by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Few will contest that Civilization V was Firaxis’ most controversial release to date. The studio sought to innovate and refresh the series, introduced hexagon shaped map tiles on the strategic map and removed the ability to create infinite stacks of units. These changes were generally met with approval but these positives did not outweigh the negatives. A slew of popular features did not survive the “streamlining” process, leaving many fans unsatisfied with the end result.
For me, Civ V was a blank canvas, an opportunity to reboot a series that over the years had become suffocated by an overabundance of tacked on features. The core experience suffered as a result. Civilization: Beyond Earth takes advantage of that blank canvas by sending players to the stars.
Knee deep in Miasma
Earth is dying. Both nations and commercial organisations vie to save what is left of mankind, embarking on interplanetary missions to colonize alien worlds. Leading one such mission, you are tasked to select who you will work for and, more importantly, what to bring along for the journey. Will you pick landing thrusters that can slow your descent to the planet, allowing you to secure a more opportune location on the map? Or an extra worker to ensure a flying start growing your colony? The choices are varied and set the stage for your early expansion.
Once landed, the planet makes it abundantly clear that your new home is quite unlike the old. Green seas, flowing fields of purple grass, deep chasms into the planet’s surface... And it’s not particularly welcoming either. Miasma, a toxic gas that does harm to your units, prevents you from cultivating much of the surrounding land, alien lifeforms threaten to overrun your budding settlements and much of old-Earth’s tech will need to be adapted to the new environment before it will work.
Not all of Earth’s colonists have been as lucky as you either. Crashed pods of competing organisations add to the sobering reality that space travel is a dangerous pastime. When you’re not digging for resources at those crash sites, you’re treasure hunting in giant alien skeletons, temple ruins or downed satellites sent from earth decades ago to investigate the viability of supporting a human settlement.
Civilization: Beyond Earth’s harsh environment does little to hide the fact that it is a Civilization game at its very core, something it does not need to apologize for. Concepts such as research, culture and diplomacy all make an appearance, though few do so completely untouched by Firaxis “alien world” paintbrush.
The research tree, for instance, is more like a research web. It follows a much less linear path and effectively brings what would normally be considered late-stage technologies within reach as early as halfway through the game. Most techs follow familiar lines, focussing on improving your economy and opening up new resources to be used by your industry.
Things get interesting when you start researching Affinity related technologies. Affinities hook into the victory conditions and revolve around acquiring points towards Purity, Harmony and Supremacy. On paper, the differences between the three are vast; Aspiring to achieve Purity means staying close to your human roots and forcing the environment to adapt to you. Craving Harmony, your people work towards becoming one with the planet’s flora and fauna. And lastly, Supremacy attempts to merge human flesh with technology to the point that it is impossible to distinguish where the human ends and the robot begins.
A fun journey of discovery and adventure
Presentation is lacking, Affinity system could have been so much more.