How would you take over the world? Are you the type to invade other countries and take their land by force? Or would you like your superior culture to light the way for a better tomorrow? You can find out the answers to those questions now that Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution has arrived at the App Store.
With Sid Meier’s Civilization games, how you take over the world has always been up to you. You can build an army and conquer the other civilizations through brute force, or you could build an economy that is the envy of the entire world. The choices you make will ultimately determine the path your civilization will take. Do you invest money in technology and win the game by being the first to launch a space expedition to Alpha Centuri? Or are you the type to create a cultural mecca where important thinkers from all over the world flock to your cities? Or do you want to sample strategies from all four paths?
Over the years, the assorted Civilization games have won renown for giving the player supreme control over their society to dictate everything from technological advancements to military tactics. When starting the game, you choose from 16 civilizations, each with their own bonuses, abilities, and iconic historical figures. (A free lite version of Civilization Revolution limits you to three civilizations.) You can declare war on the Grecian nation led by Alexander the Great, ally with Gandhi and the Indians, and trade with Napoleon’s French empire. Fans of the turn-based series of games will find the major gameplay elements of the franchise are alive and well in Civilization Revolution.
But this isn’t just a simple port of an unapproachable history-based strategy game. Civilization Revolution boasts a new gesture-based interface that takes advantage of the iPhone’s touchscreen technology. Building, moving, and ordering your units is a simple flick of the finger that’s easy to pick up the first time you start the game. The only issue I had with the system came when I tried moving my units over long distances—I found it was better to drag my finger for shorter distances rather than chart a longer, circuitous (and often hazardous) course.
On any other platform, a typical Civilization game session can run as short as an hour to 10 times that, depending on the scenario. Civilization fans can breath a sigh of relief, for the depth of the mobile game remains intact, but now it’s just as easy to find yourself immersed in a prolonged campaign as it is to play for a few minutes. Civilization Revolution automatically loads your progress on your active game if you suddenly exit the game to receive a phone call. There is also an easy-to-understand save system with frequent reminders to save throughout your play session.
Besides the 16 playable civilizations, you can also pick from several difficulty levels. The game’s tutorial does a good job of walking you through the steps toward making your small village into a global empire. You’ll learn how to found cities, how to build your population, recruit and move a military unit, and invest in technologies.
There are some gaps in the tutorial, however, that leave you to figure out the subtleties of the game on your own. For example, the build system for units, wonders, and buildings could use better explanation in terms of bonuses and build time for each unit. You can “rush” a build job of a building or unit, but I still found the number of turns it would take to build a unit unpredictable and its relationship to the cities resources undefined. If you order your city to build a unit, it will cancel whatever unit was already building—something that is not obvious from the interface. A cue to indicate what it is on tap would greatly improve the interface.
2K Games gets a lot right with this latest installment of the Civilization series. The controls are great, the soundtrack memorable, and the animated fight sequences when military units do battle are fun. The icons are kid-friendly, colorful, and provide an approachable façade that hide the complex numbers game beneath the surface. The animated fight sequences, for example, are reflective of an algorithm that takes into account the unit’s fighting ability, strength, location, defensive positioning, size, and so forth. Don’t be fooled by how intuitive this game is to pick up—Civilization Revolution is as tactically complex and deep as they come.
While the replay value of the game is high (there are about a dozen special scenarios in addition to the regular randomly generated map), there is no multiplayer component. Here’s hoping 2K Games adds this ability at a later date, because with the iPhone’s 3G technology and Civilization’s history of epic, hours-long, multiplayer battles, tethering the game to a single player seems short-sighted.
Many gaming companies have sought to bring watered-down, portable versions of their franchises to the iPhone. But Sid Meier and his team have taken the iPhone platform seriously, creating a memorable title that is still complex and deep while still being approachable and intuitive for new players. I’ve yet to find a better designed strategy game on the iPhone.
Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is available for $5 for the first 48 hours of its release; after that it will revert to its standard price of $10. The lite version provides a nice free demo, but in addition to limiting you to three civilization, it also offers only two difficulty levels and removes the modern era of development. This cuts out one of the best moments in the game—pitting your advanced tanks and battleships against primitive archers and galleons in hilariously mismatched battles. In short, you’ll want to pay for the full version of Civilization Revolution.
Civilization Revolution is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.2 software update.
[Chris Holt is an assistant editor at Macworld.]