Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: October 26, 2005
Buy 'SID MEIER'S CIVILIZATION IV': PC
Go ahead. Play Civilization 4 for "just one more turn." I double dare you. Damn near every time I tried, I was in danger of seeing the sun come up.
Civilization 3 was a game that owned my soul, but it had lots of little problems. The developer's attempt to keep you from building too many cities was to introduce Corruption, which overdid it and was extremely difficult to counter. The combat model was a little out of whack — the oft-used example is of a Panzer tank being defeated by a spearman. It took them two expansion packs to get multiplayer even close to working.
Civilization 4 is as much a "fix what was broken in Civ 3" as it is introducing new things. Corruption is gone, and now you get hit with a maintenance fee when you get a lot of cities. The combat model is much better, and it's less likely you'll be able to steamroll your opponents. Multiplayer actually works out of the box. It's really what Civ 3 should have been.
It's not all do-overs though. One big addition is religion, which is handled in an interesting way. Each religion gives your people minor bonuses — mostly cultural — and now your opponents will not so subtly encourage you to convert to their religion. If you say no, you run the risk of him declaring war on you. It's not as drastic as in real life, though; fewer people are killed in some god's name in Civ 4 than in reality, and that's a good thing. There also isn't an option for a religious victory (which means Pat Robertson probably won't be playing this) so its improvements are subtler.
My favorite change is how Civilization 4 handles border management, which previously required tons of micromanagement. You first had to notice there was an enemy unit in your turf and then repeatedly tell them to leave, which in many cases resulted in them getting a free trip to the other side of your country. Now, by default, all your borders are closed and you must enter into an Open Borders treaty with someone for them to intrude on your lands. This has a twofold result: you spend less time micromanaging; and someone can't tell you've left a key city practically undefended.
As in previous Civilizations, you choose a historical world leader who has a handful of documented plusses and minuses, as well as a special unit. The idea is to win by a handful of victory conditions (conquest, diplomatic, space race, highest score after 2000 years, etc.) which give you great flexibility in how you play the game. Do you try to conquer everyone with war or kindness?
War is now truly hell. In previous incarnations, the various victory conditions were there to give some variety, but the bulk of the game was spent kicking your opponents' collective asses. In addition to not being able to scout lands willy-nilly, cities now get inherent defense bonuses. You can also promote experienced troops to add to city defense and build other defenses on top of that. This means wars can now last for centuries, and for little gain, which forces you to take a more diplomatic angle and negotiate for things to which you don't have easy access. This also means you'll need to pay close attention to your resources and try and get them before they do. I fought a 200-year war for some iron I wouldn't have needed to if I were more on the ball.
Civilization 4's diplomatic model has also been improved. In addition to trading resources and tech, you can now encourage your opponents to change religions, attack or make peace with another player, and sign mutual defense treaties. Your opponents will remember when you've been disinclined to acquiesce to their requests (that means "no," so it's in your best interest to say "yes" every now and then, especially when the alternative is a lengthy, costly war). I've usually been a "wipe them out, all of them" kinda guy, but just how hard it is to wage war has forced me to take a different direction. The diplomatic improvements also make it easier for a defensive person to turtle-down and focus on culture.
As your civilization grows in culture, it may generate a "great person." This person will allow you to expend them to either get a new technology or create a work of art that may generate literally thousands of culture points for your civ.
This go-around also moves the series into the world of 3D graphics, and with mixed results. The good part is that it's now one move of the mouse-wheel to zoom from city view all the way out to the world view. It's very intuitive to zoom in and out, and since it's 3D, you can adjust the zoom rate to be just where you want it. The bad part is the zoomed-in graphics aren't all that hot; the unit models just didn't do it for me. The terrain looks great, though. While the basic interface is there — you can toggle on-screen elements like resources, and access your advisers easily — the problem is that it seems to take one or two more mouse-clicks than it should to accomplish tasks. With the diplomatic adviser, if you are done with one leader and want to talk to another, you'll have to re-pick the foreign adviser button, as you'll have been dropped back to the main game screen. It's also not entirely stable as I had an above-average amount of crashes, with one coming right as I was saving the game (ouch!).
Firaxis has made an attempt to speed up the title by adding in a "quick game" setting. This setting increases the amount of gold and production generated, which really helps move the game along, especially in multiplayer mode. Speaking of multiplayer, it actually works this time around. You can play either through GameSpy Arcade, LAN, hot-seat, or play-by-email. If you use the quick-game setting, the game will move along at a decent pace. PBEM is the longest though, and not many players have the stamina to see it through to the end.
One thing's for sure: Civilization 4 is a virtual guarantee to keep you up into the wee hours, playing "just one more turn…." Flaws aside, any game that makes me see the sun come up is a great one.
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