Writing down what makes Civilization Revolution a great game is almost impossible. When broken down into its component parts it sounds deathly dull, like a cross between watching BBC4 and taking a GCSE History exam.
As with all great games, the idea at the heart of Civilization is quite simple. The game is turn based and takes you through 2000+ years of human history, from lowly beginnings as sword wielding barbarians, up to a civilization capable of taking to the stars and launching nuclear weapons. Obviously, as you are building your own civilization others are too, and the game is all about the balance between strategically maintaining peace or fighting well-timed wars to make sure that yours is the civilization that prospers and wins. Each turn plays out in a similar fashion – a mixture of moving units around the map to perform actions, deciding which new technology to research, what buildings to construct, and what alliances to form or break. The strength of the game comes from the addictive feeling that there is always something else to do, somewhere to explore, something new to research or a new type of unit to build. “One more turn” is a phrase every Civilization player knows intimately. “One more turn” is the phrase that usually results in the player watching the sun climb up over the horizon as dawn breaks.
Almost uniquely for a videogame, it is theoretically possible to win a game of Civilization without committing a single violent act. Peace can be bartered, and the game won by achieving scientific, cultural or economic victories rather than just defeating your opponents in combat. This is the theory. On the PC, games could take many hours (or days) to complete. Due to large map sizes, and heightened complexity turns would take longer and direct contact with other civilizations might not happen until very late in the game. On console, Firaxis made the sensible decision to drastically shrink the map, speed up the clock and streamline the interface. This makes the game considerably quicker and more suited to a console audience, but does rather force the player down a route of military conflict. Opposing civilizations tend to clash very early, and while bartering for peace is occasionally successful, the AI players often display something of a psychopathic George Bush style preference for bloody combat over the trade of technologies and culture.
The changes to the interface will be of little consequence to players without experience of the PC version, but it is reassuring that the entire game has been rebuilt from the ground up to support gamepads. Within minutes most players will be navigating around the map, moving units and tweaking production lines in cities without a second thought. The interface is effortlessly slick, and never feels like a poor mouse substitute. In a further bid to entice console players the game features large animated advisors who humorously jostle for position on the screen when offering advice or asking for player input. This is less irritating than it sounds (it can also be switched off if it becomes annoying) and gives the game a playful charm, which offsets the rather dry subject matter and probably makes the game more accessible to younger age groups.
Another big draw of Civilization Revolution is the inclusion of online play over Xbox Live or PSN. Sadly, here the game falters slightly. Even with the reduced game time (a typical Civilization Revolution game might take 2-4 hours) it still faces a console community which by and large has the attention span of a concussed bee. There is an even bigger problem online with the 1-vs-1 and 2-vs-2 modes, which automatically fill empty spots with AI players to make the total player number equal to five. Because the AI skill level is random, it is possible to have one or more murderous and highly intelligent computer players on a map causing chaos and disrupting the balance of the game.
Overall, however, these problems are minor. Civilization Revolution is a successful translation of a well-loved PC franchise, which brings much needed variety to the PS3 and 360 software libraries. Firaxis have said that this is the Civilization game they always wanted to make. With the success the game is enjoying at retail, and the potential to make an even better sequel hopefully it will not be the last Revolution title we will see this console generation.
To sum up, I’m giving Civilization Revolution a fantastic 9 out of 10.
Related: Age of Conan