Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Civilization 4 Review

Civilization 4

System: PC

Type: TBS

Graphics: 8/10

Sound: 8/10

Gameplay: 10/10

Story: n/a

Multiplayer 9/10

Overall: 9.5/10

This is one of my most anticipated reviews for one of my most anticipated games. The wait to get this game working was a long time, but it was definitely worth the wait. I hope the wait for the review is the same. The game, although doesn't flow on my computer, is truly addictive. The graphics and the user interface make is very approachable whilst still retaining the depth and addictivity this series is famous for.

In this game you are put in charge of one of the worlds Civilizations at the dawn of man. There is a great choice of countries each with their own unique units and starting technologies. Then you must choose a leader, each leader has different skills, some will make it easier to make money, whilst overs will make it easier to make war! Your decision of who you choose and who the enemy is will greatly effect the outcome of the game. Some leaders are very aggressive whilst others will never attack. The choice of leaders and Civilizations is truly fantastic you will almost certainly find a country that matches your playing style.

This game is said to be addictive, smoking is addictive, and people can quit smoking. This game really is impossible to quit. The game is similar to a Pringle in that each turn isn't quite enough to fill you up, but enough for you to want more. Civilization 4, as you might have guessed, is turn based. In your turn you can do anything and everything, but only once. This structure is well established and means you can play the game at a leisurely pace, working out your next move thoroughly. My only criticism of this is sometimes, at the start, quite a lot of your goes will be just skipping to the next go. This can be quite dull as you are just watching a city build one unit, which is relatively slow. Once this phase is over, all of the goes present you with many decisions and things to control and the first turns are a small price to pay for the balanced game that follows.

The game has been made very intuitive with many controls hidden so as to not confuse new players. The interface is very clear and it is easy to get to grips with. There are a lot of things to remember and manage in this game, but fortunately the computer looks after some of the micro-management areas automatically. Sometimes I feel the computer takes away a little too much, but you can override the computer and control the computer without too much trouble. The city management is an excellent example of this. The computer, by default, controls what squares the city works, however, you can both override the computer or tell it to focus on collection a certain thing, such as production. Also, you can make the governor choose which units to build and even whether to hurry them or not. In addition to this, the game will give you tool tips suggesting what you should build and alerting you to citizen unrest. Sometimes, these can get a bit annoying, particularly if you empire is going through a period of decay and each turn you are painfully reminded about something you are fully aware of.

Moving units is done by clicking where you want them to go. How quickly they get their depends on the type of unit they are, for example, horses can move faster than troops, and the terrain they are crossing. An example is an explorer, who has two movement points. This means on a normal square he can move two squares. However, a hill will use both points as it is more difficult to ascend. This is fine, except with that same hill, it would take a unit with one movement point the same amount of time to get up. Now obviously, they couldn't have it so that the one movement point unit couldn't get up, because they would never have enough movement points, and we know it isn't impossible to climb a hill, just harder. However in history, hills have had a great impact on military plans. Hitler took his troops right round a set of hills to save him time early on in WWII. In the game however, it is just as quick and more advantageous to cross the hills. I think that units with one movement point should have to spend an extra turn at the top to slow them down. This is not a big criticism and is doesn't effect the game much, just a little frustrating if you are trying to defend a place surrounded by hills.

The replayability of this game is fantastic. There is a wide variety of random maps. Each different map has different rules for how the map should be generated so you have an idea of what map your going to get, whilst still retaining enough randomness that no two maps will ever be the same. Furthermore, when you start a game, there are hundreds of things you can customise to make the game different. For example, you can randomise the AIs personalities, so that if you get used to them and know their plans too well, you can change them to keep you guessing and making it feel like the first game all over again. Another thing is you can make the barbarians and/or the AI more aggressive for a more competitive game. Thirdly, you can choose to start in different eras and set special rules such as only allowing one city to be built by each civilization. On top of this, there are a wide variety of scenarios you can play. These scenarios recreate famous periods in history or alternate history and because it goes in to more details, there are many more relevant units. Furthermore, you can download many more Mods to customise the game and provide you with even more scenarios. All this adds up to a game that you can keep coming back to and never get the same experience.

The AI is very intelligent throughout the game. They will hold grudges, remember how you treated them and notice subtle things like you trapping them. All these will contribute to their opinion of you and thus how they treat you, you diplomatic attempts and ultimately whether to go to war with you. The AI play very competitively and you will never see them do anything particularly stupid. The military command is superb. They will often outmanoeuvre you. They use their troops special abilities very well, making sure to protect their week units and only attack when victory is almost certain. They play very tactically, once I was at war with two people, one of them attacked me with a large number of troops on the west, consequently I moved my entire force in that direction, only to find the other person sending down a large armada from the north. My forces were split and none of them were where I needed them. I then lost most of my cities and had to pull back to my capital to regroup. Although I don't think they were working together, the second person was definitely waiting for a opening in my defence. It is not uncommon to loose a game, even on low difficulties, when there are many AIs as some of them might sneak in with a late space race victory.

The graphics are excellent. The models look very nice and despite the game being set on a grid, the cities and terrains sprawl in to neighbouring squares making the game look very flexible. There are the occasional graphics error and units appear to being growing out of the city when they are defending them, however overall the presentation is excellent. The animations for the fights, although not dynamic, are very interesting and amusing to watch. It is just 3v3, however, there are neat explosions with grenadiers and each unit attacks differently. Also, you can tell how the battle is going based on how many troops are still standing, although things can change half way through.

I cannot properly comment on the sound, as my computer is not powerful enough to run it. However, the little I have heard is very good and fits with the game. The ambient sounds are excellent. A case of this is when you send soldiers in to a forest, you can hear birds chirping as they fly away, you can hear waves lapping if you are near the sea and mountains emit hawk sounds. They are so fantastic that sometimes you won't even notice them and they just settle in to the background. This all adds up to an excellent sound track. This made much better because you can tell Civilization where your music folder is and listen to your music instead. It is frustrating not being able to skip tracks, despite this, it remains a nice feature and leaves me very positive about the music.

The multiplayer is fantastic. It is easy to set up an online game and find people to play. The games can support huge numbers and as host, you can choose all the features you would normally be able to offline. Naturally you can store friends and send private messages, but some other features are a bit lacking, such as no support for Clans. In addition, the game provides many alternatives for MP games. These include play be email and hot seat. Hotseat unfortunately suffers from the aforementioned early goes problem. It is even more severe, as all players have too keep getting up to press enter. You need enthusiasts for the Hotseat as in the late game, when the turns are much longer, it can be tedious for the rest of the players, who are just sitting there. Recently, a tool called the PitBoss was released. It allowed players to sign in to the game at any time, take their go and then leave. This way people from different time zones could play. I haven't tried this but it is meant to be very good and more ways to play can't be a bad thing.

In conclusion, this game is stunning. You will be able to keep playing on this game again and again. The gameplay is addictive and fun. New players will find it accessible whilst old veterans will find it plenty deep. There is a huge online community to provide you with new Mods that will completely change the game dynamics. The multiplayer is well done, if lacking in features such as clans. The game feels very well polished and the sound and visuals are things to set your watch by. On a side note, the instruction manual is very detailed and interesting to read. It is a thick as the actual box.

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