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PC Preview - 'Civilization IV'

by Paul Reith on July 11, 2005 @ 3:18 a.m. PDT

The fourth game in the PC strategy series that has sold over five million copies, Sid Meier's Civilization IV is a bold step forward for the franchise, with spectacular new 3D graphics and all-new single and multiplayer content. Civilization IV will also set a new standard for user-modification, allowing gamers to create their own add-ons using the standard Python and XML scripting languages.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: November 2005

If you’ve been a fan of PC strategy games in any part of your life, the name Sid Meier had better ring a bell. Of the creations masterminded by Sid, Civilization is one of the most revered franchises of all time. The concept of leading a civilization through history while it meets, trades with, and even makes war with other civilizations throughout the game is an addictive proposition. Taking the helm as one of the great leaders of all time to control a society and build it in your image is quite good for the ego and can serve your needs as a megalomaniac very well.

So, what is Civilization IV going to bring to the table to make it the next great accomplishment of the series? Many things, but the greatest is Civ IV’s launch into 3D graphics. For starters, Civ’s new world view is of a globe with displays of top-level information as your view of Earth wraps around to either side. There is an arrow attached to the location icons, which helps display the location of a given icon relative to your position, by rotating the arrow around the icon.

Focus on your city with the smoothest and continually variable zoom feature to have a close look at what’s going on. Close-up zooms work great to see what developments have been made and which units are present. Tiles currently in use (e.g. mines) are animated when utilized by your people, so gamers can tell with a brief look if their city is properly staffed.

Even better, when you click on a unit, it will respond in the language of your selected region, so it would be cool to know Mandarin if you choose to be Chairman Mao as the leader of your Chinese civilization. This feature really validates the concept of the game in the development of world history, as multiculturalism and the many languages of Earth are often overlooked in games targeted at North America. Who knows, maybe by the time Civ IV is released, it will also include a little tutorial to teach you what each unit is saying and how to say it.

An interesting change in the development of Civ IV is the modification of how religion is used in the game. Gone are the days where you could merely discover religion, as Civilization evolves to let religion be the penetrating, viral social entity it exists as in human reality. Now, religion can spread throughout the globe, across political borders, and use it to your civilization’s advantage. Before you get all excited about how there is some way that Civ IV uses religion to make a political or religious statement about what’s right or wrong, do us all a favor and refrain.

The incorporation of religion is still very crude, and as a result all religions are weighted equally, not to imply that they are, but to highlight some of the strategic traits promoting a religion has for a civilization. It is not relevant whether one religion is better than the other; what is relevant is that Civilization IV uses the concept of religion as a bridge between and into other civilizations, as a means to open borders or gain line of sight into another civilization’s land through the establishment of your religion in those distant lands. While this may not seem to be much of a rendition of religion in Civ IV, the game is finally enabling religion as a strategic element in the development and expansion of a civilization.

Moving on from the potentially sensitive topic of religion, we introduce you to the great people. These are masterful units within your civilization that possess specific traits to spur discoveries in your cities. Combining the presence of multiple great people in one city can create a golden age, and if you are talented, you can enter a golden age four times over the course of your game. These talented folks are also able to get those ever-elusive great works done for your civilization to prosper and flourish with technical and cultural advantages.

Military units also see functional enhancements in Civ IV. Introducing concepts like medics and tile-based performance attributes modernizes the relational interface Civ IV uses while consolidating the attack/defense attribute scores. This makes Civilization IV more realistic in the existence of areas that are uniquely difficult or easy to defend, moving some of the tactical strategy from the units to the physical characteristics of the domain.

Civilization IV will incorporate 18 unique civilizations in the game, and 26 of the greatest leaders of all time will be present in the game for you to choose to lead your civilization. Of course, you will recognize the greats like Louis XIV, Mao, and Napoleon as always, so don’t get worried, as the only change on this front is a bit of expansion.

On the other hand, the simplistic government interface is gone. That’s right; Firaxis finally tossed it in favor of a more complex model to better represent management of the state through five main categories. Government is still around as a sub-section, but we also have Legal, Labor and Economics to create a more variable experience. The fifth cultural category for management is the aforementioned element of Civ IV called Religion. The sum of these five parts makes for a far more customizable civilization to build it in your image.

Multiple modes are being developed for the Civilization IV multiplayer experience. Play-by-email is a turn-based format that lets you make a move, and then the next player will be notified it is their turn. While it will possibly create the most waiting of all the modes, it is undoubtedly the most favored mode among hardcore Civilization fans. Also, the hot-seat mode features a local multiplayer version where multiple players take turns at their moves on the same PC.

The other three modes are more active online styles for this turn-based strategy game. The shortest mode is a quick game lasting 45 minutes to two hours. Normal online matches last two to four hours, and players really have some time to battle it out. The longest mode is Epic, where players get the "full monty" of civilization taking on each other from start to finish, with the last gamer standing as the winner. Online stats for the game will include competitive rankings and relativistic scoring, like scores by civilization.

Leaders of other civilizations also have a bit of a different activity level in Civilization IV. Here’s one to watch out for – we call it "getting smitten" There’s a certain Egyptian leader who might get a bit frisky with you when she really likes you; give her something at the height of her friendly favor, and she might not let you leave without angering her!

Visual representation of the leaders has been improved, with their animated busts showing up in the game when you interact with them. Likenesses to the actual leader have been made where possible, as even Alexander’s pompous attitude and butt-chin made it into the game. So far, Firaxis has managed to keep voice-overs out of the game for these dialogues, and we hope they do. Not only is it impossible to give a famous person a voice that every gamer will agree is correct, but it will also become one of those features that everyone clicks through, so why waste the development dollars?

Finally, Civilization hopes to grab center stage once again in the strategy genre by introducing the most customizable environment ever. Producer Jesse Smith called customizable world design of Civ IV the "four-layer taco" to describe just how the game will be potentially cherished by modders everywhere. The Worldbuilder will allow you to place units, trade resources, and features like moats around the dumb-but-tough barbarians.

Civilization IV features XML data of the game, so you can mod everything from combat strength to city size at the outset, basically giving you a license for your own stupidity, so that you can destroy all of Shanghai with a single arrow. Additionally, the use of Python scripting language for the interface, events, and map scripts allows those who know Python to tweak the game even further. Finally, you can even modify game SDK, allowing you to control AI combat, interaction, and even the effectiveness of bombardment throughout the game.

Overall, Civilization IV is looking pretty good at this point. With the additional development complexities, 3D environment, and more interaction with leaders of other civilizations, it might restore the Civilization franchise after a rushed release of Civ III. Keep an eye out, and watch for the custom mods when Civ IV hits the street – we can’t wait to see what people are going to do!

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