Civilization Revolution - second impressions

There are several reasons that turn-based strategy games haven't really ever caught on for non-PC gamers, and Civilization Revolution is making sure it addresses as many of them that it can. It's the first console-only Civilization, so the controls are a huge focus for the design team. Also, the aversion to taking turns that many Halo, Gears of War and CoD 4 console players have is being considered carefully. Overall, the game has a new tone, a funnier and more relaxing feel, which is attempting to suit console gamers' tastes - everyone knows PC gamers have no senses of humor.

Our first hands-on, involved leading the Japanese through roughly an hour's worth of global domination, and we were still getting the hang of controlling armies with our sticks. Now that we have a few hours of playtime under our belts, the controls make more sense. The left stick moves around the map and the right stick plots a course for the unit you have selected. To select a unit you use the d-pad to cycle through just about everything you control. To cycle through your cities, instead of armies, give the left shoulder buttona tap.

We're a bit worried about how many things we might have to sort through late in the game, but at least in the first few Ages, it's pretty efficient. To cut down on turn time spent micromanaging, when waypoints are set everyone who hasn't reached their destination will continue to move on the next turn. This eliminates the need to carefully tend to every little archer or bomber. And if something happens, like a caravan arriving at a destination, you'll be notified and expected to give the final command.

Towns expand their territory and take advantage of adjacent resources somewhat autonomously, as well. You can focus their production or just leave it balanced, and if told to produce warriors they'll keep popping them out as fast as they can until they hear otherwise. On the other hand, if you order a more specialized unit, like a spy (or, say, something like Stonehenge), they'll build one and ask what you want to do next. Let's face it; we don't really like spies enough to have more than one of them, anyway.

Even with things taking care of themselves as much as possible, a game of Revolution can take several hours. Remember, it's about global domination, not just beating up the stinky barbarians across the river. The game took this into consideration; if the Russian player's mom tells him he has to go eat dinner, the game doesn't have to stop. Dropped players are replaced by AI, and AI opponents can be replaced by people wanting to join/rejoin the game, so you don't ever have to stop civilizing because of a missing player.

Civilization Revolution is trying to make playing the game as simple as possible, but at the same time, it doesn't want to become too simple and lose touch with its roots. You still take your civilization through the Ancient, Medieval, Industrial and Modern eras and there's still a huge set of researchable technologies, buildable units, constructible buildings and several possible victory conditions. So strategy will be crucial to succeeding, not just a good starting position and being the beefy Mongolians. This time, however, the units you control and characters who advise you aren't afraid to poke a bit of fun at themselves. Barbarians threaten you with wimpy blow-pipes, Gandhi might crush you with his mighty armies and you might notice how your Egyptian military advisor looks a heck of a lot like the Secretary of State. Look for Civilization Revolution in stores early July… maybe this will be the console strategy revolution we've been waiting for.

May 23, 2008