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Civilization III

Developer: Fraxis
Publisher: Infogrames
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Players: 1
Similar To: Civilization II
Rating: Teen
Published: 11 :08 : 01
Reviewed By: Nick Stewart

Overall: 9 = Must Buy

Screenshots

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Minimum Req.: P300, Win 95/98/ME/2000, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 150 MB of hd, 1024x768-capable card
Reviewed On: P3 667, 384 MB RAM, GeForce 2 MMX, Soundblaster Audigy, Win 98SE

Intro

When you’re writing a review for one of the most popular and revered games in existence, it almost seems pointless to try and introduce it. Sure, games such as Alpha Centauri and Colonization have helped cement Sid Meier’s reputation as an uber-designer, but it was his vaunted and truly classic Civilization series that lifted him into the annals of gaming history. Now, after over a decade from the release of the first installation – and five years since the release of the previous one – Sid Meier and his company Firaxis have returned to their roots with an attempt to improve upon one of the greatest games of all time with the much-hyped and long-awaited Civilization III.


Gameplay: 9.5/10
After two and a half sequels (if you count Alpha Centauri), it became a bit of a question of whether or not Mr. Meier would be able to inject sufficient new life into his long-running series to justify another installation, especially after such a long delay. Well, after spending a considerable amount of time with Civilization III, I think it’s safe to say that Sid -- along with the gang over at Firaxis -- has done it again. Given, the core gameplay of expansion, city development and managing relationships with other nations is still here, but the rules have been sufficiently changed and enough new elements have been introduced so as to streamline the entire process, lending a new and invigorated feel to the game.

For starters, each Civilization has been attributed two separate traits that help to define its overall personality and innate tendancies, which, in turn, will dictate exactly how you end up handling them throughout the ages. For instance, Industrious nations have faster workers and more productive cities, while Militaristic groups are able to construct combat-related city improvements for less money, not to mention that their units receive promotions more often. In other words, playing Britain, which is Expansionist and Commerical, will prove to be a significantly different experience than putting Babylon, a Religious and Scientific group, through the paces. Further adding to the mix is the fact that each nation is given the capability to produce a singular specialty unit which helps them to achieve a certain level of dominance in a particular age. Thus, while Egypt might be able to roll over their enemies in the Ancient Age with their mighty War Chariot, it won’t help them much when Germany rolls through the Industrial Age with with their dread Panzer tanks.

Units have seen a great deal of changes as well. Military forces thankfully no longer have “home cities” from which they drained food and finances; now, their upkeep is pulled directly from your treasury, which lifts a world of trouble off your individual towns, enabling them to focus on their own troubles rather than those of your soldiers. Additionally, you’ll sometimes be able to upgrade those soldiers as time goes on and technology moves forward, which can save you from having to crank out a completely new set of armies every time you make a crucial scientific development. You’ll also find that your military is capable of capturing certain non-offensive enemy units, such as Workers, which then basically become your own; look at them as permanent Prisoners of War. Finally, you might even happen to see the occasional Leader make his way into your ranks, as a battle-hardened elite fighter will sometimes become a storied and highly respected member of your military. This unique unit loses any of his previous combat abilities, but in turn gains the capacity to merge units together into armies, and to hurry the production of Wonders of the World, though he can only use one of these before he is expended. These various changes will likely seem insignificant to a newcomer; to a series veteran, however, it’s a nice touch that makes a great deal of positive difference.

Speaking of which, the Wonders of the World are all make return appearances, from the Pyramids to the Hanging Gardens and beyond, with no particularly significant changes to any of them. What is new, however, is the introduction of the Small Wonders. These include the Forbidden Palace, which creates a second Palace in a city other than your capital; Wall Street, which generates interest on your treasury; Iron Works, which boosts a city’s production by 100%; and Battlefield Medicine, which gives your troops the ability to heal in enemy territory. While these tend to be far less powerful than their Greater cousins, they can be useful in their own right, and, more importantly, they aren’t Unique and can be built by all nations. Thus, while there might be only one Colossus, there might be a handful of Wall Streets scattered about the map. Experience gamers might also find it more than a little significant that some very important changes have been made to the production of Wonders: namely, that you can only have a single city working on a given Wonder, and that the one and only way to hurry its production is via a Leader. While these tweaks certainly make it more challenging, they help to curb the indirect cheating that could be used by using money to simply buy such important cultural phenomenon as the Pyramids.

