Civilization Revolution Xbox 360 review
Civilization finally makes its way successfully onto a console - and Shaun's hooked
What is Civilization? It’s a tough series to summarise, that’s what, as its gameplay spans all of modern human civilization, from the primitive hunter-gatherers who banded together to found the first cities all the way up to modern warfare and space exploration. Each player acts as the immortal ruler of a civilization, guiding and shaping its development through the ages and struggling to achieve military, economic, technological or cultural supremacy over their opponents. It is an intense and addictive experience, the epitome of the “just one more turn” phenomenon. I make no pretence at objectivity: the Civilization series represents a hallmark of quality in gaming.
There’s been some talk about Civilization: Revolution being the first outing of the classic PC series on a console. Well, that’s not quite true. Over the years there have been many attempts to port the first or second Civ game to platforms as diverse as the PlayStation, the Nokia N-Gage, and even – believe it or not – the Super Nintendo (Super Famicon to our American readers). Sadly these were pretty much straight ports, and on systems which lacked the processing power and input devices of the PC (or the Mac, Atari, and Amiga, which have also seen various Civ titles) the games failed to stand the test of time.
Anyway, Revolution is definitely the first Civilization game that has been tailor-made for consoles. It’s slick, smooth and stylish from the outset, introducing the concept of the series with a stylish bit of FMV that hits all the right thematic notes. Fans of the series will, on starting their first game, recognise a lot of Civilization IV: the leader models, the world map, and the unit models and textures are all familiar. These similarities don’t appear lazy as these visuals are all new, but some of the style of Revolution’s parent is clearly retained. Fans will also quickly recognise that the Civilization IV model has been significantly pared down. The world map is smaller, games play faster, research and construction is more rapid, the range of units and buildings available is reduced, special resources are not quite as essential as they were… it’s still recognisably built on Civilization IV but it’s obvious that a lot of changes have been made. The real question at hand is how successful these changes are, and that’s relevant to both Civilization veterans and newcomers to the series.
I shan’t keep you on the edge of your seat: I think the changes to the Civ model have been executed with the panache and skill that we’ve come to expect from Firaxis Games. The same essential balance is in place; players must ensure that they simultaneously develop their cities and devote resources to research in order to compete for the long game, but it’s also essential to manufacture units for defence and offence as well as keep an eye on territory control. Devote too much of your civilization’s output to research and city building and you’ll find yourself over-stretched and under-defended – easy prey for aggressive neighbours. Contrarily, if you allow yourself to fall behind with city development then your research and economy will suffer, and a few hundred years down the line you may find your obsolete armies being crushed beneath the boot of a technologically superior rival. This is the winning formula of the Civilization series; the balance of power both within and without your empire.
The strategic element of the game, whilst still as fun and challenging as you would expect, has been greatly reduced in complexity. This may disappoint fans who come to this game expecting a successor to Civilization IV. Still, it remains important to select city sites carefully, to retain control of special resources, and – especially as it is no longer as easy to move through the territory of rivals – to set up choke points to defend the vulnerable inner core of your territory. The game’s emphasis is clearly on combat; one notable new innovation for the series is the ability to band three units of the same type together into armies. You’ll soon find that these super-units are the most effective route to military success. Although time-consuming to construct and less flexible than three separate units, their military might more than makes up for this. If you want to defend a threatened city or assault a rival, armies are the way to go.
I’m not entirely uncritical of Revolution. The AI, for example, is capable of some ill-considered moves. They’ll often merrily fling armies and units into compromised positions from which they can be picked off, and thanks to the greatly-reduced complexity of diplomacy you’ll probably spend most of your games at war with everyone and refusing / agreeing to pay them tribute. In one game, despite being a massively superior military power I still had to put up with the Russians demanding I hand over money or technology every four or five turns. I can understand why the diplomatic complexity of the game has been reduced, but I’m disappointed that the AI seems to consider its military engagements so poorly. I’m also concerned that the game might lack the diversity to make it as engaging a long-term prospect as its PC brethren. This is something that will only emerge over time after many games, so will unfortunately post-date this review by some considerable margin.
I can, however, state with confidence that Revolution is tremendous fun. It will never be as deep a game as its PC counterparts, but it’s capable of being just as immersive and entertaining. It also boasts something that the series perhaps never knew it needed: games short enough that you can start up, play for a few hours, and move on – although you might still find yourself playing at 5am.