Civilization IV review
Just five months ago we reviewed Civilization III: Complete,an updated version of a four-year-old game, with a warning that its release was primarily a teaser for the arrival this summer of the latest addition to the Civilization series.
Well summer has finally arrived, and so has the instant classic game that is Civilization IV.
At its heart, this is the same game as its three predecessors, a turn-based strategy game where you grapple with war and diplomacy, research and politics, resources and construction, to build up a successful world power from ancient history right up to modern times and beyond. But Civilization IV is different, and better, in so many ways that it stands as a game in its own right, not just a sequel like versions II and III. This means its different and challenging enough to satisfy die-hard fans without alienating them, while being the most accessible and engaging game in the Civilization series for new players.
There are a number of principal changes, the most noticeable of which is the new graphics engine, which finally brings Civilization into the realm of modern gaming. Previous versions have always been rather lacking in terms of visuals, focusing instead on the strategic elements of the game. Version IV, however, is quite simply gorgeous to look at, with fully realised 3D environments. And its not just colourful and vibrantly rendered scenery: animals roam the landscape, smoke billows from chimneys. Combine this with the rousing score and impressive sound effects, and this is the first Civilization game to really welcome players in and allow them to become immersed in the environment.
The downside of combining great graphics with Civilization IV's hefty number-crunching requirements is that this game will only run on the latest hardware. At least a 1.8GHz G5 or Intel Core processor is recommended, with a powerful graphics card. When we tried to run the game on an older G4-based Mac, it chugged along to a point that would frustrate all but the most casual gamer. And Civilization IV is not for casual gamers.
Be warned that once you get hooked, just as with the previous versions, Civilization IV will take up much too much of your time. A game will take many hours, or even days, to complete, and the fact that each game has a discernible endpoint once you've reached a certain goal, such as conquering a neighbouring civilization or researching a particular technology, makes it especially hard to resist just taking that one extra turn. However, some significant refinement to the gameplay has served to pick up the pace as you focus more on strategy and less on number crunching.
For example, when engaged in combat, each unit now has a single strength rating, rather than a separate one for attack and defense, making battles less complex. Countries now operate with proper borders, so you won't find your cities under attack unless you have an open border policy or your country is at war. Borders are expanded by either capturing neighbouring cities or by using your diplomatic or cultural influence to encroach into other countries' territories. A key part of your culture is its religion: you can adopt any of seven fictional religions, and neighbours of the same religion are more likely to get on.
Culture is also influenced by 'great people', for example a great artist can be used to produce an artistic masterpiece which creates a large number of culture points and so expands a city's borders. You can also have great scientists, military leaders or religious prophets, depending on which technologies you've chosen to research.