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Civilization V (PC)

Civilization V (PC)

Sid Meier's Civilization V

Civilization V (PC) Review

I dropped a nuclear bomb on Mahatma Gandhi and wiped him from the face of the Earth. The thing is, the supposed prince of pacifism actually started it and would not be swayed from any other course of action. He knew my nation was far more advanced than his own. He knew we had nuclear capability. Yet he went to war with us anyway and left me with little option other than to issue the launch command. It wasn’t until the missiles were on route to the last remaining city of Delhi that he changed his mind and suddenly rediscover the merits of pacifism but it was too late for that. He was vapourised along with the last of his people and the land they once inhabited polluted to such a degree no one would ever settle there again.

Of course, that’s not really what happened from a historical viewpoint. Gandhi was, as far as I’m aware, a reasonably level headed person and as of yet I’ve not got access to nuclear weapons.

This story is only possible thanks to the magic of Civilization and after playing every player will have a similar tale. Not surprising really given that the game is so vast in scope, despite operating from a reasonably simple premise, giving one person the sole responsibility for developing every facet of their people’s progress. At the same time as influencing the direction of an entire civilisation, there’s also the small matter of foreign policy and how to interact with your fellow man. Wars are fought, treaties are made and the defeated take their place as a footnote in the history that the victor goes on to write.

After several facelifts, some of them not always successful, the Civilization model still remains one that is flocked to by the players of all denominations, a game that transcends its humble strategy genre roots. The fifth overhaul of the game is one that promises to get back to basics, to ditch some of the complications that have distorted the beautiful simplification of thousands of years of human history. Does it succeed, or is it too consigned to be a footnote in history, eclipsed by its betters?

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Forget the hexagonal board that the game now takes place on, anyone who has played any version of the Civilization series will be immediately at home with the graphical interface and the premise of the game. Effectively it allows players to take the building blocks of human history and stack them in the wrong order, making their own story.

Right from the start our decisions make have impact on the overall game. Starting with a unit which has to scout for a suitable place to build the first settlement that will become the genesis for an entire branch of the human experiment we have to consider the long term implications. Find the right place, surrounded by natural resources, and development can be accelerated… Take too long or choose a less than ideal location and risk being centuries behind the other people that will be sure to crop up as time passes by.

From there the game throws at the player the sort of streamlined micromanagement all strategy titles would benefit from. What will your settlement build? What will your people study? Each of these essential tasks flashes by in chunks of time and when they have all been answered, those decisions have invariably led to more questions. Would it be more beneficial to focus on trading methods or weapons technology? Can that city sustain itself if we take a portion of the people out of it to go and build a new settlement elsewhere?

All of this becomes a deceptively addictive routine and as sure as centuries, then millennia, pass by in the game world, hours will slip from the clock for the player that is utterly engrossed in the development of a largely fictitious nation. Of course, there is that competitive element to the proceedings, how exactly the game is won, which is the meta-question that all the lesser ones lead to. In Civilization V, as with those before it, there are a variety of ways to win. A skilled diplomat may seek to be elected as the leader of the United Nations whereas a skilled general might want to aim for the "Domination" victory by taking control of the capitals of all other rival Civilizations. Those who see technology as the yardstick by which to judge humanity might want to win by launching a spaceship into the vast unknowns of space. Perhaps the ultimate humanitarian gesture is to focus on the technology that most benefits mankind and eventually complete the "Utopia Project" to create paradise on Earth. So there’s a lot more to it than would first appear, yet nothing that would daunt the stalwarts who have played this title before.

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Changes have been made that do have an impact on the way the game flows. The selection of a religion is no longer included and instead the belief systems of the people are reflected in the cultural developments on the expanded tech-tree. The same is true for systems of government, which may feel like something of a cop out but in truth there were always some contradictions in that system anyway… It was all too easy for someone supposedly representing a Republic to behave like a bloodthirsty tyrant, without too many penalties.

Military manoeuvres have also become increasingly complex affairs, with units no longer able to group up in one square. This means that positioning is of vital importance because enemy troops will have to go through what’s on the front line first to get to the units behind them, rather than working against a collective equation of defensive stacks and attacking bonuses. By the same token, invading cities requires some thought because certain units will need certain terrain types to help them be at their most effective, while also taking the space for another potential attacker. It’s not as in depth as other titles but would anyone want Civilization to be that way? Let’s just say it’s a welcome addition that makes even the most straightforward of hostile actions require some form of cerebral activity.

