"What we wanted to do with Civilization Revolution was to ramp up the presentation," a Firaxis Games representative later said to me of the studios' first console-based entry in Sid Meier's turn-based Civilization series. "We have hardware we know we can count on. We don't have to worry about the least common denominator."
One glimpse at the real-time demo of the Xbox 360 version and it's obvious that Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution, as the game is fully titled, isn't just a prettied-up Civilization, though the volumetric fog that dissipates as players explore does look quite nice. Instead, the game has undergone several tweaks to optimize it for the console market. For example, instead of the drawn-out view used in past iterations, the camera here is extremely close to the action, to the point that the movements, actions, and even the flowing capes of a three-soldier Roman combat unit are clearly visible.
"In the past, we've had a lot of animations and stuff like that, but it's been a little bit canned," the rep continued. "With this game, we're blowing it out and have all kinds of new animations to choose from, plus there's AI that works in the battles themselves to choose things. We also have integrated physics, and the combination means that every battle will look different."
While the camera may be closer and the graphics may be fancier, the dangerously addictive core Civilization gameplay remains mostly unchanged. As players take control of one of 16 different civilizations, each with its own distinct aesthetics and play styles, they will guide the society through the ages as they see fit. Competing against the other civilizations in the same world, players can declare war, hoard resources, research new technology, pick which skills of their troops to upgrade, and negotiate treaties as they strive to be the first to hit any of the game's multiple victory conditions.
Along the way, players will inadvertently run across other leaders, including historical figures such as Cleopatra and Napoleon. While conversing with these figures, an animated model of them fills the screen, reacting to each of the dialog choices. These animations often betray the thoughts of a leader. For example, Cleopatra may say she's not afraid to go to war, but the way she recoils when the player hovers over that choice indicates otherwise. From time to time, advisors will rush on screen and literally push the opposing leader out of frame as they offer insight and advice.
One change to battle engine simplifies the effort required to call in support from nearby troops, a change meant to make coordinating a battle more accessible. While troops fought on a shore, a nearby battleship automatically supported them with fire from its cannon without any player input. "If you happen to have a ship in the right position, you don't have to put it in support mode, you don't have to aim it, you don't have to do anything like that," explained the representative. "If it makes sense for it to be part of that combat, it'll be part of that combat."
In all, four different conditions for victory were outlined in the presentation: military, cultural, science, and economic, which is new to the series. Due to the turn-based nature of the game, the multiple paths for victory are reliant less on a player's speed and more on the impact of each choice, making it a bit more accessible for players not too keen on the think-on-your-feet mentality of real-time strategy games.
That said, players will need to keep an eye on the other civilizations' progress towards each of those conditions, instead of worrying about one in particular. "When you're playing on higher difficulty levels, you really have to be careful," the rep illustrated. "Because you might be trying for a spaceship victory, but somebody else is really close to an economic victory."
Once a player achieves one of the victory conditions, such as when a player's spaceship reaches Alpha Centarui (science) or they overcome all the other players (military), every unit on the map--including battleships, tanks, and catapults--dances in celebration while fireworks explode overhead.
In addition to the single player mode, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Civilization Revolution will offer online play. Three different modes are planned--a one versus one duel, a two versus two battle with locked teams, and a four player free for all. Content download is also planned, which would bring new civilizations and maps to the game over time, along with a downloadable "Game of the Week" challenge mission that ranks players worldwide based off the speed and conditions of their victory.
With Wii and DS versions also underway, the representative assured me that gameplay will be basically the same across the various platforms. "The way [Sid Meier] wrote the code, the game core actually doesn't know what system it's on," he noted. "It's the presentation layer that gets wrapped around the core that knows, so they will be able to play very similar.
"The presentation on the DS will be very differently, but you'll be playing essentially the same game," he elaborated. "Having Civ on the DS for a plane flight is just money."
"You're going to destroy lives with that," I joked, relaying several tales of how a close friend's separate Civilization III (PC) and Animal Crossing: Wide World (NDS) addictions had already wreaked havoc on her participation in the social group. "Who knows what what will happen when she can play Civilization anywhere."
"We know," he responded, laughing. "We work on Civ all the time, so it's like, 'Welcome to the club.'"
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Developed by Firaxis Games, Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution will be available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo DS in spring 2008. The Wii version is slated to arrive in fall 2008.