Another important change to the overall scheme of the world of Civilization is the introduction of Culture, an incredibly crucial factor. Essentially, a city’s cultural value is determined by its artistic-oriented improvements, such as Cathedrals and Universities, as well as Wonders of the World. This point value determines the size of a city’s sphere of influence, which in turn outlines the exact size of its borders, which can be vitally important for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the continued expansion of your territory. This comes into play especially when wrestling other nations for the control of resources, as a city with sufficiently strong cultural influences can actually push back the borders of an opposing city, thus putting any benefits or luxuries therein under your control. Even more dramatic is the fact that nearby cities will actually defect to a nearby nation with a strong cultural score, enabling you to extend your grip without instigating war or angering your neighbors. This addition is simply brilliant, and definitely helps to round out the historical perspective that Civilization III presents. In fact, it gives fans an entirely new way to play the game, allowing you to build your empire not on military might or diplomatic prowess, but on sheer force of culture alone.

Of course, no civilization can function without decent access to proper resources, a feature which has been drastically revamped for this particular outing; in fact, one could argue that it’s perhaps the most significant change thus far. Rather than having almost random access to various goods, resources are now vital to your success or failure as a nation. Instead of being able to build units indiscriminately, you’re now often forced to have access to a particular resource first. In other words, you might be able to rush through the tech tree to gain the ability to produce Musketeers, but if you don’t have any iron or saltpeter deposits within your borders and can’t manage to trade for any, you’re completely out of luck. Interestingly enough, you won’t be able to see the resources needed for a unit or improvement until you’ve developed the technology for it, so you can’t “cheat” in the early years by placing your cities in optimal areas; you’ll likely have to wait and see which of the other nations has access to what you need. In fact, this almost desperate need for strategic resources can instigate countless wars as nations struggle for control of stores of iron, coal, aluminum, uranium, rubber, and so forth. As if that wasn’t enough, the “bonus” resources such as wines, silks and spices are now known as “luxuries”, and serve but a single purpose: to make your people happy. It’s therefore in your best interests to get a hold of as much of the stuff as you can, as the introduction of luxuries into your civilization can mean the difference between endless civil unrest and a nation of happy, ultra-productive citizens. This terrific alteration to the core Civilization concept puts an almost entirely new spin on the beloved gameplay dynamic, as the need for resources changes any number of things: it increases the importance of your cities and the control of key territories, emphasizes the relationship between nations, and greatly encourages the need for diplomacy to soften up trade agreements. All in all, it makes things more realistic, and more importantly, fun.

Arguably, diplomacy was really rather useless in previous Civilization games. Nobody ever really cared about alliances, which were only really used as an excuse to slide your units into a “friend’s” territory to surround his cities before breaking the flimsy peace treaty once more. All that has changed with Civilization III, where the entire diplomatic process has been given an overhaul, which, in light of the newfound importance of resources, is a fortunate thing. Instead of wasting turns and production resources to produce diplomats, you can contact any known leader directly, with only a simple embassy needed to conduct slightly more complex diplomatic business, as well as various espionage missions, thus eliminating the need to create spies. In this fashion, you can trade technologies, excess resources, cash, maps, and so on; it’s a pretty comprehensive system, made even stronger by the fact that nations no longer accept arbitrary breaking of peace treaties, needless declarations of war, or violent destruction of opposing cities. Should prove yourself to be an untrustworthy and warmongering leader, you’ll find it much more difficult to get a good or even decent agreement/deal out of the other nations, and the going will be that much tougher for you – especially if you discover later on that you don’t have access to the proper resources. However, if you try to be an actively friendly neighbor by helping out fellow nations when they’re in trouble, passing them the occasional gift, and by driving generous bargains, you’ll generally find your kindnesses reciprocated.

