4000 B.C. and the game drops the Arabs in the middle of a lifeless desert. Great start.
Sid Meier hit the proverbial nail on the head with his Civilization series of games, nine in all under his helm: Civ, Civ II, Civ III, Civ IV, Civ V, Civilization Revolution, Colonization, Civ IV Colonization, and my personal favorite Alpha Centauri. (Partial history here). These games are hugely successful and highly lauded. Like some other wildly successful game, Civ is a cultural tour de force. Let’s see how the latest, Civ V, stands the test of time.
2011 being a future time playable in past civ games, the game world looks great. Everything looks natural, lush, and alive. The whole package, though, isn’t all up to the standards of the old Civ games. The high water mark for presentation in the Civ series is Civ II, now 15 years old. Back in the day this game came on a CD full of full motion video and real live .wav audio. You’re advisors were real live actors who gave you advice in their own words.
Now after 15 years of reverse progress, world wonders in Civ V are associated with a still image. Worse, winning the game also results in a still image. Games can take up to 10 hours or longer and mere placards that says you win is as pathetic as it is anticlimactic. Here is my reward of a whole week’s worth of free time:
I had a hard time containing my sense of accomplishment. Advisers do offer more helpful information, such as which civilization has the smallest army, but they also consist solely of a still image. At least competing leaders are given the 3-D treatment, but i wonder how much more effective their expressions would be if delivered by live actors.
The in game encyclopedia, the “Civilopedia” seems more quaint than backwards. In fact, it is quaint. It doesn’t link to Wikipedia or any other depository of deeper knowledge. Even fan made Civilopedias are more comprehensive. The developers made no effort to include breakthrough discoveries in anthropology and archeology such as theories in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” or the new discoveries into the Antikythera, and ancient computer that changed the we think about ancient technologies. Worse, some of the facts in the civilopedia are just plain wrong.
1000 A.D. and the desert still isn’t a good place to grow a city.
After playing several rounds Civ V, it is clear to me that the major focus of the developers was on rebranding Civ as a competent strategy game. Whereas war was once a tedious affair of waiting for the right technologies to take a city, now a decent strategist can take an entire country with only two units. I know because i did just that very thing back in January. My one mechanized infantry and one modern armor unit, gifted to me by two city states mind you, obliterated Japan’s outdated army and took its capital. Japan surrendered and ceded to me all but one of its cities. Then I after the peace treaty expired, I took that one city, ending the game for Japan. As said in “Hot Shots: Part Deux”, “War. It’s fantastic!”
1980 A.D. and technology finally lets my civilization break the mold.
All in all, Civ V is a fun game. I do hope and even expect Firaxis to improve the game with mods and patches. More diplomacy please. For example, diplomacy with city states is limited to bribing them with gold or completing certain tasks for them. There is no option to discuss trade or partnership outside of these two options. Partnerships with other civilizations are also limited. You can form pacts of cooperation and pacts of secrecy, but these pacts have no effect in the game. I have yet to play a game where the other civilizations agree to a defense pact. They rarely even want to form research agreements or trade resources. Yet, I hope that Firaxis can turn its dud of a diplomacy system into something as fun as the war game.
Civ V gives you a “Giant Death Robot” as a stand-in for future technologies.
One last note, the requirements to play Civ V are high. I was mad as heck when I first played Civ IV on my wife’s year old iMac. The game stuttered even after I dialed down the 3D effects until they looked like 2D effects. The end game was so slow and glitchy that I decided to quite trying to play and traded the game on Goozex. Now my wife has a quad core iMac which matches the insanely high recommended hardware for Civ V. But my personal machine is a laptop, and how many of us have a quad core laptop with a dedicated graphics card? Considering the core game of Civ in 1991 ran just fine a computer with a 16mhz processor and 2mb or RAM, I cannot understand why Firaxis requires its customers own a high end computer or custom gaming rig to play the latest iteration of its strategy game.
I think Firaxis should consider a 2-D version of Civ V for the rest of us. Civ III was a 2-D game and did not look significantly different from Civ IV if you dialed down the video settings in the latter game. Civ V already has a strategic view, which is a 2-D look at the game. For a lot of Civ players, this minimalistic 2-D view would be fine. More importantly, this minimalistic 2-D view would run on a lot of existing computers. Civ V is a decent seller (nearly 1/2 a million sold in the first 10 weeks according to VGcharts) but removing the onerous hardware requirements would increase Civ’s market by a gajillion percent. There’s always Freeciv (and it’s browser based cousin), I suppose.