Civilization: Call to Power

Civilization: Call to Power, the next generation of the much-acclaimed Civilization game series, seems to have a lot going for it. Good sound, speedy action, and impressive cut scenes. But in the end, this new installment just doesn't seem very fun, and doesn't hold a gamer's attention well enough to measure up to the standard set by its predecessors.

As with previous entries in the Civ series, the goal of Call to Power is to manage a civilization from the dawn of history (4,000 B.C.) to the creation of a synthetic alien life form in 3,000 A.D. You do this by having the people who populate the game's world create cities and improve them over time. Armies are needed to defend your civilization from other civilizations that may want to take your resources, land, or people. Additionally, your civilization will discover new technologies over time that allow your citizens to be more productive and do newer (and often better) things like build spacecraft. Think SimCity with an actual goal -- it can be incredibly addictive when done right.

Credit Where It's Due

CTP's presentation is quite impressive. The game has good movies, sound effects, a decent soundtrack, and strong animated graphics. From the beginning of the game to the end, you're shown movies and animations about what your people are doing.

And they're sure doing a lot. CTP is much more sophisticated than its predecessors. While the game makes few changes from the fundamental Civilization engine, it does add a lot of features and rules. For example, there's a whole slave/abolitionist thing happening that's not present in Civilization II. Some of these rules changes are really nice features. One I especially liked was that adding terrain improvements such as farms and mines now comes out of a big public works budget, so you're not forced to support individual engineering teams out in the field.

To help you get up to speed with all of this new stuff, CTP has a good tutorial that teaches you all you need to know. It takes about half an hour to run through it, but it's a much faster way to learn how to play than reading the instructions.

In addition to playing against the computer, you can play against other humans either via TCP/IP on on a local network. We tried both methods out, and they worked well -- it's simply more fun to play against other humans than against computer opponents.

CTP also runs well. We didn't encounter a single bug or crash during our testing of the game. Westlake Interactive definitely deserves kudos for porting the game from the PC.

What Went Wrong?

It's hard to put a finger on exactly what went wrong with this much-anticipated release that make it a disappointment. However, there are some things that no amount of multimedia and polish can cover up.

The most glaring problem is the game's control interface. It's not remotely Mac-like, though that's common for games ported from Windows. It's quite attractive to look at, but is difficult to use, even for experienced gamers. Even after days of playing, I had trouble using the controls.

Some of the rules changes and added features in CTP are unrealistic and silly. There is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief needed to play any computer game, but strategy games need to be realistic enough for a player to become immersed in the world they're playing in. For example, CTP features televangelists that you can use to sway other civilizations. Are televangelists that important? Could one wander over to a fascist dictatorship and sway that country's people without simply being taken out back and shot by the local secret police?

Additionally, it appears that many Civilization staples were changed in CTP simply for change's sake, without thought about realism or consistency. For example, national leaders are allowed to build "wonders of the world" -- a staple of every civilization-building game. Now, every armchair monarch wants to build some pyramids. But CTP has given pyramids the shaft; instead, you're left with the option of building a Sphinx. In fact, all of Civilization's traditional wonders of the world have been replaced. While the new wonders are less Eurocentric, it would've been better to add new wonders to the traditional set.

Finally, CTP's game play is slow and generally uneventful. Once you have gone through the game, the thrill of discovering new improvements, units, and wonders of the world wears off, and the fun of the game is what determines its replayability. CTP's lack of realism and off-the-wall units discourage players from really getting into the game, and that is crucial for enjoying this type of game.

CTP is like a much-hyped, big-budget blockbuster movie that somehow falls flat. The graphics are excellent. The sound is good. The program isn't buggy and is generally well executed. But the game lacks that final, quintessential element -- it just doesn't feel fun. The interface is tricky to use and allows even experienced users to make mistakes. CTP draws directly upon Civilization II's basic game engine, but changes many of the elements plugged into that engine. In many cases, added game features seem arbitrary, selected for inclusion not because they enhance the game but simply to bulk it up. The result is a vague jumping-through-someone-else's-hoops feeling and not the suspension of disbelief necessary for a good long strategy game.

Civilization: Call to Power is worth a peek -- but unfortunately, it's a peek from the bargain bin.


3.0 mice
PROS: Good graphics and sound, solid performance, multiplayer options. CONS: Confusing interface, tired gameplay, arbitrary innovation. COMPANY: MacSoft (800-229-2714, ). STREET PRICE: $45.

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