Demo Impressions: Civilization Revolution

I am wholly against PC strategy games making their way to consoles via port. The console control schemes do not, and never will, facilitate such a journey, and attempts to bend controllers in such a way are doomed from alpha. Imagine my terror when 2K and Firaxis announced that Civilization 4 would be trying the impossible; indeed, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from my house that day. They did, in the end, make the very smart decision to shy away from porting Civ 4 and instead craft a console game based on Civ 4’s convoluted formula.

Within a few rounds, it’s easy for a Civ veteran to notice what Firaxis sacrificed to make the game console-ready. The interface has been stripped bare, refactored, and made manageable with nothing more than a few buttons, which might sound positive until you realize how much information you lose. The PC city panels are typically packed with information that helps you navigate each city toward greatness, but those on the consoles throw nothing but absolute necessities at you. The rest is calculated in the background without input from the player. There’s no way to allocate your population manually, nor can you create Workers/Engineers to modify your city’s countryside; all you’re given is a simple drop-down menu with options to maximize for Production, Food, Science, or a balance of all three.

Beyond city controls, however, the game remains nearly identical to its PC cousins. Directing technology research is as simple as choosing your next objective. Unit, building, and Wonder construction allows you to choose your city’s production depending on turns needed to finish construction or gold required to hasten production. Diplomacy is still largely a finite-state AI program, with nothing more than a short list of possible diplomatic stances and a system for trade. It’s all there and it all works well with a controller.

Combat is also the same, aside from the awesome animations that made it to the console versions, and a new system that allows you to stack your units more efficiently. Battles are presented up-close, with each unit animated individually, so each round of combat feels a lot more exciting to watch. Even the AI used to compute the outcomes are fun to watch: a single unit can fend off the encircling enemy, like something out of a cheesy action flick. Three units of the same type can stack themselves into a single "army" unit, giving the stack bonuses depending on unit type. Army units travel together, share experience together, and rank up together, but because their power is significantly higher than three individual units of the same type, they add another level of strategic combat not found in the PC versions of Civ.

Unit control is where I have my one and only gripe with the console controls: the d-pad is much better suited for it. I hope that the final version allows you to remap those controls.

This game, in all honesty, feels like a "Civ for Dummies." There’s no real need to micromanage your cities or your units, and when you do, the rewards feel negligible. Your in-game advisors feel more alive than in the PC versions, but I found myself rolling my eyes over some of their antics. The number crunching is done with smaller numbers, but they’re rendered with a much larger font. The terms of victory, whether they be military domination or first-to-space, almost slap you in the face whenever you play. To me, it feels like the strong core of the Civ franchise, being the never-ending permutations of gameplay situations, has been distilled so that dual-analog-wielding PC dropouts can get a taste.

If you’re not a strategy-nerd like myself, you will probably still enjoy Revolution. It has just enough strategy left to keep you thinking long into the night, which is what drew many players to the franchise in the first place. You’re not forced into playing offensively or defensively, since Civ offers play to conscientious objectors as well by way of multiple victory clauses. I felt that spark of Civ magic when playing this demo, but having seen the franchise in full flame, the console remake seems almost disingenuos. It feels, in comparison, remedial.

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