Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution
PC to home console conversions are usually met with much groaning and apprehension, and most are within reason. Until recently consoles couldn’t match the specs of a gaming PC which saw franchise after franchise being stripped of features with watered down modes and tread-bare life-span. Then you have the issue of porting over controls from a keyboard and mouse to a controller that sports slower scrolling with analogue sticks. As such, these ports are usually marketed as spin-offs that concentrate on particular aspects of the game to try to justify the limited scope on offer. And since the newest consoles have gone against he idea of producing mice and keyboard controllers (unlike the Dreamcast and PlayStation) developers have had to come up with all sorts of ways to transpire their dreams and their visions, on a platform which is more accessible and grossly outstripping the once lucrative PC market. The Orange Box, Command and Conquer 3 and Oblivion are currently benchmark titles for such a practice, but none have gone through the rebuilding efforts of Sid Meier’s Civilization to simply make them run, let alone work on a home console. Fireaxis has taken the foundations of the popular turn based strategy title and built it around its limitations rather than jumping up and down on it until everything fits in. This isn’t a simple port, it’s a revolution.
Despite this, comparisons with Civilization 4 are inevitable. You can’t control a stack of units as one entity, workers don’t exist, the maps are incredibly small, the camera doesn’t zoom out far enough and there’s no world builder. You can’t customise a game to your own tastes, only a fraction of the leaders are available, minerals aren’t as important, micromanagement is almost non existent. There’s many wont’s, don’ts and cant’s. So let’s have a look at why it still works.
The lack of frills on offer detracts attention from your own empire and onto everyone else’s. Too often on the PC it becomes easy to develop a cloud around your borders by concentrating purely on your own efforts which can lead to your kingdom being surrounded and eventually massacred. In Revolution players will be keeping a keen eye on the opposition as they battle for success as the emphasis has shifted from personal gain to thwarting the efforts of enemies. Although financial, cultural and technological dominance and military conquest are the four ways to complete a game the latter has a hand in all of them. It’s more than possible to win simply by building the largest army and then raping and pillaging the other civilisations but since the landscape holds military advantages for either side it’s also the more risky strategy. Odds in battle are determined by injuries, upgrades, terrain, great generals, naval bombardment and city benefits, of which any can greatly influence a conflict. It affects the three other methods as armed units can capture enemy traders, push back cultural boundaries and ransack cities for gold as well as disrupting trade routes. Spies can halt the progress of a city as well as steal gold, so as much as a risk warmongering may be you can be a complete thorn in the side of other players with some clever moves.
City buildings have greater effects to make up for the smaller amount on offer, and most wonders have perks that expire once another civilisation discovers a certain technology. This often has players really gunning to complete production to gain advantage over their foes and makes the turn based affair rather tense. Government changes are typically straightforward as ever with one for each victory condition and others with some satisfying perks to help you along the way, as well as penalties for utilising their powers.
One casualty of this revolution however is the way religion affects the map. Non existent, its buildings contribute instead to a cultural victory in place of the dirty, unhand tactics of its PC cousins. For those who have never sampled it, religion can divide nations and wreak havoc right until the latter stages of the game when civics allow you to practice freely without consequence. By founding a belief you can then spread this to neighbouring cities who will eventually revolt against their own nations faith and ultimately demand to be accepted into your culture. It’s possible to take over a nation entirely by enforcing religion upon itself and ripping up the roots of society, and ties can be made with other leaders by adopting the same cult as one another. Perhaps for the home console market these tactics are too complex and as such it’s easy to see why Fireaxis didn’t include it in Revolution. Without it gameplay is far more transparent and you can see a threat coming from a mile off with time to counteract it, but die-hard Civ fans will miss the subtlety.
The less-is-more approach to a turn-based strategy game with roots steeped in micro management has made the series more accessible to those who lack the finances to jump aboard a PC platform that is ever evolving. Civilization Revolution is far more a transparent experience, giving players the confidence to conquer all that lay before them without fearing they must read the in game guide from back to front to know all the ins and outs of gameplay. It adds challenge to multiplayer games where opponents are far more likely to have amassed a sizeable army to tell you to stick your demands, as opposed to giving in so they can quietly preside over a more peaceful victory. Online games flourish as players can make their own verbal agreements with opponents rather than through the game. There have been instances of mutual pacts between nations only for one to back-stab at a crucial moment and take all the points. As much as matches against the computer are fulfilling, online is much more hectic and filled with havoc.
A step up from Civilization IV, Revolution does look superb, at least once you’ve rid most of the fog of war. City structures are easier spot and you can zoom right in close to inspect them. Troops are excellently detailed throughout the ages and each upgrade adds new flavour to their armour, be it a red cross for first aid or ninja attire for the most successful units. Each square of terrain can easily be identified between desert, plains, grassland, and the sea really does feel inspired with a cool and beautiful blue to it. You can’t zoom out anywhere near as far as on the PC, but when the maps are a lot smaller it doesn’t matter at all. Conflicts between nations see the camera zoom in close to watch units fire at each other; progressing through the ages changes the scene of battle, with early warriors leaping and swiping with their axes whilst infantry can stay further away and take aim with their rifles.
Compared to the rest of the series there is a heck of a lot missing, and in many ways Civilization Revolution should fall flat on its face because of it. However, this bold move confirms that the franchise is built on such firm foundations that when released in a limited form it still excels. The lack of distractions give centre stage to action, be it diplomacy or cold hard military force, which make it fun to play. It’s almost unimaginable should Revolution have been a straight port with fiddly controls and over complex gameplay to be as entertaining as this.
To PC gamers this will feel like a tutorial for the “real” thing, but for everyone else Sid Meier has breathed fresh air into the console market with a title that lets you kill and maim in a completely different way. Put down the first person shooters and instead lead your civilisation from its tiny dwellings into a global superpower with some strategic thinking instead of a trigger-happy finger.