A classic gets another expansion, but is the veneer beginning to dull on this great series?
The latest iteration of Civilization follows on from the hugely successful and critically acclaimed Civ IV, with which it shares a name, but this is no mere expansion. This standalone title features an updated version of the Gamebryo engine that powered the original, and a host of new mechanics to bring to game playing life the period of European colonisation of the Americas.
The basic mechanic is an intriguing one. You pick one of four colonial powers, and then pick a leader that suits the kind of gameplay you’re looking for. It’s a choice of eight in total, and whether you want to for an economic victory or a military one, you should be able to find something that suits. But, unlike in other Civ titles, you are not the top of the foodchain – rather, you’re a mere colonial power, and you still have to deal with your European parent.
Essentially, you’re a middleman, and game’s core balance is built around the need to build a thriving a colony, deal with natives and other powers, and keep the King happy back home. It’s actually quite an interesting challenge, and this is helped by the fact that the random natives you find around the map are more than just updated versions of Barbarians from other Civ games. Instead, there are village leaders, and entire native empires, that you can trade with, form treaties... in fact they are more like smaller ‘nations’.
So, like our historical forebears, you’ll be faced with the choice to play nice or, essentially, seed native villages with TB infected bedsheets.
On the other hand, as we’ve said, there’s your King, and he’ll spend his time raising taxes, calling for money to build up the home fleet and so on. Again, you can play nice, or have a [insert commodity here] Party, just like the American Colonies did before the War of Independence. And when you do eventually declare independence you’ll need to fight off an angry European army hell-bent on reclaiming its land. And do it, successfully, before any of your neighbours.
The lower-end gameplay is all pretty much identical, though there are some tweaks. You can swap your population into and out of set roles within each settlement, or the military. This means you can have all hands working at producing food, but then beat those ploughshares into swords when you need to see off an uppity native or delegation from King Inbred the XIII. Trade is also a more important part of the game, with local prices and those in Europe (which you’ll return to lot to find colonists) fluctuating as the game progresses.
It holds together pretty well, bringing a fresh take on the old gameplay, but it’s not a perfect re-thinking. For one, the whole trade and goods management angle is a little obtuse, and seems to get in the way of the meatier parts of the game. Plus, more than any previous Civ game, there are long stretches of turn after turn of just hitting Enter to go to the next turn because there is nothing to do – hardly a great gameplay improvement!
Finally, there’s the question of old wounds. Without getting too preachy, is it a wise move to reduce the colonial age and all its atrocities to such a light and brightly coloured experience? We’ll leave that to others to answer, but it’s certainly a question that has occurred to more than one observer.
Civ fans will likely find something to like here, we admit, but to our mind Colonisation lacks that certain... addictiveness that typifies a truly great Civ game.
This Review appeared in the November, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine