Sid Meier's Civilization IV

very good
key review info
  • Game: Sid Meier's Civilization IV
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: N/a
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by: Ioan Sambeteanu
  • Show system requirements

Sid Meier's Civilization will remain in the history of games as one of the oldest and most successful turn-based strategy game concepts. While the core of the game remained unscathed, each Civilization release embodied a step further on the path of improvement. With its fourth reincarnation - although the real number of Civilizations is, if I am not mistaken, around ten - Civilization stepped into the 3D era, thus proving its legendary resourcefulness and worth. Each addition has shown how strong Civ's foundations actually are. Though fourteen years have passed from its birth, it shows no aging. It is like a jewel, its age gives its value. Each addition did nothing else than actually polish the otherwise forever to-date Civilization engine. It is unbelievable how many possibilities were hidden inside the game and how many more wait to be revealed.

Concept
The success of Civilization lies in its simple principle: having the control of a civilization, your task will be the conquest of all the other civilizations of a given world, while the means to attain this goal is the development of a powerful network of settlements. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to foresee the great potential of such a concept. The number of possibilities to achieve your goals increases in accordance to each variable introduced in the basic formula of the game. For each new difficulty you will have to encounter, there will always be a score of solutions for you to choose from. And, while the game basically remains the same, the styles of playing it and the ways to win it are virtually numberless as there is seemingly no limitation in the further development of its formula. The only real threat to the quality of such a game is the possible lack of inspiration of the developer. I believe there is no need to remember the legendary TBS games "Heroes of Might and Magic" and "Master Of Orion" and the legendary greed of their developers who, instead of further polishing their congenial gameplay, went on building something entirely different bearing the same name.

On the other hand, Civilization may present some silly aspects like U.N., Rock And Roll and Hollywood buildings. Another fine example of ingenuity is the fact that everybody may build Kremlin and that all political regimes have to be researched. In fact, Civilization is all about taking different states of things in our real world and implementing them as functional components (techs that provide researchers with bonuses). Do not expect to find any intuitive resemblance between the symbols, concepts and names you stumble across in the game and what you really know about them. Just use the "civilpedia" which - by the way - is a nuisance. Although it has almost any information you need, there are better chances to die of old age rather than finding what you were looking for.

Another shortcoming is that there is no clear difference between civilizations and there are no real research trees. Being the most advanced does not require you to find the best tech combinations. You simply have to research everything even if, in a couple of turns, some techs will become obsolete. After three or four games (as there is a strict development order), you will lose all your interest in technological research.

Gameplay
As I mentioned before, Civilization is a turn-based strategy game. Your sole purpose is the conquest of all known world. For this, there will be 18 (so-called) empires for you to choose from. Each of these empires has one special unit and starts with two basic technologies (agriculture, fishing, hunting, the wheel, mysticism or mining). On the other hand, each empire has a historical leader with two special abilities and a civic that it favors (see the tables bellow). Although some civilizations have two leaders, you will have to make do with only one. Do not let the numbers scare you. Actually, there are no major differences between the 18 nations. Watch carefully and you will see that they are the result of the combination between only eight abilities, which means 26 leaders. The only real difference between empires is their favorite civic, the face of their leaders and the special units. This means no real difference whatsoever. I am very disappointed as I expected diversity, not this "mambo-jumbo" arbitrary mix.

To achieve victory is not an easy task and building up a strong military force is a waste of time. Do not let yourselves fooled by the looks of military units. Every unit has a strength rating. Modern Armor and the Battle Ship are the strongest (40 points), while the Warrior and Quechua (2 points) and the Scout (1 point) are the weakest fighting units in the game. This number covers both the combat worth of the unit and its health. Thus, do not expect a 2 out of 40 Modern Armor to be able to assault successfully the positions of a healthy Musketman (9 points of strength). Even if the Modern Armor has the "first strike" ability (has an initial attack without receiving any counter damage), the Musketman will prove to be its nemesis.

To even the odds, each military unit has been endowed with a set of natural abilities such as terrain bonuses, or attack bonuses against other unit types (Spearmen receive attack bonuses against cavalry, Artillery works better against fortifications and so on). For every battle won, a military unit is awarded at least one point of experience. This may have an outcome in promotion. Promotions enhance units' combat abilities, and they are usually specific to their type (archery, armored, gunpowder, helicopter, melee, mounted, naval, recon, and siege). Many promotion abilities may prove very useful. For instance, improving the healing ability of a unit or choosing for an attack bonus against the unit types favored by your enemy may prove a wise decision.

Although Civilization IV seems a little deeper than its predecessors, there is no need to invest too much brain energy in its military aspect. I guess this will never be its strongest point. Do not try to conquer the entire planet as it may have dire consequences, starting with serious brain trauma and ending with flying computer monitor screens.

A smart tweak could have prevented tanks being blown to smithereens by axe-men or helicopters performing fireworks at the will of archers. Splitting units into two groups, soft and hard, ground and air, and providing them with a corresponding type of attack would have solved the problem. This way, an archer (soft attack) cannot even scratch a tank (hard unit), and a spearman (ground unit with ground attack) should not be able to attack a helicopter (air unit).

With this kind of combat system, declaring war to another civilization is a saga even for experienced players. Acting like a zerg may be helpful, but there isn't any guarantee that this strategy actually works. Defending units may also promote. Therefore, the city defenders become stronger with each failure to dislodge them.

In comparison, the diplomatic system has entered a new stage of complexity - satisfiable even for the most exacting tastes. Aside trading or giving away any resource found in the game, you can sign permanent alliances - two allied nations become as one, the only thing they do not share is the control over their cities and units, defensive pacts (if either one of the signatories is attacked by a third party, they will both join the war) and open borders (this is one of the best diplomatic options in the game as no one may enter your territory without your approval, or without declaring war to you, and it has a great commercial value).

Furthermore, almost everything you do affects your diplomatic relations. For instance, if you help someone's foe, refuse a favor, start a nuclear warfare, or are caught spying, do not expect any forgiveness. You may persuade your friends to engage your enemies into battle or make peace with them. Mutatis mutandis, if you declare war to a civilization, its allies will respond accordingly while your diplomatic relations with their friends may suffer greatly. (Friendship consists in the feelings of a leader towards another).

Thanks to this advanced diplomatic system, any aggressive behavior may end in a world war and sometimes defeat, if all the other are against it (and this is a bad thing). There is no way one could face a war against three players at the same time. (Like in all the other Civilizations, the AI still cheats. In some cases, in just one turn, a computer player may build three or four units). However, defensive players like me will find all this for the better, especially the fact no one may trespass their borders or declare them war for no reason.

Many appreciate Civilization just for this. There is no other strategy game to offer you a war free game experience. Well, not really, since some games, like Microprose's Master of Orion 2 could have been finished without engaging any hostilities. However, there was no way you could sweet-talk your foes out of it, or over encumber someone with gifts until he became your best friend.

Thanks to Civilization IV, I can - at last! - refer to all computer players as future friends, the much-needed support in my race for space conquest, world domination, cultural supremacy or the founding of the United Nations. Screwballs like me may even try to convince everyone to choose peace over everything.

War disrupts trade routes, and poor commerce is always bad for business. However, trade and commerce will increase naturally as soon as Single Currency and Free Trade resolutions are adopted. The first resolution increases the trade routes of all cities, while the second enables trade routes to function as though all civilizations have open borders with one another regardless of their diplomatic situation. To achieve them you will have to build the U.N. This way, you have a good chance to achieve diplomatic victory. You will see that ruling a rich civilization binds very well with this type of victory because votes definitely need to be bought.

Besides winning by eliminating all civilizations in the game or by being elected as a world leader (as I said, playing nice with everybody will do), you may also win the space race (construct all the components for a space ship that will have to reach Alpha Centaury). For you to manage this, you will need a powerful city at your disposal. Otherwise, it will take you a lifetime to complete the space project.

It has become harder to ensure your cities' improvement. With the population growth, the health and happiness levels decrease. Happiness is a key factor for the development of your cities. However, unlike the previous versions of the game, unhappiness does not produce major afflictions to your cities. Instead, unhappy citizens just refuse to work, and population level drops. To prevent this from happening, there will be several buildings at your disposal, but you can also improve the land area around the city to provide it with more health points.

However, happiness does not depend only on the health level of a city and its surroundings. War, upkeep, military presence, cultural influence and religion (another new thing in Civilization) also have a great influence on happiness.

There is no need to invest in both health and culture. You must see how they fit in your overall strategy. In Civilization IV you may also attain victory by cultural supremacy (control three cities with "legendary culture" and reach a specified number of cultural points in every city you control) or by world domination (control 75 % of the world population and 75% of the land area). These two types of victory exclude one another. For cultural victory, you will have to resume to a small number of cities with a high culture production. Controlling too many cities with a weak culture level will prevent you from winning the game.

On the other hand, having a powerful culture will help you conquer territories in a peaceful manner. Religion has an important role in this. City after city, they will join your civilization if your state religion is the same as theirs. You can spread your religion using missionaries. The advantages to religion are high, as you can gain benefits to happiness, culture, and commerce. Religion is also an important factor to your diplomatic relations. However, you can choose to not have a state religion, this way removing any diplomatic penalties caused by religion differences. To do this, you will have to research and adopt the free religion civic, which, of course, will remove any religion bonuses.

For domination, you will need both cultural and military power. While your powerful culture spreads over your adversaries' city, triggering riots and bringing them to your side, your armies should wreak havoc into your enemy lines (very improbable).

A totally new thing for this kind of TBS games is the implementation of great people (Aristotle, Elvis, and Beethoven for example). Some buildings (national wonders or world wonders) improve the odds of a great man's birth. However, the number of these buildings is reduced, and once again, you will have to rely on your culture production. Great people have some very useful abilities like starting a golden age or building special structures. They can also improve trading and research - genuine civilization boosters.

For those who seek a way to spend their free time, and hate breaking their necks in an effort to deploy a winning strategy, Civilization IV brings great news. If by the end of 2050 A.D. you have attained the best score, you will be considered victorious.
After you get used with the game (as it has a steep learning curve), you will surely notice that its eras are not so well balanced. The Stone Age passes too slowly, while all the others are nearly invisible. You will not even notice the Middle Age, as it will just pass by in a couple of turns. It depends on how fast you will develop a technology or another.

The fact the game does not have a political map is a little bit annoying. Another problem is that building tasks do not stack, but replace the older ones. You must use "ctrl" in order to prevent this. Furthermore, you cannot change the order of your building projects without resetting their progress. If let's say, I was working on the Manhattan Project (and it took about 30 turns…), what should I do with my keyboard besides break it in pieces?

Those new with this game will not be pleased to find out that some essential options and functions were not implemented in the interface. I understand that Civilization addresses mostly to its fans, but it isn't right for a casual player to search the manual for key binds and shortcuts in order to fully benefit from what the game has to offer.

Video
Civilization 4 uses the "Gamebryo" 3D engine (the same used in "Sid Meier's Pirates!") which allows zooming smoothly from space (world map) down to individual cities.

The leaders' faces look incredibly well. Their natural mimic was obtained by imitating the human physiology. Each face is made of several components: eyeballs, skull and facial muscles. It probably took more time to finish the faces than it took for the entire game development.

Otherwise, do not expect to meet exquisite graphics. Despite the full 3D world shows cities with all their important structures and some quite good-looking unit and object models, it will not throw anyone off his chair. I know this is not the case, but the lack of proportion between objects may be some times hilarious.

Sound
I must bow to the Civilization sound track. It is literally a piece of art. Each era features its own gallery. Bach (Pre-Classic/Baroque), Desprez and da Palestrina (Renaissance), Mozart, and Beethoven (Classical), Brahms, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov and Saint-Saëns (Romantic), John Adams (Minimalism), Jeff Briggs are just some of the composers whose works you will have the honor to listen to throughout the game. The introduction music "Baba Yetu" is composed by Christopher Tin and sung by Talisman A Cappella, and is based on the Swahili "Lord's Prayer" (in translation). Furthermore, in the diplomacy screen, all leaders have their own unique music.

The sound ambiance is full 3D but not as spectacular as the music themes. While zooming in and out may sometimes break the monotony (you really must try it), the overall sound effects of the game could have been dropped entirely.

I almost forgot to mention that the narration voice acting behind Civilization is done by Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock, the Vulcan in the early series of Star Trek from 1966 to 1969).

Multiplayer
As any respectable turn-based game, Civilization IV supports everything from play-by-e-mail and hotseat multiplayer to LAN and Internet play. Thanks to the game's newly implemented "quick" speed setting, a multi-player game may actually be finished.

Conclusion
While Civilization's battle system leaves even a cow unimpressed, it makes for its unique victory requirements and ways to achieve it. However, those of you who are not fond of TBSs in general, and Civilization in particular, there is nothing in this sequel that could change your views. After three or four days of non-stop play, the game evens the odds by becoming boring. There are too many silly things throughout the game (one of the best is the civic manager: changing political order like underwear) and I am not one of those who find such things amusing.


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story 0
gameplay 8
concept 10
graphics 8
audio 10
multiplayer 9
final rating 8.5
Editor's review
very good
 
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