“Civilization Revolution” is aptly named, but not because it fundamentally alters the 20 year-old franchise’s focus on the sweep of human history. Instead, this first ever adaptation of “Civilization” for consoles presents a radical shortening and simplification of the traditional gameplay experience on the PC. Developer Firaxis has managed to accomplish while keeping the focus on decision making and maintaining an epic feel. “Civilization: Revolution” ingeniously brings the series back to basics and, despite a few faults late in the game, should appeal to new players without alienating the devoted fan base.
Previously, the fastidious turn-based “Civilization” games have required no small amount of patience, with full games easily lasting in excess of twenty hours. In “Revolution,” players can trace the rise of their own civilization in a single evening and still have time to watch, say, “Birth of a Nation.”
The developers have made that possible by ruthlessly streamlining the basic “Civilization” design. There are fewer armies, fewer technologies, fewer numbers, and fewer buttons to press. While long-time fans might write this off as “dumbing down”, it’s still a complicated game. But now it hews much closer to designer Sid Meier’s maxim that a good game is a series of interesting decisions. Here are fewer and broader decisions, each less precise but more important. Is it better than the previous “Civ” games? That’s the wrong question. It’s different. And it works on its own terms.
For instance, as armies fight, they periodically level up. Instead an of numerous potential army improvements popping up, the player is randomly presented with two of them. He chooses one. It’s that simple. There are fewer technologies with broader effects. Diplomacy is a simple binary matter of war or peace. Cities have fewer buildings and require less fussing. The small handful of government types are all useful at different times. In fact, the interesting decisions start before a game even begins, with the choice of nation — every nation gets a unique special power during each of the game’s four eras. Whereas the PC version of Civilization is detailed turn-based strategy gaming at its best, this is more like an evening at the table around an elegant board game.
“Civilization Revolution” is smoothest during the early stages. Exploring the world is like a guided treasure hunt along barbarian cities and mystical ruins. The later parts of a game can bog down as a world full of computer nations gets belligerent and stupid (the artificial intelligence is fond of foolishly waged wars). Then there’s the incessant parade of cartoon kings, barbarian leaders, and advisors constantly pratfalling and nonsense-talking onto the screen, often getting in the way between the player and the actual game. It’s a shame the developers at Firaxis didn’t consider these annoying guys for some much-needed streamlining.