Civilization: Call to Power is a follow-on title to its highly successful predecessors, Civilization and Civilization II. The game approaches history on a very large scale, covering 7,000 years from approximately 4,000 BC to 3,000 AD. In this turn-based strategy world-builder, the player leads his or her civilization to power using nearly all aspects of global history from mankind's earliest technology to futuristic advances.
New features in Civilization: Call to Power include the capability to build both undersea and orbital space-based contingents and expand military might to wage unconventional warfare by using economics, propaganda, biological and religious aspects of war. The player can also choose from a vast array of historically based tactics and strategies from the beginning of the human experience.
The game contains more than 65 detailed units, an arsenal of weaponry ranging from civilization's earliest crude tools of war to those honed with space-age capabilities and a vast technology tree with more than 90 advances. New units, buildings, technologies, Wonders of the World, diplomacy, trade options and more complement the basic resource management techniques needed to forge strong civilizations from primitive roots.
Civilization: Call to Power supports multi-player interaction on both the Internet and local area networks. Winning can be accomplished in three separate ways based on player customization: bloodlust (capturing every foreign city on the map), alien life project (synthesizing an alien being through advances in technology) or high score (surviving until the year 3,000 AD). Other player customizable options include random or historical maps, forty-one historical civilizations from which to choose, world size (small, regular, huge or gigantic), world shape, special rules (pollution, barbarian threat, etc.), world terrain features (proportionate levels of oceans, lands, mountains, humidity, temperatures, resource seeding) and up to eight opponents.
Gameplay relies on a simple point-and-click interface with on-screen help and a comprehensive in-game tutorial is available (recommended). Multiple resolutions are supported as well as custom choices to optimize game speed.
With the exception of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Activision's Call to Power has been number one on strategy fans' wish lists this year. We've all been on the edge of our seat waiting and watching the early glimpses of the new game excited by the prospect of new technologies and units, frightened by the idea of change. Unfortunately it turns out that our fears were fully warranted. While Call to Power does an excellent job of updating the game devices that Sid Meier created years ago, every time it seeks to set out with an idea of its own it fails miserably. The end result is a title that is a frustrating melange of great concepts, impressive visuals and gameplay that makes you want to throw your computer out of the window. Let's take a walk through the game and try to figure out where everything went wrong.
There's no doubt that everything starts out okay. Since Call to Power directly copies the Civilization formula, there's very little to screw up. You start out the game with a settler or two, some basic technologies and a huge map of the unknown. After you've found a suitable location from which to build your empire, you order your settler to construct a city and the game really gets underway. The basic idea from here on out is to either construct a large army and wipe out your foes, or keep them at arms length long enough for you to discover the ultimate technology (in this case, the breeding of alien life-forms). At this most basic level, the game is exactly like Civilization 2, and at this most basic level, there's not really much wrong with the game. Unfortunately, Activision decided to work in some changes.
The first thing you'll notice is the change in the game's interface. City views have been eliminated altogether in favor of a quick and dirty look at what your peasants are doing. A file folder system at the bottom of the screen lets you access any city information, from production to units currently active quickly and efficiently. A lot of the guys in the office found the new views hard to navigate, but I have to say I actually found them pretty useful. On the screen itself, a right click is used both to deselect a unit as well as to bring up information on that unit. This can lead to some pretty irritated clicking as you try to get the appropriate response from the game. When a unit is active, you can move it by selecting a destination and left clicking. A line follows your cursor to show you the path your unit will take and how many turns it'll take them to get there. Although this is a really good idea, in actual use, the path has a real tendency to get in your way. Worse still, if you're trying to select another unit and miss, you'll end up issuing orders to your current unit to move even if you didn't want them to. Overall though, the system is very close to that used in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and does what it's supposed to do fairly well.
There are some other big changes to the way game plays that are immediately noticeable from the main screen. Settlers are now used for nothing but city building. Tile improvements are bought with 'public works' points that you accumulate by setting aside a certain percentage of your culture's production each turn. Once you've got some points built up, you simply click on a small hammer icon that gives you a list of all the available upgrades that you have available to you, pick a square to build them in, and wait for them to finish up. Although there's no doubt that this is a hell of a lot easier than the old way of having a settler unit crawl around changing each square, I didn't really like it that much. One of the great joys of Civilization was taking the time to build up your neighborhood. This quick and easy answer takes a little of that joy away while at the same time taking away a little of the horror you used to feel when an enemy would destroy them. This is a bit of a theme in Call to Power. By making different features of the game 'easier' Activision accidentally boiled away many of the things that we enjoy doing so much. Still, as problems go this isn't a big one. Let's keep looking...
