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Written by  :  PCGamer77 (3233)
Written on  :  Mar 20, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars1.8 Stars

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They broke Civilization!

The Good

There is a nice introductory cinematic, although that’s probably not why you bought this game.

More importantly, there is a thick spiral-bound paper manual that should come standard with every PC game of this type. There is also a solid tutorial, narrated by Sid Meier himself, to help you get started.

Personally, I had no performance issues in running the game. I also have a newer computer, so that really just means the game is running as it should be. Multiplayer is included from the start this time, which is nice I guess, although I don’t really think multiplayer is what turn-based strategy gamers are most concerned with anyway.

Finally, I appreciate the inclusion of built-in updater. If we are going to be forced to download numerous patches to make our PC games playable, the least these companies can do is make it easier for us!

The Bad

I find it hard to express in mere words how much I feel let down by Civ 4, but I will try anyway.

In his design notes to Civ 2, Brian Reynolds talked about the trepidation he felt in tackling the sequel to the best game ever. He knew that it was already a fantastic game, and that it mainly needed tweaking at the margins. You know: more stuff, more user configurability, and so forth—but for godsakes, no major changes should be made that would break the game. Soren Johnson and the other Firaxians who worked on Civ 4 must not have read Brian’s notes, because they obviously shared none of that reverence for the classic Civ. Not a single opportunity to make changes to the design, big or small, has been missed. You’d hope that they would have at least made sure that most changes were for the better, but alas, that isn’t the case.

Previous Civ installments have had nice musical soundtracks. This game repeats a lot of the old ones, although it adds an incredibly annoying “world music” theme to the title screen. The first of many changes that is not an improvement...

The manual seems disorganized, as if the author kept getting ahead of himself and then returning to where he left off. As the game originally shipped, the Civilopedia was poorly laid out (they may have fixed this some in the updates, I’m not really sure). Since the manual and official strategy guide both leave a lot to be desired, the lack of user-friendliness in the Civilopedia was definitely NOT a good thing.

The game interface is frankly a mess. In order to make the graphics stand out, they have reduced the buttons to tiniest icons possible. The result is that they are all both hard to see and click on. You can mouse over them to get a description in words, but more text would have been helpful.

Graphically, I find the game to be thoroughly unappealing. The charming 2D graphics of past installments have been replaced by some very ugly, blocky 3D character models. Units are now represented as groups rather than single individuals, which adds absolutely nothing to gameplay—except maybe for some confusion as to how many units you’ve really got. Seeing stuff is generally hard in this game. You need to zoom in on units and cities to make your moves, but you also need to zoom out to get the bigger picture of your empire. I’ve spent a lot of my time with Civ 4 zooming in and out instead of actually playing. Yuck.

As for the substance, all of the elegance and simplicity of the original design has been jettisoned in favor of new stuff that may or may not add anything to the game. We used to have Improvements and Wonders; now we have Great Wonders, Small Wonders, Projects, Buildings, and Tile Improvements (phew!). Now this is a lot to absorb and keep track of, but it could still be worth it is the stuff was really compelling or added a lot to the old gameplay. In my humble opinion, nothing that’s new here adds to the depth of the game enough to justify its inclusion.

This thought keeps popping up in my head regardless of the game element. Civics? Yes, it sounds cool to be able to build your own government types, and it’s actually one of the better changes they made to the game. Still, I don’t think it really adds much. The same goes for religion. It’s a neat idea on paper, but it seems mainly to add “stuff” to the game without changing the underlying dynamic much at all. It’s really not too different from Culture. At least they didn’t break the game with these changes.

The military dimension, on the other hand, has been reduced to total crap. The old system of offensive and defensive unit values worked fine, but they scrapped it in favor of what *appears* to be a simpler system of just one unit value. However, you discover that there is not just one unit value, but a unit value modified by a plethora of other values! I’ve spent a long time studying the new system, and I honestly still don’t get it. It’s a complicated mess of counters, rule exceptions, and special abilities. A simple rock-paper-scissors dynamic (a la the archers-knights-barbarians of Ancient Art of War) might have been ok, but this system is just over the top.

And don’t get me started on the unit promotions system that adds even more confusion to the mix. Units that earn experience are now eligible for promotions, which work sort of like another tech tree, except that it only applies to individual units. (Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to collect military experience and distribute upgrades on a global basis?). So now you have to micromanage the development of your individual units in addition to your cities. Deeper? Maybe. Realistic? Hell no. Fun? I think not! It also stinks that they removed some of the better civ-specific units like the Man-O-War and F-15 Strike Eagle and replaced them with less interesting units.

At bottom, the whole game lacks a sense of artistic quality or historical seriousness. Everything has been made “cooler” at the expense of smarts, beauty, and authenticity. The wretched influence of real-time strategy gaming is very apparent here. It’s in 3D, you zoom the camera, the little men run around and do things, ahistorical units are included simply because they are supposedly fun to play around with (axemen, macemen, grenadiers, etc.). The content value is also significantly lower here than in Civ 2 and Civ 3. A lot of the legitimately good stuff from those games is simply missing here. I’m assuming this is so they can dribble out two or three commercial expansions over the next few years filled with content that could easily have been included in the original game. As it stands, I don’t see why you’d want to buy or play an incomplete Civ 4 when Civ’s 1-3 are finished products that are already widely available—at a much lower price.

The Bottom Line

I bought Civ 2 and Civ 3 on pure faith in Sid Meier, and I was not disappointed. Civ 4, however, is the biggest letdown I’ve ever had as a gamer. It seems to be unbalanced, underdeveloped, and just plain uninspired. Clearly the franchise needs to be given a rest. I doubt that even the inevitable two or three expansion packs can save it.