Civilization IV Review (PC)

What is it about that ‘end turn’ button which means you just have to press it again? Last time I glanced up at the clock it was 11pm, then 2am, then 4am, then 7am and by this point I think I may *actually* be bent on world domination. But… just…one…more…turn….

Sid Meier is well known for his lion hatred
As with previous games, captured settlements can be hilariously renamed

This is Civ. Labelling it the latest incarnation of the most amazing turn-based strategy series ever made just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Let’s get a few things straight. This is an amazing game, and there was never any doubt it would be. It’s easily the best strategy game I’ve played for years. But the real question isn’t how great this game is compared to other games, it’s how great the game is compared to previous Civs – and that just isn’t something anyone will know the answer to for a long time yet. Civ is a complicated game, it takes a long time to play a single game, and it takes a lot of games to get a real grip of the strategy.

With that in mind, I’ll let you imagine the superfluous praise I should be inserting all over the place to cut back on the word count.

Here’s a quick-fire update for those new to Civ. You start the game in 4000 BC with a unit of settlers and a unit of warriors, and from there you found and expand a civilisation. In a massive drawn-out conflict of strategy you then have to balance war, diplomacy, infrastructure, expansion, technology, happiness, trade and so on until you lose, you win, or the game reaches the date 2500AD (it won’t happen, it just won’t) and ends. Got it? Good, so what’s changed from previous Civs?

There’s been one hell of a reshuffle this time round. Civ III was criticised for being overly complicated, personally I loved the game to bits. So apparently this inspired a desire by Sid Meier to change how some parts of the game work; although, I fail to see many, if any, areas which have actually been simplified. But who cares about simplicity anyway?

There’s a new 3D graphics engine (really? I didn’t notice), which looks nice enough. Unit health is now represented by the amount of models on the map, and battles are now slightly more aesthetically pleasing. I’m not entirely convinced about the necessity for this though; consider that chess is the most prolific turn-based strategy game on the planet, and then consider its appearance. But hey, there’s no harm I suppose.

Religion is now a major part of the game
Completing unique buildings rewards the player with a cut-scene

Perhaps the most fundamental change in game concept is the new role of religion in the game. There are seven religions, all of which are functionally identical. They are triggered by the first discovery of specific techs. For example, upon completing research of Meditation, providing you are the first to discover it, Buddhism will take root in one of your settlements which become the holy city of that religion. The ideology then spreads through your people along trade routes and so forth, eventually becoming significant in other settlements (not necessarily only your own). At which point you may choose to adopt a specific religion as your state religion. You then gain bonuses relative to the proportion of your population whom follow said religion.

The old government system, which involved pro-longed periods of revolution and specific systems of governments with defined characteristics and benefits, has been completely done away with. Your ruling infrastructure is now determined by a set of things called Civics. These fit into five categories (Legal, Economy, Government, etc.). Your government type can essentially be customized as you choose one civic from each category. Civics consist of things such as Slave Labour (allows rush production at a cost of population) and Free Religion (gives benefits for multiple religions in one city).

These two elements combined (Religion and Civics) have a powerful effect on the diplomacy system; which in all fairness hasn’t otherwise changed much. Opposing civilizations with differing ideology will be much more hostile towards you. This adds a very nice layer of strategy when attempting to determine which state religion to go for, bearing in mind who you wish to be friends with and which techs you wish to research. Aside from burning the heathens at the stake, your other option is to ask them to change their Religion or Civics to match yours but the AI is very reluctant to do this.

I was extremely pleased to see the inclusion of multiplayer (hot-seat and internet) with the boxed version of the game, thus eliminating the previously obligatory ‘multiplayer add-on’. Let me tell you, if you think Civs addictive one-player, just get a few friends round and fire up an epic hot-seat game. 28 hours of raw Civ later you may regret it, but you’ll enjoy it at the time. I recommend making food preparations well in advance, because you simply won’t remember to eat otherwise.

Civ IV allows full camera zoom control
The new Civic system in all it's customizable complexity

Top game moment: The first 30-40 turns always does it for me – claiming the land, discovering other civs, choosing your tech path, battling lions, and so on.

Civ IV is addictive, compelling, and a tribute to the series. There’s even a nice little tutorial dictated by the genius creator himself so all the new kids can get in on this one. It seems there’s actually nothing negative worth saying about the game, but why expect anything less of Sid Meier? It’s brilliant; full-stop; end.

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