The trouble definitely isn't with the technology tree. This is one area in which I think Call to Power did an excellent job. The tree is huge with loads of new advances that weren't in the original games and very intelligent unit rewards for achieving each new goal. Better still, the advances that Call to Power offers up as the future are both exciting and plausible. Where Civilization simply offered up 'Future Tech' and left players with no hope of new buildings or units, Call to Power delivers the thrill of discovery right up until the end of the game. There's nothing cooler in the game than getting access to some huge new tech like Asteroid Mining and then discovering all the cool new units that you can build because of your hard work (in this case Star Cruisers, Swarms and Food Modules).
So what about those new units? There are over 60 of em' that'll be available to you at some point during the course of the game. They range from the innocuous (Settler, Space Engineer) through the dangerous (Fusion Tank, Leviathan) to the truly bizarre (Lawyer, Eco-terrorist). As with Civilization 2, units in Call to Power have different values in attack, defense, health and movement. And like the diplomat in the earlier titles, many of these units have special abilities that they can use to collect information or harry opponents with. As with the technology tree, these units are both creative and interesting - until you actually have to use them in a fight.
There are actually two problems with the units, so we'll tackle the more obvious first. Everyone has stories from the original Civ about attacking a Phalanx with a Battleship and loosing. The problem was tackled head on in Civ 2 by the addition of a multi-turn combat with each unit boasting different health levels based on their durability. Screwy combats still happened, but with much less regularity than before. Activision kept this basic idea but added a little twist. In multi-unit combat you go to a combat sub-screen and watch as the two armies duke it out with each other. The developers set up the battlefield so that hand to hand fighting units are standing up front and units with projectile weapons are in the back. In this way they have given armies that have a mixed assault force a big advantage. This is a good thing. It makes sense that a warrior with and archer behind him will have an advantage of two warriors. Unfortunately while creating this system they ignored the real reason that Civ 2 incorporated an expanded combat system to start with - to avoid unreasonable combat results. Over and over again I watched as my advanced combat units, a team of three Fusion Tanks for example, lost battles to a well-mixed group of Calvary and Cannons. The situation is much worse than that of the original Civilization when such losses were a random fluke. In Call to Power these ridiculous results happen again and again. It doesn't take long before you realize that your march towards technology really doesn't matter a hill of beans in the long run. Those cool new units you've been trying to grab hold of really aren't all that much better than the crummy old units you had before.
So what's the other problem? Some of the new units are really, really, really irritating and ruin the entire feel of the game. The two worst offenders here are the Lawyer and the Corporate Branch. The lawyer, who is available fairly early in the game, can file an injunction against a city it's standing next to. This power causes your city's production to come to a grinding halt. Worse still, this isn't a one-time power - the lawyer can keep filing injunctions every turn until he's discovered. The Corporate Branch is even worse. By using his franchise ability, a Corporate Branch forces your city to send a percentage of its production to an enemy. The only way to undo the franchise is to send out one of your own lawyers to sue the city under its control. Once the computer-controlled players get control over these two units, you can hang up any semblance of a good strategic wargame. Your cities will be stripped of their ability to produce and you'll be caught in an eternal war of paperwork. "So why don't you just kill them," I hear you ask. In order to make these units even more annoying, they're only seen by certain other units. What this means in gameplay turns is that you must constantly have a spy, a lawyer and several other units wander around looking for these invisible invading forces that can stop you dead in your tracks. If you're like me, it won't take you but two or three weeks of blind wandering before you decide that it's simply not worth the effort. And keep in mind, these are only two of many such units that I've singled out. Other offenders include Slavers who steal away your citizens, Spies who steal your technology, Cyber Ninjas that can blow up your nuclear plants and Televangelists who can actually covert your entire city!
So why not create a bunch of different specialty units yourself and leave them parked in your city in order to spot such incursions before they happen? Because each city, for some inexplicable reason, can only hold nine units at a time. You know, just like in real life - a city full of lawyers and businessmen can't possibly hold a spy or any tanks...
There's actually a lot more that wrong with Call to Power (like the fact that regular ships can tear up the undersea mines it took you an entire game to learn how to build), but it can all be summed up in one term - poor game mechanics. It's almost as if this game wasn't play tested at all. Can it really be that the guys down in Q&A didn't mention to anyone that their War Walkers (giant BattleTech-style robots) were routinely getting slaughtered by musketeers? Did they actually enjoy the fact that a third world nation could grind a techno-power to a halt by setting up a bunch of franchises? Somehow I just don't think so. Bottom line? If you're a fan of the Civilization series you should stay as far away from this title as possible because it will almost certainly enrage you after a few hours of play. If you haven't played the original titles, go pick 'em up.
People who downloaded Civilization: Call to Power have also downloaded:
Civilization 2, Call to Power 2, Civilization II: Test of Time, Sid Meier's Civilization 3, Civilization, Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Caesar 3, Age of Empires
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