by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Hell froze over
Just when I thought I understood all the gameplay concepts and mechanics that the various Civilization games had to offer, Firaxis shows me that they're capable of re-inventing their flagship game. The difference between the three (some would argue four if you'd include CivNet) previous games in the franchise, weren't all that big. Civilization II added some new content but essentially it was Civilization I with better graphics. The third installment wasn't all that different either but besides pushing the graphics up a considerable notch, it added Culture. Culture made sure you never took your subjects for granted and had the nasty habit of surprising you when you really couldn't afford any surprises. Still, this wasn't a huge change from the original DOS game from back in 1991. Fourteen years already? I'm getting old...
Enter Civilization IV. Take everything you know about Civilization, throw it out the window, reach out to haul the land grab and city building gameplay mechanics back inside and you have a good start to begin realizing how much the fourth installment in the series has changed. Yes I realize that the basics are still there, but just about everything else has changed!
Faster? Not really...
It's interesting to read Sid and others within Firaxis say that they've tried to appeal to RTS gamers too. I don't see it. Civilization is still very much a Turn Based Strategy game. I've read reviews that say that the game is so fast now. I don't see that either. It's true that your cities develop a little faster because building times are much shorter and that research has been speeded up a fair bit as well. Not only do buildings require less production resources to complete, cities also no longer suffer any corruption penalties. I can't begin to express what a relieve it is to be rid of that, good call Firaxis! Research has roughly been sped up by a factor three which greatly adds to the feeling that you're actually achieving something. So far these seem time reducing measures but although they give you the 'sense' that everything is moving along at a faster pace, other things actually seem to move a little slower.
Battles for instance. All units are beautifully rendered and Firaxis pulled all stops to animate them in such a way that you never seem to get bored watching them fight. Odds are however that your first attack will fail miserably. Reason? The way battle outcomes are calculated has had an extreme makeover, and then some.
Changing the rules of war
Starting with the units, there are no offensive and defensive ratings anymore. They're gone out the window that I told you to use earlier. (You did, didn't you?) They have been replaced by a single power rating that in many cases have been enhanced by bonuses and can be customized as the unit gains experience. A unit may start out with for instance an extra bonus for city defense but you can alter its chances outside of the city as well by awarding it additional bonuses like a city attack bonus, extra basic strength or increased performance against mounted units. You can even assign a medic bonus which increases the healing speed of all units in its stack. So you see there's a good amount of variation in bonuses and you will likely end up tooling your units into different specializations.
On top of that, the bonus system for defensive positions like hills and cities has been revised as well. Especially cities have become 'little surprises on the path of conquest'. Cities with a defensive bonus of 60% are no exception in Civ IV and attacking such a city can put an end to your plans in a hurry. You'll also have to decide from which direction you will stage your attack. Attacking across river's for instance, decrease your attack strength considerably and more than once I've seen an army of over 15 units fail to even take out a single unit in a stack of six or seven! Before you despair however, it's good to note that Catapults and other bombarding units are fantastic to soften up these cities before sending in the rest of your army. In fact, these units have been restored to their full glory; Unlike in Civ III, they can actually destroy units again and their ability to do collateral damage can quickly turn the battle to your favor.
No Pros and Cons at this time