So, while these subtle changes really do little to distort the dynamics of a game that plays much the same as the likes of Civilization 2, it’s a shame that the AI too plays like the earlier incarnations that would prompt a supposedly digitised Gandhi into behaving overtly aggressively. Generally there is no predicting how the computer opponents will behave, regardless of your interactions with them. Treat them atrociously and they may become terrified lapdogs to an empire that is in truth no greater than their own. Treat them like brothers in arms and be bewildered to see a mass gathering of troops encroach on your borders. Equally, they seem to have little concept of what is a losing battle and what isn’t. It’s much like Idi Amin, invading Tanzania only to find his Ugandan forces were greatly inferior, then having to flee his country while the counter invasion saw them taken over… And no, that wasn’t another game of Civilization. Incredibly that was real life.

Still, the erratic and inconsistent AI can be countered by simply playing it on the hardest difficulty where their units will be given bonuses that make it more challenging. Although, as with most strategy games grumbling about AI when the option is there to take the fight to human minds is there seems petty at best.

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This is the best a Civ title has ever looked, bar none. The level of detail on the animations is really something, with moving animals in resource tiles or the units themselves which are never static. The way cities spring up is also beautifully realised moving from a shanty town to clusters of towering skyscrapers as time elapses. Combat too has some nice little touches, with little explosions and flashes as the warring factions clash like tiny toys. Quite simply it’s a great looking game.

A lot has gone into finding the balance between caricature and realism for the world leaders too and they are instantly recognisable. The animation sequences and cut scenes have a suitable game of polish, which is nice considering it was the general consensus that players forgave how poor they looked in past instalments. Here, it has lost none of that fun feel it had while at the same time bringing a much more serious feel to the proceedings, especially when completing certain achievements.

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Sure, the graphics probably don’t stand up to the other titles out there but in terms of what they bring to Civilization, they are pitch perfect. The interface is as easy to sue as ever and the crisp menu system allows a player to navigate through city after city with complete ease, as well as find all the information they need to gauge what their next move should be. Anything more extravagant would be overkill and just wouldn’t be needed.

It is also worth noting that Civilization 5 supports some advanced graphics features meaning that for those who have a system with reasonable specification the engine scales with it. This includes simple aspects such as support for tessellation and DirectX 11 as well as surround gaming. These aren’t just gimmicks though as the ultra-widescreen resolution offered by the game allows us to see more of our game world, increasing our awareness of going on which benefits our gameplay. Interestingly, given the fact that this series is not known for its graphical prowess, Civilization 5 also supports 3D Vision for those with Nvidia cards and this mode works surprisingly well. Giving the game interface some great looking depth and adding to it nice touches which include this game being one of the few to have effects which come out of the screen at the player. For those who are interested, here is an example of how the game looks when spread over 3 screens.

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Click here to view the full-size screenshot (5760×1080)

Sound has never been high on the priorities list for a Civilization title and that trend continues here. What is on offer fits the bill, each nation having its own particular anthem and the suitably epic themed music for the in between bits. The soundtrack’s perfect in tone and theme and sits nicely in the background, co-existing with all the other elements of the game.

Sound effects are the same,they do enough to tell the player what is going on without being overwhelming. Each unit has their own sound effects which make them recognisible and there are little "alarms" to signal when certain tasks have been completed. It’s not amazingly sophisticated but it is nice and suitably atmospheric. There is a lot of information to take in between turns so a splurge of sound would not be welcomed by anyone.

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It’s back and it’s brilliant, Civilization V has ditched the needless complexities of its predecessor and focused on why people played the originals for hours on end – the ability to retell the development of mankind in bold strokes. While only confined to a game universe that maybe lasts a day, players will remember the domination of the global Japanese empire, or the much improved world with a pragmatic United States that held true to the ideals of the founding fathers. Hell, I’m even told that Gandhi’s a bit of a character. Educational, entertaining, enlightening… Civilization V is all these things and yet it never bores and never feels tired. Endless possibilities and different avenues to explore mean that a player can always be sure of a different experience each time they play and how many games can boast these things in this day and age?

Gameplay 90/100 As simple as it ever was with vast scope and improved tactical elements make it an instant classic. Will appeal to existing fans and newcomers alike.
Graphics 86/100 The best looking of its brethren. A perfect balance between clarity and complexities in the way the information is presented.
Audio 80/100 Never a strong point and it’s never needed to be, the sound here does everything it’s supposed to.
Value 90/100 An infinite world of possibilities that would be even more so if the AI wasn’t flawed. Thankfully the option to play online removes that from being a true stumbling block.
(Not an Average)
90/100 Firaxis games have trimmed a lot of fat from Civilization IV, while still making improvements, which was no mean feat. This game will bring the wonders of Civilization to a new generation of players while rekindling old passions in veterans.

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About Author

Stuart Davidson

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