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Written by  :  Droog (522)
Written on  :  Apr 03, 2006
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars4.4 Stars

3 out of 9 people found this review helpful

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Civ 4 is a huge improvement over Civ 3 in almost every way except the system requirements and stability.

The Good

Civilization 4 adds in many new gameplay concepts and almost all of them work well.

Civics are my favorite improvement to the game. This is an idea that first appeared in the great Alpha Centauri. In earlier versions of Civ, you could only change your government to change the way your civilization functioned. In Civ 4, you can pick your civilization's values and organization from up to 5 different categories, depending on your technological development. This is the first Civ where you can choose a socialist democratic government (Universal Suffrage + Free Speech + Free Religion + State Property), a Republic at war (Representation + Nationalism + Free Markets + Free Religion) or a Monarchical throwback (Hereditary Rule + Serfdom + Vassalage + Theocracy).

Another great innovation is the idea of Great People. Great People are created by the specialists in your cities. Each specialist adds a specialized production bonus plus a small amount of great people points to your pool. Once you get a certain number of points, the great person is born. The number of points you need to create each successive great person increases by a lot over the course of the game, but you can add to your pool for that city with wonders and certain other buildings.

Great People can give you all sorts of interesting options. You can use two or more great persons to start a Golden Age. All Great People can help you research new technologies. Each Great Person also has a unique ability of its own, such as the Great Engineer's ability to hurry buildings and the Great Merchant's ability to generate large amounts of cash from trade. Finally, if you have no better use for the Great Person, you can just add him to the city to add very nice bonuses to your production.

Controlling your units is also easier than in previous Civ games. Stacking units is no longer awkward like in previous Civs, and the automatic worker options also are easier to deal with. The addition of helpful icons showing you everything that a unit can do is helpful, and makes it possible to play the game entirely with the mouse. The game even will make good suggestions on where to settle your next city when you are moving settlers around.

Military units are a lot more interesting with the addition of customizable upgrades. Each time a unit wins a battle, it gains experience. Once you get enough experience, you can pick from a wide variety of useful upgrades such as: improved unit strength, improving your unit's strength vs a particular type of unit, improving your unit's defense and movement in a particular set of terrain types, improving the healing rate of the unit, and so on. These improvements allow you to really customize your army to fight your enemies. You will have to do this, too, because many units have built-in bonuses that are particularly nasty vs. common units. (For example, the Axeman is only strength 5 to the Swordman's 6, but it gets a 50% advantage vs melee units)

Another nice change in Civ 4 from Civ 3 is that siege units actually matter. Cities are assigned a defensive bonus based on both improvements (such as city walls) and their culture rating. Unless you have much better military technology than your enemy, you will lose many city fights unless you bring in the artillery to bombard the city's defenses. Siege weapons are also great because they do collateral damage to all units in a stack. So after you bombard the defenses away from a city, you can then send in your artillery to weaken the stack of units defending the city.

The game rewards you for building mixed and flexible forces rather than hordes of one good unit. This tends to make combats a lot more strategic and interesting, and it enables the underdog to sometimes fight off a much stronger unit if they are smart about what they build.

Diplomacy is much improved. The computer now tells you why it is mad or happy with you, which lets you take steps to improving your relations rather than just guessing.

Finally, even though I prefer the single-player game, multiplayer support is not only included in the initial release, but it is much improved from the mediocrity that was Civ 3: Play the World. There are a wide variety of custom settings that are fun to try in multiplayer (such as the duel-sized maps that have the same resources on each side).

The Bad

Sadly, all of the improvements in Civ 4 come at a huge cost in resource consumption. My computer is not new, but Civ 4 is the first game in the series which will crash on me regularly on the default settings, especially while playing Wonder movies. Even after deleting all of the Wonder movies so the game would be stable, I still cannot play on the largest map size, even with 512MB RAM.

It is a good thing that Firaxis made the Update tool so easy to use, because the game is nearly unplayable out of the box until you patch it to version 1.52. This version fixes most of the most egregious errors, from poor memory management to the badly organized Civilopedia index. (In the shipping version, the index has graphic icons but no text! Arrgh!)

The addition of Religion to the game is a mixed bag. Overall, I like what it adds to the game, but I hate the fact that I always seem to end up with Buddhism or Hinduism as my main religion, which just seems wrong when you are Saladin, King of the Arab Empire. Also, religion in the late game is almost never worth it. You don't want the Persians nuking you just because your religion conflicts with theirs, even though you have been at peace for 2000 years. Free Religion is almost a requirement late in the game, since it removes religious hatred. Too bad you can't just decide to piss everyone off and be Atheist!

The gameplay speeds are also a mixed bag. I like the ability to finish a game in 3 hours on the Quick setting, but the game just feels way too rushed. Early wars take hundreds or thousands of years on the Quick setting, and you usually don't discover even up to Computers until the 21st century. The Normal setting is more reasonable for single-player mode.

A lot of little things annoy me. The list of default civs does not include a civ for every combination of special powers. Where are the Philosophical Industrialists? The computer opponents still tend to gang up on the human player, even though they have much better targets closer to home. The AI can be very obtuse during trading even though your relations are good with them and the trade would be mutually beneficial.

The Bottom Line

Civ 4 is a greatly improved and expanded version of Civ 3. The gameplay is much more varied, subtle, and less random than in previous Civ games, and multiplayer is finally included in the first release. Civ 4 is buggy and a resource hog, but if you patch the game you will most likely have a better gaming experience (although much higher in difficulty) than in previous versions of Civilization and its imitators.