Civilization: Call to Power

a game by Activision
Platform: PC
Rating: 8/10
See also: Civilization Games

Overview

I sat down at the computer this afternoon, thinking to sneak a few minutes of gameplay away from the kids. Three hours later I was still mesmerized, dinner wasn't ready and the kids were begging me to build force fields over my cities like Dad did. Yes, it's true. I'm a Call to Power addict. This latest entry in the ever-popular Civilization series is a streamlined, updated version of its older siblings, with every bit of the same appeal that those games still have.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Everything you loved about Civilization II is here, with bells on. The game is divided into five eras: Ancient, Renaissance, Modern, Genetic and Diamond (which tells me somebody over there has been reading Neal Stephenson). There are new Wonders for each age, new units, new City Improvements, new Civilizations (there's nothing quite like the joy of seeing the Phoenicians utterly destroyed by the Welsh! As long as you are the Welsh, that is).

The display has the familiar gridded landscape and below it is an improved control panel which lets you view and control the details of your individual units and cities. You can cycle through your active units as before, and also through your cities, to review your commands and settings. On the bottom left is the mini-map showing the land you've explored, which you can use to move the large display quickly to another part of the map. To the right is a pop-up menu with the Civilization Management screens to summarize information on all your cities, units, government type, etc. In these screens you can change city names, load queues of instructions for your cities, check your ranking and send diplomatic demands to your opponents.

The fully mouse-driven interface is fairly easy to handle. However, on the slower systems it's very easy to overshoot the mark when building things like roads and farms. Also, controlling unit movement can be tricky. To select a unit, you have to left-click on it, but to then select a city, you have to right-click elsewhere on the map and then left-click on the city. If you just left-click on the city, you'll send your unit there, which can be a pain. Controlling and "stacking" multiple units in a square is also improved. Unfortunately, when you put units on a ship, you can see how many more available spaces there are on the ship, but not which units are already there. This is a major disadvantage for players who like seafaring-centered civilizations. Otherwise, the controls are intuitive and simple to use.

Relationship to Previous Installments

There are a number of differences between Call to Power and Civ II, not all of them good. The A-Number-One All-Time Best difference is that now you can play multiplayer over the Internet or a local network. This was one feature I wanted on Civ II, and Call to Power has it (see below). You can now set up a queue of building tasks for cities, which is great except that, as with Civ II, a city will go on producing units forever unless you tell it to stop, so you have to stay alert. Other good differences include an extension of the game into space and undersea, the replacement of "city" units like Engineers with a Public Works fund for building roads and farms, and improved graphical control of units. Available technological improvements and Wonders now reflect more accurately a possible future for Earth, with all the advantages and drawbacks such technology affords. (And the AI Entity can and will take over your cities if you give it an opening.)

One difference I don't like as much is that when your opponents' turns are being processed, the display no longer automatically shifts to show you the movement of their units within sight of your cities or people. I kept having enemy Clerics and Diplomats show up unexpectedly. I also miss some of the old Wonders from Civ II, particularly Leonardo's Workshop. However, these are only minor drawbacks, and for the most part the differences between Call to Power and Civilization II are improvements.

Enemy AI

I normally played Civ II at the Chieftain level (one of the easiest) because I am lazy and I like to win. What surprised me about Call to Power was how very easy it was to win at that level; in Civ II that was at least a moderate challenge. I think the difficulty levels are now more realistic -- when it says Easy, that's what it is. And boy, do your computer opponents get upset over the littlest things! I mean, just because I had to wipe out the Phoenicians early in the game ...

Multiplayer

The simple fact that you can play Call to Power over a LAN or the Internet is a plus. I haven't played over the Internet, so I don't know how good or bad that experience is, but playing my husband over our LAN was great fun. The major disadvantage to any of the multiplayer games is inherent in any turn-based game; you have to wait for the other guy to finish. As turns become more complex later in the game, you can end up waiting a long time -- and the more people you have playing, the longer the wait. Otherwise, playing multiplayer is just like playing a regular game, but against one or more human opponents.

Graphics

I love it when a new version of an old favorite takes advantage of the latest technology, but remains recognizably the same. The Call to Power display is a refined, fancier version of Civilization II's grid; if your computer is fast enough (and mine isn't; bummer) you can select animated units, trade routes, and trade goods. I particularly like how the Settler yawns and stretches his arms after he finishes his move, like he's just finished a hard day's work. Well, in a sense he has ... However, while the game itself has finely-rendered graphical detail, the movies are disappointingly grainy. I have a 19" monitor and it was even worse on such a large screen.

Audio

With the CD in the drive, you can listen to a selection of music from many countries, from Africa to the British Isles. It's really good music and a definite improvement over _Civ II's repetitive soundtrack.

System Requirements

The minimum requirements for Windows 95/98 are a Pentium 133 MHz processor, 32 MB RAM, 320 MB uncompressed hard disk space plus 80 MB for the swap file, 16-bit high color video card with at least 1 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX 6 or higher (included with the game) and 100% Windows-compatible system. Windows NT requires all the above plus a Pentium 166 MHz processor, 64 MB RAM, and Service Pack 3. And yes, the game will run under the above conditions. However, running Call to Power with only the minimum requirements is extremely slow and I recommend turning off most of the special graphical features and, if necessary, reducing the display resolution. The faster your system, the nicer this game will look and the smoother it will play.

Documentation

The documentation is thorough on all levels -- the reference chart, the manual and the online help files. Between the three of these, you can usually find the solution to any problem. One drawback is that the manual, though very informative, is not indexed very well. You may simply have to read through the manual to find some answers, such as why you can't terraform the jungle right away or how to make your citizens love you enough to give you a celebration. Since I prefer to dive right into a game without reading the manual first, this was a drawback for me.

Installation and Setup

It's a big ol' game, but it doesn't take long to install. I did the maximum install and it took about fifteen or twenty minutes. But the biggest problem I had was that for some reason the game wasn't recognizing the CD in the drive, so of course it failed the copy protection. It wasn't until my intrepid husband changed the CD-ROM to synchronous data transfer that I was able to play. That's a fairly unusual problem and not mentioned in the online help files, so if you can't get past the Launch screen without being booted to your desktop, try checking your CD setup.

Patches & Updates

If you hop over to the Activision web site, you'll find all sorts of downloadable campaigns and discussions on customizing Call to Power. You can also find map editing tools, articles on the game, and other news. This feature takes Civilization: Call to Power out of the realm of mere simulation and into a much larger community of gamers. If you make up a scenario you're fond of, share it!

Bottom Line

Civilization: Call to Power is every bit as addictive and enjoyable as Civilization II, and a worthy successor to that game. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go whup the Cubans into submission.

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