There are really only two points here that come across as somewhat less than positive. First and foremost is the drastically increased difficulty; if you could breeze through Civilization 1 or 2 in Deity mode without even batting an eyelash, you’re going to have your butt handed to you on a silver platter if you leap into the top difficulty level right off the bat. With the wide variety of changes that have been made to the core gameplay, a slew of new strategies is required and thus old-time players of the series will find themselves having to shed their baggage in order to succeed here. The second and most curious negative point here is the complete and utter lack of a multiplayer option. This could be forgivable back in 1996 when Civilization 2 was released; multiplay didn’t have nearly the kind of expectations that it has today. Now, it’s standard, and absolutely essential for a game like Civilization III. That’s not to say that the game is worthless without it; quite the contrary, especially when you consider the sheer degree of “do as you please” factors at work here, potentially leaving entire years worth of gameplay here. Still, when more and more gamers are being accustomed to playing their friends, it seems like a particularly noteworthy omission to have left out multiplayer. Civilization III Gold Edition, anyone?

Graphics: 8/10
As much time has passed since the last Civilization game, it’s great to see that Firaxis has updated the series with a terrific set of modern-day visuals. Thankfully, the developers have bucked the present trend of 3D enhanced whatnots and have stuck with the time-tested 2D playground, while enhancing the richness of the colors and taking full advantage of expanded modern-day resolutions. Unit animations are fluid and varied, with each individual having their own distinctive set of well-rendered motions; even combat is acted out to some degree on the small screen. It’s also helpful that you’re able to watch your opposing leaders’ faces as you propose deals and negotiate with them, with their facial expressions and movements clueing you in as to their reactions. As always, your environment and units change as you progress forward through the various Ages, so while your Workers might start off in tunics, they’ll end up in overalls. If that wasn’t enough, you can even take a quick look at an opposing leader to figure out where they are technologically, as their general level of progress is represented in their clothing. All in all, the graphics are vastly improved, leaving very little to be desired.

Sound: 8/10
The music selection is limited as well as the sound bites. There is also a tendency for a soldier’s confirmation response to be muffled in with the background noise. On the plus side, there are also small touches that help to make the units seem more unique, whether it’s the ‘verrrrre’ of a light saber swinging back and for when someone runs or the flames from a rifle towards an enemy. While this is certainly not the game’s strong point, it does fit in well with the style of graphics and overall dated feel.


Control: 9/10
If you’ve ever popped Civilization 2 back into the CD drive after a few years of leaving it on your shelf, you’ll know how awkward the controls can feel. Not so with Civilization III: the interface has been drastically streamlined and cleaned up so as to be incredibly straightforward and as easy-to-use as possible. Gone are the clunky, scattered windows or menu bars that would consume unnecessary chunks of your viewing window; instead, everything has been replaced with a series of small, simple buttons. It might not sound like much of a difference, but when you come to realize that the entire game can be controlled almost exclusively with the mouse, you’ll come to appreciate it greatly. In fact, the interface falls just short of perfection only in that while the screen can now be scrolled simply by sliding the cursor to the edge of your view, it’s really very sluggish and jumpy. It’s not so horrible that it can’t be looked past with time, but it’s still a bit of inconvenience that mars an otherwise stellar interface.

Overall: 9/10
With vast improvements in almost every possible area, Sid Meier’s long-running series has definitely found a worthy heir within Civilization III. The updated graphics and interface help to bring the series into the modern age of gaming, casting aside all the complications of past installments. The drastic alterations to the core gameplay are equally welcome, as they definitely make things both more realistic and entertaining: even the very idea of strategic resources can revolutionize the way you play. The addition of culture to the mix is also quite impressive, introducing not only a new way of winning the game, but also allowing for entirely new styles of players to see just as much success as their conquest-prone friends. Finally, the expansive revamping of the diplomatic process is nothing short of amazing, as actions now have repercussions, long-standing friendships between nations now have actual meaning, and violent betrayals are remembered by everyone. All in all, Civilization III is just as good as any of its classic predecessors, becoming a classic all its own. Close the blinds and prepare your favorite source of caffeine: those sleepless nights full of “just one more turn” Civilization games are back.

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Related Links: Firaxis | Infogrames
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