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Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution Review4
by Ryan Davis on
It's not a seamless transition, but Civilization Revolution is a mostly successful effort to bring Sid Meier's celebrated strategy series to consoles.
Like its PC-based forebears, Civilization Revolution puts you in the role of the leader of a historical civilization with the goal of conquering the world. There are 16 different civilizations to choose from, each of which comes with a unique set of specific strengths. The different cultures are represented by caricatures of various historical leaders, from Abe Lincoln to Genghis Khan, usually without coming off as aggressively culturally insensitive. From there, the game trades in any of its historical accuracy for defiant anachronisms, with your cartoonish avatar leading your civilization--which can include historical figures from across the globe and throughout recorded human history--for thousands of years. This might upset, I dunno, historical re-enactors? Personally, I found the comic-book crossover quality of the game comforting, letting me know that, despite all the historical trappings, the game wasn't going to take itself too seriously.
Unlike most strategy games, which tend to focus entirely on military action, there are four different ways to win a game of Civ Rev. You can win by military might, scientific supremacy, economic prowess, or cultural superiority. While these roads to victory require distinctly different priorities, the technological paths for all four are intertwined. If you focus entirely on one discipline, your civilization simply won't be able to keep up with the competition. It makes for a peculiar balancing act that encourages obsession over the minute details of how your civilization focuses its energies.
In a typical game, you'll start with a single village, and at first, your options for expanding your empire are limited to creating groups of warriors. As you explore the randomly-generated world around you, you'll encounter scattered pockets of barbarians that, when defeated in battle, will often earn you new units and occasionally some new technology. Eventually you'll encounter one of the other civilizations aiming for global domination. This opens up the diplomacy aspect of the game, allowing you to declare war, negotiate short-term peace treaties, and trade technological secrets.
As time passes and your capital city grows, you'll learn about new technology, which facilitates the building of new units, buildings, and wonders. Units are typically military in nature, though they can also include caravans, which you can use to trade with other civilizations, and settlers, which you can use to establish new cities. Buildings will enhance the various aspects of how a specific city grows, while wonders can affect both the growth of the cities they're built in, as well as provide your entire civilization with some specific, sometimes ridiculous advantage. My personal favorite, the Oracle of Delphi, will let you know right before a battle whether you're going to win or not, allowing you to back out without taking any casualties.
The tech tree is fairly complicated, with access to more sophisticated technologies requiring knowledge of a number of simpler technologies, though the game provides you with a fairly easy-to-read chart to help determine what you need to research next to make it to your ultimate goal. While much of the research process is intuitive, there are some puzzling sidesteps you can make here. For all the historical liberties the game takes, I cannot wrap my head around the notion of a civilization that's able to suss out space travel without ever learning about something as seemingly fundamental as gunpowder.
There are other anachronisms in Civ Rev that I found oddly bothersome. One of the options you have within each of your cities is whether they focus certain resources on developing science or accumulating wealth. It's an essential balance-check from a gameplay perspective, but those don't really seem like mutually exclusive pursuits to me. There's also the pervasive issue of technologically superior military units being obliterated by more primitive ones. What's the point of sinking precious research time into the latest and greatest when your fighter planes are getting taken down by medieval pikemen? Like I said before, I generally enjoy the game's freewheeling approach to cultural evolution, but it opens itself up to certain criticism with its real-world springboard.
I'm really just scratching the surface of the myriad of actions that can happen in a single turn of Civilization Revolution here, but even for an ostensibly simplified strategy game, this all still sounds pretty complicated, right? For the most part, Civ Rev does an excellent job of easing new players into the experience, providing you with a number of different advisors who will explain the implications of the various decisions you have to make. On its easiest difficulty setting, the game is incredibly forgiving, which can be an excellent confidence builder for newcomers--there's nothing worse that getting absolutely destroyed by a strategy game your first time in. Once you start playing around with the higher difficulty levels, though, the AI opponents become downright sinister, easily identifying and exploiting any cracks in your foundation.
Civilization has long stood as one of those glimmering examples of a PC game that simply couldn't be done with a gamepad. Revolution gets the job done fairly well, though I definitely noticed certain limitations, particularly later in the game, when my empire was spread to the four corners and I was fighting battles on multiple fronts. The interface simply stops scaling at a certain point, and it can be easy to lose track of what's happening where. The time spent calculating your opponents' moves in between your turns can get inordinately long here as well. The visuals in both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions can get a little choppy at times, though the 360 version in particular can have a hard time simply filling in the landscape in a timely fashion as you scroll around the globe.
In my experience, a single match of Revolution lasts somewhere between three and six hours, and every match--from the founding of your first city in 4000BC to your final turn somewhere in the early 21st century--is self-contained, without much in the way of persistence between matches. Beyond the standard single-player matches, there's a handful of specific scenarios that you can play, as well as an online multiplayer option that smartly limits the time you have to complete each turn. Considering that there are whole games out there that last as long as a single match of Civ Rev, it's hard to hold the meat-and-potatoes gameplay modes against it.
While Sid Meier has been quoted as saying that this is the Civilization game he always wanted to make, Revolution's got plenty of shortcomings, and the scope of its vision can sometimes outstrip its mechanics. That said, this is a really satisfying strategy game, and though it might be old hat for PC players, there are few experiences quite like it on consoles.