Civilization IV: A Welcomed Upgrade

Well Sid, you did it again. Once again you have created something that will keep people awake for hours on end – living out their fantasies as George Washington or Genghis Kahn. I mean, haven’t we all wondered what would have happened if Alexander the Great had only conquered one more city?

My review of Civilization IV, the latest release from Aspyr, will probably be a little different from most. As it turns out, contrary to popular belief, I’m not a very patient man (just ask my wife). As you might imagine then, my patience for epic games such as this begins to wear thin after the 12th hour or so. However, being a big fan of other strategy games such as Rise of Nations and after hearing such rave reviews of all the other Civilization products, I was encouraged to give Civilization IV a try.

Attention to Detail

As I began the tutorial and subsequent game play, the first thing I noticed was the quality of the sound and graphics. The 3D depiction of the detailed environments was stunning, but even more impressive was the billowing smoke from the small huts and the ebb and flow of the water on the beach. You can see just from the artwork below, that every aspect of the game from the Nation leaders to the individual units have received an overhaul.

Also impressive was the upgrade in music from synthesized elevator music to real orchestrations representing cultures all over the globe. We’re talking real choirs here folks… Gameplay aside, Aspyr really kicked it up a notch when designing the user experience while playing CivIV. You could skip the game entirely and watch some of the 70 in-game movies and animation sequences and still be impressed with its quality.

Better Gameplay

One thing that many people will appreciate is the fact that CivIV comes in a Universal Binary to keep both sides of the Mac fence happy, and seemed to run very well on even my 2GHz PowerPC iMac. Of course, as the game reaches its 14th or 15th hour and more and more stealth bombers or chariots start milling around, the gameplay begins to slow. Apparently this slowdown wasn’t necessarily due to my machine, but is a symptom of some of the processor and memory bugs that have been found in the shipping version of the game. So be sure to download the latest patches before playing too much.

Bugs aside though, this version of Civilization boasts an overhauled interface that was built from the ground up in XML and Python which, according to my geekier friends, is part of the reason the game runs faster and smoother than previous iterations.

Even the multiplayer portion of the game seems to run faster than previous versions. And combined with the various multiplayer flavors from LAN to turn-based Email… any community gamer is going to be pleased with this new release.

Corporate Restructuring

As any fan of Civilization will know, the unique gameplay requires somewhat of a steep learning curve. In fact, there are so many facets to the game that many people (myself included) have been hesitant to try the game for fear of not “getting it.” Well, apparently Sid Meier agreed, so some of the games more complicated features have undergone a shakedown and have been streamlined for a better game experience. However, less you die-hard Civilization fans begin to cry foul, the game is still complicated enough that you can tweak and monitor stats until you’re blue in the face.

The biggest change comes with the simplification of how you govern your nation. This new version contains a new concept called “Civics” which is managed from a new Civics Pane containing your choice of government, economy, and religion – among other things. This simplified interface allows you to change the fundamental structure of your nation with just the click of a radio button or two. Each change in your civic structure takes a few turns of revolting to take hold, but it does make it convenient if you happen to change your management structure mid-way through the game.

New Units, Technologies, and Nations, Oh My!

In Civilization IV you experience not only new concepts such as religion or civics, but you’re also introduced to tons more units, technologies, and nations. The number of specialists doubles to 6, the number of great people increases from 1 to 5 (including the great engineer and artist), and the number of units almost doubles to 89 – including many new units unique to each civilization. For example, the American nation has Marines, Navy Seals, and ICBMs at their disposal.

Being a big fan of Rise of Nations, I welcome the unique Nation units and find that additions like this give the game a bit more depth – allowing you to grow more attached to your Nation. You watch a little more closely, for example, as the game zooms in on your unique units during battles to show you the fighting.

Final Thoughts

There’s really just too much to cover in a review like this. Civilization IV is a huge upgrade and worth the money if you are even halfway interested in strategy games. The graphics have been improved, gameplay has been improved, and the “inner workings” of the game have been streamlined to allow you to exercise as much or as little control as you want. Even modders will be excited at the many options available to them including an integrated World Builder, XML tweaks and additions, and an extensive event system.

Civilization IV is a hands-down good buy. Go out and get it and let me know what you think.


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