For over 20 years, master game designer Sid Meier has produced a steady stream of titles shaping the landscape of the gaming world, and now Sid Meier's Civilization III gives you the opportunity to shape a virtual world as you see fit. The third installment in the famous Civilization series continues to refine the art of global diplomacy and domination. The refinement, though, will take several hours of play to fully appreciate. Fortunately, the game retains the addictive nature that has made the series a mainstay of any software library.
For the uninitiated, Sid Meier's Civilization III sets you up as the leader of a burgeoning nation who must handle the rigors of diplomacy, direct scientific advancement, keep the population content, and marshal the forces in military conflict. A crack team of advisors will assist in governing, but the ultimate choice of how the society grows is up to you. Gameplay is complex and will likely require a few tries at balancing expansion to new areas and evolving current holdings before building a global superpower. It's a creative vein for revealing hidden megalomania, guaranteed to be habit forming and the cause of sleep deprivation.
There's a comfortable blend of the familiar look and gameplay of previous Civilization titles with innovative features that further enhance the experience. At first look, the game appears to be similar to the earlier incarnations but with better graphics; most of the buildings and units act the same as in Civilization II. In fact, the game begins in exactly the same way with a settler looking for the optimal site to establish the seat of power. Any veteran player of the series will recognize the playing field and gameplay, thus diving into the action has rarely been easier.
Little nuances crop up early, such as the concept of cultural boundaries, winning conditions, and Small Wonders -- features that will make even the most experienced leader pause a moment before making his or her next move. Most noticeable is the notion of cultural boundaries. Each city now extends its influence based on the town improvements. Enemy cities can even overthrow their leadership and join your side, if they are in complete awe of your cultural advancements. Generating overwhelming global influence results in a cultural victory, one of the new ways to win.
Other winning conditions include military victory, UN voting, controlling a majority of the world's population and land, as well as completing the ever popular spaceship to Alpha Centauri, a goal from previous games that inspired the Meier creation Alpha Centauri. To accomplish these goals, a few new items are available for research in the tech tree and Small Wonders can be created. The latter work like Great Wonders by conferring certain advantages on a civilization, but every civilization can build the same Small Wonder; thus expect both Americans and Russians to build a Pentagon, for example.
The terrain and units have been updated and the cityscape view has a fresh look, but it's still the same 2D maps of old. Everything happens on the surface of the planet or in the oceans with no subterranean lands to manage. Gone are the animated advisors from Civilization II, which is somewhat of a shame.
The sound is surprisingly well done, as workers transform the rugged land and chop down trees with a mighty crash, while armored units growl as they settle into fortify mode. Sounds progress commensurate with the ages, and the host of sound effects make the countless number of turns spent waiting for a Wonder to be completed somewhat bearable. The relaxing guitar music and other instrument work is rich and enjoyable.
Novices to the series, and the genre in general, will find the learning curve somewhat steep, even with the on-line "Civilopedia" and thick manual. Experienced players will have to readjust strategies to the new features and improved AI; lamentably, it's still only a single-player game. Also, despite the 80+ scientific advancements available to research, ignoring the path that encourages city growth, as well as passing over crowd control improvements, will result in civil disorder rather quickly. Cities seem ready to erupt into chaos at the drop of a hat, the amenities notwithstanding.
The game tends to reward a "manifest destiny" mindset over a "less is more" attitude. Raw materials are only available by claiming an area or trading with rivals. Since some materials needed for production of better units are only visible later in the game (such as uranium), a global market would have been a nice touch. Finally, only the most industrious nations will be able to finish building the spaceship before the mandatory game ending retirement. Even with the cleaner technologies, pollution plagues a manufacturing nation, making for mild frustration.
Ultimately, Sid Meier's Civilization III will appeal mostly to the loyal fan base of the series, and rabid armchair presidents will fully enjoy the new features. Civilization II owners who were unable to rule effectively will find more of the same in this newest offering, as quite a few changes make the game even more complex. Gamers willing to invest the time to raise a nation from seed to bloom will be richly rewarded, but those who have had their share of civilization building might be content to sit back and wait for Meier to define another genre.
Graphics: Updated graphics are nice. Cityscapes continue to evolve with each building, marking the growth from hamlet to metropolis, but the 2D-tiled map of yore is sadly outdated.
Sound: An excellent music score provides a nice background for civilization building. Individual unit sounds, as well as battle noises, are sharp.
Enjoyment: Players familiar with the Civilization legacy will appreciate the new ways to win, as well as the new concepts. End games are sometimes frustrating, especially while trying to finish the ship before retirement, though a better civilization builder has yet to be designed.
Replay Value: Random maps, land editor, multiple ways of winning and distinctly different AI opponents will keep you coming back for more. A multiplayer option has abdicated its throne in favor of refined computer interaction.
People who downloaded Sid Meier's Civilization 3 have also downloaded:
Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Civilization 2, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Civilization, Civilization II: Test of Time, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Civilization: Call to Power, Age of Empires III
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