as saying, “This is the game I’ve always wanted to make”… but it’s just as easy to imagine him saying, “Hey, relax… the first one’s free.”
On the off chance that you’ve spent the last decade or so with your head firmly encased in polymethyl-methacrylate, Civilization is an empire-building strategy game wherein players take their fledgling Civilization, or ‘Civ’, from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The long-running PC franchise made for a time-consuming, hardcore experience—it was awesome, but could be quite off-putting for more console-oriented gamers. Until now.
I have to admit it. When I first heard of the plans to bring Civilization to the couches of the console crowd, it struck me as a dubious prospect. But the game works, mostly because Civilization Revolution is a thorough re-engineering of the entire game rather than some kind of hasty port. What we end up with is an admirably streamlined, turn-based empire builder still deep enough to serve up the classic Civ experience, but accessible and breezy enough to let newcomers take their first up-and-coming global empire for a spin through History.
As always, you’ll start by selecting one of sixteen civilizations in their sociopolitical infancy, each represented by the appropriate historically-significant leader (Julius Caesar for the Romans, Alexander the Great for the Greeks, Tokugawa Ieyasu for the Japanese, Abraham Lincoln for the Americans, and so forth). Said leader will also be the statesmanlike face that pops up for the player’s various diplomatic interactions with that given nation.
Obviously, the scope of the game is vastly greater than the lifetime of any one leader—or indeed any hundred leaders in succession—but it’s a sort of visual shorthand that not only puts a literal ‘face’ on each civilization, but gives the game a certain amount of low-key humor. There's nothing quite like watching a cartoonish Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi appear onscreen, mumbling his Qwik-E-Mart-inflected Indian ‘Simlish’—‘Firaxlish,’ actually—threats to annihilate your Civilization.
Starting off with your single initial city and exploratory unit in the Ancient era, you’re tasked with founding new outpost cities, exploring the unknown world on a slightly visually-curved globe where, in a nice touch, ‘fog of war’ takes the form of ambient cloud cover. After encountering and effortlessly crushing (on the easier difficulty levels, at least) various scattered Barbarian hordes, you’ll start brushing up against the borders and roaming forces of other actual Civilizations, and you’ll have to decide how you want to try becoming the dominant Civ on the planet.
There are different ways of going about it, of course. One is to become the driving Cultural force in the world by generating Great Persons, building Wonders of the World, ‘converting’ the cities of other cultures, and ultimately creating a like-the-real-thing-except-it-doesn’t-suck-epic-ass United Nations. Or you could go the Economic route and work toward victory via the creation of the World Bank. Perhaps the most lofty, ambitious route is the Technology victory, whereby your Civ of choice is the first to actually make it off-world completely, and reach Alpha Centauri.
And of course, there’s the relatively straightforward Domination goal—militarily hammering all the other Civs into submission the old-fashioned way. This last method seems to be a popular one. Can’t imagine why... (*evil grin*)
Firaxis has done a very capable job of stripping out the oft-brutal micromanaging of the PC incarnation and making the strategy experience work as something you can play from the bean-bag. Cities are much more self-sufficient in the management department, maps are random preset affairs, and you’re not going to have entire populations dying off from lack of food.
One very nice adjunct to the tutorial process is the in-game Civilopedia, a more-or-less comprehensive database of the units, mechanics, and general concepts of the game. Don’t know exactly what ‘pikemen’ are? A bit fuzzy on how developing Pottery technology fits into the overall technology-tree? Wondering if it might behoove your people, in the long run, to summarily ditch the whole Monarchy thing in favor of Communism or Democracy as a form of government?
The handy Civilopedia is your friend and has lots of by-the-way educational nifties: illustrations of famous historical figures, photographs related to various important technologies, and even a collection of short videos. You'll watch flyovers of modern landmarks, Japanese shinkansen trains in operation, French soldiers firing artillery pieces, and ground-zero structures falling to the incinerating blast wave of an atomic bomb.
Amid all its potentially-hazardous Educational Value, Civ Rev is a Video Game first—and in terms of ‘realism’ plays notoriously fast and loose with… well, pretty much everything. Juggling two centuries of diplomatic relations with five opposing nations long before you’ve gotten the whole Writing Language thing nailed down? Sure. Creating a Samurai temple and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in a Medieval-era Washington, D.C.? No sweat. Running a navy that deploys galleys, steam-powered cruisers, and square-rigged galleons at the same time? Go nuts.
And, hey, if it ever transpires that the uppity, rifle-toting Communist Zulus are rolling their annoying, surplus city-siege catapults a little too close to the capital in which you’ve permanently installed Marie Curie, you can always nuke their tribal asses. Your Industrial-era citizens—who have only recently embraced Democracy—might bitch and moan about such a move, but a quick switch back to Despotism will bring that to a screeching halt, yeah?
In addition to the two single-player modes—random battles against A.I. Civs and specifically-crafted Scenarios—Civilization Revolution allows up to four players to compete online in team or free-for-all matches. If the Civ of a live player has to drop out for whatever reason, an AI Civ will automatically take its place. Online offers voice chat from the Diplomacy screen and is reasonably lag-free.
Unfortunately—bizarrely—the same can’t always be said for the single-player experience, at least in the PS3 version. On at least two occasions a few hours into a single-player game, we experienced times when the game became incredibly chuggy when scrolling about the world-map from city to city and unit to unit. So much so, in fact, that the game became nigh-unplayable, and we had to save the game, exit to the main menu, and reload. In yet another bit of weirdness that also seems restricted to the PS3 version, portions of the text in the Civilopedia were obstructed by large icons that would float, immovably and annoyingly, over some of the descriptions. Not exactly what you expect to see in a Sid Meier/Firaxis endeavor—and while it can be fixed, it shouldn’t have to be.
Whatever the notable flaws in the PS3 version, they obviously weren’t enough to keep us from playing several times on each of the difficulty levels (although some of those brutal ‘Deity’-level solo games ended pretty damned quickly). It’s decidedly a slight depth-step down (up?) from the micromanage-o-rama PC precursor, but it’s still your best current bet for couch-general strategy. If you want to be any more comfy than this while forging an empire through the chaos of human history, you’ll have to check out the admirable Nintendo DS version from the Dorito-dusted, comforter-draped folds of your Sleep-Number bed, probably in your skivvies—and frankly, if you’re gonna go that route, we don’t need to know about it.