Sid Meier’s Civilization III is a great new addition to a franchise that has long been regarded as one of the best around. Building on the foundation of Civilization I, Civilization II, and Alpha Centurai (a similar game from the same developer), this game also incorporates completely new concepts into the gameplay. Veterans of previous incarnations will dive right in and quickly adjust to the changes. Those who are new to the series may have a tough time, but ample in-game help and tutorials, plus a thorough manual, are enough to get you through any troubles. All in all, Civilization III shows that this series has indeed passed the test of time, and is still going strong.
The gameplay of the Civilization series centers on building up the cities of your empire and governing it to a leadership position in the world. The developers did a good job reducing the amount of micromanagement needed, as the auto-builder makes good choices most of the time, but you can still control everything if you want. Each tribe has different characteristics and also one unique unit each, so playing each of the sixteen tribes is a slightly different experience. Most of the game is fundamentally the same as in Civ II, but there are two big divergences from anything we have seen before.
The first major change is to the trade and commerce system. With a new and much improved system of diplomacy, in which civilizations trade everything from peace treaties to advances to cities themselves, you now trade commodities face-to-face with leaders of other tribes, and you can trade goods for other goods, money, or diplomatic agreements. There are a variety of different resources to trade; some are needed to build certain units–such as iron or coal–and others are luxury items such as ivory and silk. Luxury resources play a key role in keeping you population content. The overhaul of the trade system, and of negotiation in general, is a huge improvement from previous incarnations.
The second change is a completely new concept, Culture. I found this to be an excellent addition to the gameplay. Each city within your empire has a culture rating, which reflects the accumulation of your national culture in that city. Cities gain culture with age, and by building religious institutions, libraries, universities, and great Wonders. A new type of victory has been created, a Cultural Victory in which your culture is so dominant that it crushes your opponents. In addition to being a means of victory, Culture also impacts the course of the game. Cities can defect to a civilization with more culture. And culture helps you to expand the borders marking the edge of your empire. Culture is a fascinating new twist for the Civ veteran.
The gameplay in Civ III can drag at time, and there is a general consensus, which I support, that corruption and waste are too high in this version, even at the lowest difficulties. But this is minor, and the combination of demanding strategy and excellent replay value make Civ III a great game.
With years between releases, Civilization III is graphically an immense improvement on any previous game from Sid Meier. The main gameplay ”world” screen is vibrant, with lifelike terrain that possesses some variety while still having its terrain type being evident. Units are now full-fledged sprites instead of icons, and not only do they have various animations for different commands, but they will move while waiting or idle as well. When you negotiate with rival leaders, they have animated portraits that reflect their moods–the angry Gandhi is pretty amusing. The menus are also attractive and well-laid out. Overall, Civ III is a beautiful game. However, it does have some flaws that are quite annoying in light of the excellence that surrounds them. First, as in Civ II, the ”View City” option, to be blunt, really sucks. One, all the cities look virtually the same, even between two different civilizations; two, it does not please me to look at my capital city and see a couple of pitiful buildings surrounded by a ruined wall. Frankly that is just depressing; would it hurt to show my city in its full glory? A second major flaw is your limited ability to zoom in and out on the world map; you are stuck with just two zoom levels, and, later in the game, neither is really wide enough to let you see your whole territory. While these two flaws are disappointing–because they seem so easy to remedy–they do not detract too much from otherwise solid graphics.
While the graphics are serviceable, you might as well turn the volume off and put some music on the stereo. Civ III has good sounds and effects for different actions and events, and they are well rendered, coming through nicely on the 5.1 system. However, they are still the same sounds every time, and they will quickly get old. The music is nothing special either, and when repeated becomes downright annoying. In a strategy genre game, sound is rarely relevant to the actual gameplay, and this is the case in Civ III as well. So while my first comment might seem a little harsh, after two games I did find myself turning on the stereo. I don’t mean it as a criticism, just a simple statement of fact: the sound is average at best, but I wouldn’t expect anything more from a strategy game.
Civ III is the kind of game that some people might characterize as tedious and incredibly boring, but fans of this series and of the genre in general will be hooked once more. It actually gives you quite a rush when you finally wipe out an enemy civilization, or make the last step to move into a new age of civilization. While this genre is both loved and hated to the extremes, this game holds a lot of fun for the strategy buff. Another good effort from Sid Meier and Firaxis, I would recommend this game to any fan of strategy. While it seems that some aspects are only half-finished, or could just use some polishing, it maintains everything that made previous Civs great and adds some exciting new features to the mix.