Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword
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Quite Often, I find myself going off passionate about, and realise five minutes later that the room has gone silent and everyone has started looking quizzical. It's an occupational hazard of sorts: the unwitting social mishap of a gamer forgetting the company lie's in and the fact that not everyone will understand a metaphor based on the intricacies of de_dust.
My very worst experience of this though came when I was drunk in a Wetherspoons on Bedford High Street, talking to a random group of pretty nurses and with almost Machiavellian prompting from an associate. Stupidly, I embarked on a solo discussion on exactly why Civ IV suffered from not having a diplomat unit. This is a true story. Honestly, I didn't have to get my coat - it was handed to me.
Never mind though, because the sneaky technology stealer is back! Or at least the essence of him is, now under the guise of a brand-new espionage system - just one of the countless features being jammed into Beyond The Sword. It's an expansion designed primarily to flesh out the later parts of a bout of Civ, and simultaneously a compendium of professionally created mods that veer so sharply from the usual template that they could be another game entirely. This thing is just gigantic - I'm going to have to take two weeks off work just to review it.
SPY VS SPY
So you've got your spies, invisible to all but other spies, setting off revolutions in rival cities, poisoning water supplies and whispering how about that Will over in the Willish Empire? You'd love to be more like him wouldn't you?' into the ears of the populace. Then you've got your Great Spies sauntering around, and situations of Cold War-intensity when other nations start ramping up their counter-espionage: it's almost a means of combat without sending the boys in. Alongside this, Firaxis are looking at the fact that come endgame, religion doesn't seem to matter as much as it does in the early days of a civilization.
In a move that could have a good few capitalism is the new religion' PhDs being thrown around, come modern times, corporations will be spreading much as the word of god once did. It's all based on resources this time round though, with your corporation execs being spread out from your multiconglomerate HQ, piling cash and influence into the home nation - even if this greed may well give opponents access to your oil or mass-produced fizzy drink supplies.
The primary Civ climax (one of several) is the race to build a spaceship to take your little Civ-chaps over to Alpha Centauri - but now the space race is going to get a little more involved. Rather than simply being the first ones into the big black, there'll be extra technologies to probe before takeoff. This means that you could well take-off the minute you get the ability - but Napoleon could spend a few more turns researching things, then end up flicking V signs at you as he's overtaking with his go-faster stripes and more efficient propulsion system.
It's A Monster
As previously stated, there's a lot in here. Twenty-five new units (including paratroopers and tactical nukes), 18 buildings, a massive 16 extra leaders, ten fresh-faced civs and eight new wonders. But compared to sheer scale of the 12 scenarios being packaged with the game... Well, there's no comparison.
There's Afterworld, a tip of the hat to X-Com, with hit-points and campaigns where you control a team of five futuro body-tanks quelling an uprising of machines gifted with human sentience. There's Next War, a tip of the hat to DEFCON, that's set after 2050 and conies with a full armoury of devastating nuclear strikes and gigantic Meehs. Then there's Charlemagne, a tip of the hat to the legendary French king. In this, you have to conquer all of western Europe, kissing up to the Pope by spreading his brand of religion and warring with Saladin, then receiving some natty fighting units. Y'see, it's a blend of traditional and the off-the-wall, with Final Frontier so far from that wall that it's left the room (see 'Not As You Know It', above).
For Civ-philes, this is Valhalla: the mother penguin of Firaxis effortlessly spewing the finest of gaming fish-guts into the clamouring open mouths of its fans and floating voters alike. I'm going to tell every stranger I meet all about it; even the sexy ones. Social exclusion be damned and Sid Meier be praised.