Sid Meier's Civilization III
It's a somewhat overlooked fact, but while we've all been busy crowbarring our eyes back into our sockets after marvelling at the next generation of FPSs, two behemoth strategy games have been heading for a confrontation of truly epic proportions over the next couple of months. If you haven't guessed yet, I'm talking about Empire Earth and Civilization III. Both span thousands of years of human history and centre around building a powerful and prosperous nation. Needless to say then, that when they finally do face off against each other over the next couple of months, it won't be your average girlie hair-pulling, knuckle-biting and open-handed slapping contest, but an all-out brawl involving pickaxes through craniums.
Spot The Difference
Of course there are plenty of differences between these two god/strategy games as well, the most notable of which is that Civ III is sticking to its rum-based roots and thought-provoking gameplay while Empire Earth is an RTS, with specific focus on combat.
From the brief time I had with the Civ III beta code, it was more than obvious that Firaxis has taken on board criticisms from CIV II and implemented them to create a truly sublime and totally immersive gaming experience.
So What's New?
For starters, you'll be pleased to know that the copious and annoying pulldown menus which blighted Civ 2 and made it about as visually appealing as a run-over head, have been replaced by intuitive icons dotted helpfully around the screen, which will make the series much more accessible to newcomers previously scared off by the game's daunting complexity.
And that's just for starters. Even the first few menu screens have been carefully restructured and improved, so you can have greater control over the size, geography and topography of your gaming world. If you're new to the series, then an in-depth tutorial can help you become accustomed, as you're shepherded carefully through every aspect of building up your own civilization. The graphics have also been spruced up and an excellent and superbly generic musical score helps build atmosphere to the slow and deliberate gameplay.
One of the most annoying aspects of previous Civ games was the randomness of barbarians, who would spring up from nowhere, catch you unaware and ransack your cities, steal all your gold and massacre your population. Barbarians now originate from encampments, where they store any stolen gold. So if you are unlucky enough to succumb to their attacks, all you have to do is find their encampment, march over there with a colossal army and give them a good old-fashioned drubbing. Simple as that.
Of course, you can't just rely on a large army if you want to build a prosperous culture, and Civ III comes with a whole host of new avenues for you to explore during your nation's centuries-long journey to greatness. Trade, diplomacy and most of all culture, (see the Getting Some Culture panel) have all been hugely revamped and to a great extent, simplified. For example, I found that caravans and freights are no longer movable units. Instead, I just built trading routes between my cities and with a few extra commands, the rest pretty much took care of itself. And diplomacy and espionage have also done away with movable units that are time-consuming and hard to track, as you can now simply build an embassy in an opposition territory and run your coven operations from there instead.
By the time I'd built up a sizeable and powerful nation, which was economically prosperous, culturally advanced and a major military force, I'd come to the conclusion that Civ III had evolved somewhat. In many respects it's still the same game as it's still complex and challenging, but it's managed to lose some of its anally retentive qualities, while retaining all of its charm and addictiveness. My nation loved me, I was a hero in their eyes, they'd built me a new castle and everyone respected my opinion (there's a first time for everything). As I gazed down on my gargantuan capital city from the superb new bird's-eye view, I couldn't help but feel that Civ 3 will be a huge hit. But then again so will Empire Earth. We'll let you know who wins this titanic ruck next month when we'll (hopefully) get our hands on the review code for both. Until then, here are some pretty pictures to help you pass the time...
Download Sid Meier's Civilization III
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
A turn-based strategy game with very small horizons - your job is simply to re-invent the history of mankind from pre-Biblical times right through to the space age. Conquest, exploration, development, diplomacy.. You name it, Civilization III will ask you to tackle it
What's The Big Deal?
Number three in a series that ranks as one of the greatest ever made, by one of the most prolific and highly respected developers in the industry? And you still want to know what the big deal is. OK, how about that it's turn-based, and it's still going to be brilliant.
You have to feel sorry for Sid Meier. Despite being immensely well-hung in the personal wealth department, globally feted by game players and designers, and the proud owner of a staggering collection of jumpers, he and his team have an unenviable task ahead of them. Just how do you improve on perfection? Leaving aside the many other well-known projects to which Sid has contributed, the first two games of the Civilization series have garnered more 'Best Game Ever' awards than just about any other title.
When he created the original in 1990 it defined a new genre of empirebuilding games and set the standard in turn-based strategy for years to come. Civ 2 added a bit of polish and sophistication, and the detour into space (Alpha Centauri) did much the same only with murkier backgrounds.
The problem then becomes where to take the third instalment? We all know they can't just rear up the rulebook and come up with something completely fresh and inspirational. In effect it has to be Civ 2-and-a-bit or there will be a minor riot in die gaming world
Civ III is pencilled in for release early next year, and although the team is veering towards an 'it'll be done when it's done' stand-off, they already have a fully playable prototype. On a technical level, it boasts an all-new graphics engine, replete with contoured maps (yes, elevations and terrain features affect strategies and combat) and fully animated units. There is also a thorough overhaul of the pathing and AI, and a more streamlined, two-tier interface to accommodate the needs of veterans and novices.
In gameplay terms, Firaxis is concentrating most notably on diplomacy and combat. You'll be able to trade resources, agreements, technologies, units, maps and cities in any combination. This mix-and-match approach applies as much to new diplomatic agreements as it does to trade. For example, you might bargain for peace, with a mutual protection pact, a right of passage agreement and a trade embargo against the French.
An important distinction, however, is that newcomers won't have to deal with these added diplomatic complexities - the whole 'bargaining table' approach is tucked away for advanced users who don't scare easily. Although it was never intended that way, with people being what they are, military aggression has become a key feature of the Civ experience. And so in Civ III it's finally getting the revamp it deserves. Along with any number of minor additions, the combat rules covering zones of control are being extensively reworked, so anachronistic units are no longer likely to be able to hold key positions against all logical dictates. Similarly, die effectiveness and involvement of ranged weapons such as artillery are being increased to reflect a more realistic military perspective - including 'softening' a target's defenses before a major assault.
Perhaps more interestingly (and with a definite nod to Age Of Kings), nations will be able to produce leaders from the past, each capable of changing the course of history either in their own lifetimes or through the efforts of future generations they influence.
There's no doubt Civilization III, with it's expanded scope and endless tweaks will sell well and play even better. Whether it'll be capable of surprising us is less certain. But maybe, just maybe, Firaxis will manage to make the multiplayer aspect as compulsive as the single-player game.