First Look: First Look: Civilization IV

For history and world affairs buffs, there’s just something greatly appealing about Sid Meier’s Civilization IV. In this strategy game, you build a civilization up from spearmen and triremes to mechanized infantry and battleships.

For those unfamiliar with this epic series, the game allows you to create and evolve a civilization through the ages (4000 BC to 2050 AD), beginning with basic scout units all the way up to nuclear weapons. Researching science has practical benefits for your society—discovering bronze working, for example, eventually leads its way to other metallurgical innovations. Building cultural improvements can help you, as well—the creation of libraries may make it more likely that your civilization will produce great researchers who will further accelerate the march of progress. You can establish trade routes with your neighbors, enabling you to sell surplus goods and material, and gain access to things you can’t create on your own. You can defeat other civilizations by conquering them or surpassing them through more peaceful means, which includes being the first civilization to reach Alpha Centauri.

The newest update to the series, Civilization IV, takes the already long and complex game to a whole new level. Like previous iterations of the strategic turn-based game, it introduces new nations—such as the Arabians—new technology— such as paper—and new wonders of the world— try Hollywood on for size. It also introduces new concepts (like religion) to the game, making it a better and better simulation of the real world.

In Civilization IV, Hollywood joins the wonders of the world that you can construct to add glory to your civilization.

At first, Civilization IV plays very much like the previous editions of the game. The game comes as a Universal Binary, so I tested the game on both a 1.83GHz MacBook with 512MB of RAM and on my Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5 with 2.5 GB RAM. Thanks to the extra RAM, the game ran a bit smoother on the PowerPC-based G5, but it was still fully playable on the MacBook. (It should be noted that MacBooks and Intel-based Mac minis aren’t officially supported by Aspyr due to their integrated graphics chips. Your experience may be different from mine, but I found mine satisfactory.)

The same functions from past games exist for each unit—move, sentry, skip turn, sleep, explore and automate. When starting out at the beginning of the game, your knowledge of the world is very limited, and you start out with at least one settler unit, which you use to build your capital city.

What’s new

The Civics screen is a more complex version of Civilization’s old government feature; here, you select the type of government, religion, and economic model practiced by your civilization.

But after a few turns and clicking around to the various navigation and advisor buttons in the top right of the screen, you’ll discover that Civilization IV replaces some of the concepts from older versions of the game, such as the type of government you form. Instead, there’s now a more complex version called “Civics”—as you progress through the game, you discover various types of governments, religions, and systems of labor, mixing and matching the ones for your civilization. At one point in my game, my Civics settings simultaneously included Universal Sufferage, Nationhood, Emancipation, Free Market economy, and Theocracy (Judaism).

Battles get personal

In addition, Civilization IV sports a new game engine with some three dimensional elements to it. When you engage in combat with an enemy unit, the normal birds-eye game screen will zoom down to the action, where you can watch your larger-than-life units do battle until one of you is defeated. While Civilization IV lacks actual combat along the lines of a game like Warcraft, it is a big improvement over previous editions. During combat you’ll see the various motions associated with their military units—the longbowmen will draw their arrows. However, there is no actual contact between units, and there is no combat sound, as there was in Civilization III.

Once your units have waged battle once, new buttons let you upgrade your units as the game progresses to give them more experience points and other advantages. Another great new addition to the game is an auto-save feature that saves your game at periodic points during gameplay. If you want to make sure the latest victories are recorded, you probably should save the game on every few minutes, just to be on the safe side.

Engineers can be put to work building wonders of the world as well as expanding your civilization’s science know-how.

There are also some new concepts introduced to Civilization IV, including Great Engineers and Artists, who after building wonders of the world, can be used to increase your civilization’s science output or cultural achievements.

Civilization IV is a complex game that has many different types of single-player and multiplayer options, including support for LAN, Internet and Play-By-Email (PBEM) multiplayer capabilities. These options are cross-platform, meaning you can take on your PC-using friends in a prolonged battle to the death. In addition, Civilization IV also has scenarios (such as various World War II simulations) that can you can tackle should you want to try something a bit different from regular gameplay.

The bottom line

Even after having spent only a couple of hours with Civilization IV, I can already tell that I’m going to like it even more than I did the previous three versions. It’ll take you dozens of hours before you’ve explored all the possible facets to this incredible game.

Civilization IV
Pros: New discoveries, wonders, and civilzations; more complex gameplay.
Cons: 3-D battle sequences could be improved with better sound and animation.
Processor Compatibility: Universal
OS Compatibility: 10.3 (Panther), 10.4 (Tiger)
Price: $50
Company: Aspyr Media

[ This article was updated on June 26, 2006, to correct the ultimate goal of Civilization, which is to reach Alpha Centauri. ]

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