From humble beginnings as a prehistoric tribe of hunters and gatherers, to a far-flung future of extra-terrestrial colonization, players lead their people to dominate Earth and beyond in this era-spanning game of empire-building. A true living legend of computer game design, Sid Meier invites strategists to conquer the world all over again, in this fourth edition in the influential Civilization series.
Many of the most significant additions to this version of Civilization involve customization. The tech tree remains the roadmap to scientific and industrial advancement, but there is now more than one path to milestone discoveries. The religion model offers more customization as well, and players can now better use the power of faith to spread their culture, or they can choose to have no state religion at all, boosting scientific endeavors.
Combat has been enhanced in Civ IV, to give more individuality to veteran units and to balance away occasional historical mismatches sometimes noticed in earlier editions of Civ. More than one leader character is available for many of the traditional opponent nations, and the game will play differently depending on who is in charge of rival empires. In all, Civilization IV is designed to offer players a game world of unprecedented sophistication and realism, whether they aim to win it through warfare or culture.
Civilization IV is polished. The title screen is simple and uncluttered, but sports as a background an animating image of the globe which, if you show a little patience, changes quite spectacularly between day and night. And this is indicative of the game as a whole. Everything has been completed to a very high standard, and everything gels together really well.
The graphics, of course, are leaps and bounds ahead of those in Civ III. The Gamebryo engine - used previously in Sid Meier's Pirates! - plants this epic strategy game into a beautifully rendered 3D world. What's more, there are animations now for the terrain and terrain improvements (not just for units), which really gives the sense of a living world rather than simply a very detailed map. Possibly the most novel aspect of the game's look, to my mind, is the ability to smoothly zoom out from an angled close-up on one city to a view of the whole planet - actually pictured as a globe!
As promised, the look of the game has been enhanced across the board. The animated leaders, still cartoonish in style, but much more detailed, are in. Wonder movies (axed from Civ III) are back, showing in seconds the evolution from blueprint to construction to finished product. (Exciting too: wonders are now visible on the map.) Even if it doesn't match the technical brilliance and graphical intensity of leaders in other genres, Civ IV still goes toe to toe with them in terms of polish and just looking good.
Music continues to be a strong point for the series. Civ IV features an MP3-quality soundtrack made up of what I will tentatively call 'World Music' (liking it doesn't mean I know what it is). Impressively, the score strikes a near-perfect balance between being enjoyable and remaining in the background - it enhances the game without distracting from it. The only complaint I can muster about the music is that there is apparently not enough of it, meaning that every now and again one is left merely with the ambient sounds of the game world. (That, and the ever-popular noises of battle.)
In terms of gameplay, Civ IV is the biggest departure thus far from its predecessors. Firaxis emphasized that they were making Civilization again from the ground up, rather than just taking Civ III and pushing out in new directions. Civ veterans will note that units' attack and defense scores have been replaced by a single 'strength' rating. Each unit then has various bonuses and special abilities - spearmen are better against mounted units, archers get a 'first strike', et cetera. What's more, as units fight and gain experience, they can be promoted, giving them extra individual bonuses (you can, for instance, have a particular unit which is good at guarding cities, or one geared towards fighting in jungle).
Civ IV in fact has slightly less combat units than were present in Civ III, pointing to a move away from the dominating role of war in previous games. The change is not drastic - conquering the world by force is still very much an option. But the key word is option. Civilization IV makes more peaceable roads to victory both viable and gratifying. (The latter Civ III failed to achieve, in my opinion - cultural victories always felt like an abrupt and unfulfilling end to the game.) This is due in part to the more exciting and vibrant world created by the 3D engine, but credit must also go to the changes in game rules and dynamics. For instance, excessive expansionism is no longer always advisable - there are penalties for having large numbers of cities. Furthermore, the 'war' of culture has been made far more interesting by the inclusion of features like religion.
Yes: the Civ series has finally gotten religion. Admittedly, it arrives in a very watered-down and non-controversial form. The game includes seven different religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism. (I say "different", but in fact they are all the same. No religion confers any different bonus or penalty - they are simply a device for uniting or dividing nations.) Each religion is tied to a technology, and the first civilization to discover the appropriate technology founds the religion attached to it. The main advantage in founding a religion is having access to intelligence on any city which shares that religion - in other words, you can spy on others of your faith.
Because of the advantages of spreading your religion, you can build Missionaries, who establish their religion in other cities (friendly or otherwise). Civ IV contains a number of non-military units like the Missionaries (making it seem, at times, a little like the Call to Power games - Activision's Civ-clone series). Obviously there are Settlers, and the Worker unit from Civ III remains; Spies, handled differently in III, are also back in as units. The Great Leaders of Civilization III have evolved into 'Great People' (of various callings), who can be added to cities as 'super-specialists' or sacrificed to create special buildings or trigger a 'golden age'.
Another exciting change to the game is the way that you define your system of government. The static forms of government from older Civ games (Monarchy, Republic, Communism, etc) have been overthrown and replaced with a more complex and versatile system. For each of five spheres - economy, government, labor, law, and religion - you choose from one of five different 'civics'. So, if you so desire, you can support freedom of speech and freedom of religion, while still embracing slavery and hereditary rule! Different rulers are predisposed to certain civics, and other civs may well try and force you into becoming more like them (choosing civics they approve of, or adopting their state religion).
The interface has also undergone a revolution. Firaxis have implemented elements of the Real-time Strategy style, trying to make all elements of the game operable on the main screen. Fans of intense micromanagement can still access specific screens for cities, international relations, and the like, but controls for the bulk of the game (and the relevant information) are now all on hand while you scroll around the map. While this might not be to the liking of all returning fans (I'll admit I still haven't totally warmed to the system), it does make Civ IV more accessible to new players. Perhaps most helpful are the info windows which pop up when you hover over buildings, units, technologies, et cetera - cutting out repeated trips to the 'Civilopedia' is a blessing even to old hands like myself. (What I can't understand, though, is why the informational pop-ups for the micromanagement screens appear in the far corner of the screen. Perhaps we're being discouraged from using these screens...)
For many, the game's standout feature will be its multiplayer capabilities. All of the previous Civs originally shipped with only single player mode (though both II and III added multiplayer in expansions or later versions). Civ IV allows for Internet play, - with the option to play out turns simultaneously to avoid the otherwise objectionable waiting times during opponents' turns - 'hotseat' (several players on a single computer), and Play By E-Mail, adding even more potential for world domination.
The Civilization series is famous for epic scale and addictiveness, but it is also renowned for its replay value. Admittedly, only time will tell if Civ IV stands the test of time - but all signs point to myself and countless others returning again and again, in months and even years to come. The replay value, of course, will shoot up further once the modding community kicks into gear. Civ IV ships with an editor, allowing players to create their own maps, and to make some basic changes to the game's rules set, but Firaxis will also be releasing the resources for more serious modders to substantially add to and change elements of the game, further enhancing the game experience.
Civilization IV looks amazing, and seems to be every bit as addictive as its predecessors. I'm going to vouch for it being the most impressive Civ game to date, and quite possibly the best game of this year. Civilization will never be everyone's cup of tea, but anyone with even the slightest interest in strategy games should be grabbing a copy ASAP.
People who downloaded Sid Meier's Civilization IV have also downloaded:
Sid Meier's Civilization 3, Civilization 2, Age of Empires III, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Sid Meier's Railroads!, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Rome: Total War
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