Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: Spring 2008 (PS3/360/DS), Fall 2008 (Wii)
To call Civilization console-agnostic would be a misnomer. In actuality, it's just been a long damn time since Sid Meier's turn-based world-beating sim last made a console appearance. Almost a decade, in fact — Civilization II for PSone popped up in 1998 (following the original Civilization for Super Nintendo in 1994), and since then, the closest the series has come to escaping the clutches of computer gaming is an N-Gage version that quietly shipped early last year.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when Civilization Revolution was announced a couple of weeks before the E3 Media & Business Summit, where 2K Games gave us a brief look at the console/handheld-exclusive reinvention of the long-running PC franchise. Several reasons for its genesis were brought up over the course of the demo, and the first might surprise some in its utter simplicity.
"Sid really just started getting into a lot more console games," claimed Barry Caudill, executive producer at Firaxis Games. "His son started playing; he started playing."
As Meier delved into the world of console gaming, he started thinking up ways to bring the Civilization experience into homes without relying on established PC gaming archetypes. "He started getting ideas, like 'I think that we can make a game that more accessible than the PC stuff,'" said Caudill. "If you're a guy that's never played Civ and if you're just going to sit down for the first time and play Civ IV, it's a daunting thing. You really need to be indoctrinated into the Civ world to jump into that."
"So, we decided, well … let's go for a new audience," said Caudill. "Let's make it a little easier to get into. Let's make it more inviting. Let's up the display. Let's really make it so that it's an engaging game that invites you in."
Several of those proverbial birds were axed with a single stone in the form of a significant visual overhaul. We were shown the Xbox 360 version of Civilization Revolution, and while it had the look of a game still several months away from release, it also bore an appealing design aesthetic that was slightly cartoonish and in some ways similar to claymation. Little touches give the game a little something extra, whether it's the individual arrows that stick out of a character during (and after) battle, or the altered outfits that adorn upgraded units.
When dealing with rulers of other civilizations, players will no longer see a static image. Instead, icons like Cleopatra and Napoleon are represented by fully animated character models that react to your every strategic whim. Their reactions will differ depending on the situation, as evidenced by a pair of dealings with Napoleon. At one point, he bristled when our pointer was over the option that would lead us to war, but later on, after he had accumulated more resources, he was cockier when the option was being considered. Should you choose to battle such an opponent, a smaller version of the character will appear in the corner of your screen, mocking you endlessly or panicking in defeat.
Along with a visual upgrade comes a definite simplification of gameplay, as the developers want players to be able to conquer the world without leaving the game screen. Not only does this mean that pre-rendered cinematics are out — so are menus, for the most part. Additionally, many of the units in the game will adapt to situations, moving into position to attack when needed. "We don't want you to have to micro-manage," said Caudill. "If the ship is in the right position, and battle happens, and it makes sense for it to fire, then it fires."
Civilization Revolution will ship with 16 playable civilizations, with each taking about two to three hours to complete. Each will be marked by distinctly altered architecture, units, and play styles, giving players incentive to conquer each and every civilization thrown at them. And what greets you upon your domination of the world? A victory dance, complete with fireworks, dancing characters, hydraulic-rocking tanks and catapults.
"Sid actually really wanted this, and he came to us and said, 'You know what would be great is that after you've won, the units all dance,'" said Jacob Solomon, programmer at Firaxis. "And we were like, 'I don't know about that.' But he's the big guy, so he gets what he wants. And actually, when we put it in, it was pretty cool." A quick glance around the map revealed that recently fallen foes had reemerged and were also partaking in the celebration. "These guys look like they were born to dance," joked Solomon.
Caudill claims that Civilization IV came the closest to delivering the best possible multiplayer experience for the franchise, but fell a bit short — something they want to rectify with Revolution. Scaling it back a bit was a major priority for Firaxis, and as such, Revolution will support just four simultaneous players. Free for All, two vs. two, and one-on-one duels are all planned, and Caudill expects that a multiplayer match should take no more than two to three hours to complete (much like the single-player civilizations).
Downloadable content is also expected for the game, including gamer pictures (on the Xbox 360), new multiplayer maps, and possibly even new single-player civilizations. And while nothing is confirmed, Caudill noted that Sony has been sending over information and assets for Home with the hopes of integrating the forthcoming social network with Civilization Revolution.
The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo DS versions of Civilization Revolution are currently planned for release next spring, while the Wii iteration will follow in the fall. As the Wii version was not originally planned, it will take Firaxis a few more months to get it out to retail, as everything is being done in-house and Meier is directly involved with the development across all platforms. Stretching their talent across four releases (along with other, non-Revolution projects) meant that a potential PSP version had to be passed over, though Caudill admits to being a huge fan of the handheld.
Firaxis is blazing new trails with Civilization Revolution, both for the franchise and for the console strategy genre. "We're bringing something to the current gen of consoles that really hasn't been done," said Caudill. Added Solomon: "We think this is the way to do strategy on the consoles."
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