I can still remember the day that I purchased my first computer. It was a very happy day, indeed! It was a white Packard Bell with a 386 processor, 120 megabytes of memory and two floppy disc drives. The fan was louder than hell and the machine took forever to load up, but I loved it dearly. Of course, having a computer meant that I had to purchase computer games to play. One day, my mom and I took a trip into Portland to do some shopping. We ended up at Lloyd Center, one of the city’s shopping centers. I was on a mission to find accessories for my computer, and find them, I did!
As I perused the shelves of the game store looking for a game, I came across Sid Meier’s Civilization. I carefully examined the box and read every bit of text on both the front and back covers – I was especially careful to make sure that the game would run on my system. Tiffany, you might not know this about me, but I tend to look at items I want to purchase multiple times before I actually decide to purchase it. And, this was no different. I must have looked at the game at least three times before my mom and I were ready to leave the mall. But, on the way out to the car I had a shopping bag in hand with Civilization tucked inside waiting to be played.
When I got into the car, the first thing I did was unwrap the game. Back in those days, computer games came in insanely huge boxes. So, unwrapping them actually took a bit of effort. The first thing I noticed in the box was the game manual. It was easily over 100 pages long and at that moment the words of the store clerk who sold me game came to mind: make sure you have some time to dedicate to this game, because you’re going to need it! He wasn’t kidding.
We lived about an hour and half away from Portland, so on the way home I had plenty of time to read through the manual in the car. The more I read, the more excited I was to play this new game. And, when I finally got to play Civilization, it did not disappoint. My experience playing Civilization sparked a romance with PC gaming that has lasted more years than I care to disclose.
I have played every version of Civilization that has been released. I have enjoyed some more than others, but each new iteration of the game has sparked my love of the series and rekindles my romance with PC games in general. So, it was no surprise to me that on the day Civilization V was released, I greedily snatched up a copy. Tiffany, that was after we had lunch together and went shopping, remember?
When I opened up Civ V, I was taken back to the day I opened the original Civilization game. Unlike the original game, Civilization V didn’t have any game manual whatsoever. Nothing. A fold out map of the technologies you can research was included, but I’ve never found those very useful. Who has the time and space to unfold a poster-sized technology tree for a video game? And, would you really want to? What would your neighbors think? It’s just not sexy.
Now, the death of the video game manual is nothing new, but for a gamer who has been an avid supporter of this series since its inception, it feels like I am being cheated. After all, no game is so simple as to not need a manual. And, for first-time players, providing a game manual is the least the developers could do. Besides, I feel like not including a game manual is just cheap ploy to get me to purchase a cheesy strategy guide. Yeah, well, I am not buying it.
But, enough about manuals – on to the game. My intent here is not to provide a comprehensive review of the game. Rather, I wish to share some general observations on some of the game features and mechanics. Hopefully my observations will spur a conversation in the comments section (hint, hint). Civilization V has made a number of changes to the series – some good, some not so good. The first, and most obvious change players will find is that they have changed the grid on the map from square tiles to hexagons. This allows more freedom of movement with your units and adds a level of strategy to the military component of the game.
Furthermore, they have instituted a new system that only allows players to occupy one military unit per tile (1UPT). This prevents players from amassing huge armies (or ‘stacks of doom’ as they are often called) on one tile. This system is a great idea in theory, but in game terms it’s not all that great. While the new 1UPT system adds a chess-like strategy component to the military game, the computer AI is unable to use the system effectively. In fact, I have found military conquest in Civ V to be easier than in previous versions of the game. This is highly unfortunate given that Civ V tends to focus more on the military aspect of the game and drives players down a path of playing a military conquest game, rather than a cultural or diplomatic game.
Civ V’s military strategy also disappoints in that any land unit now has the ability to transform itself into a boat and sail around the world. There is no more need to build troop transports in order to move units across the ocean. To this, all I have to say is WTF? In previous versions of Civ, it used to be fun to back up and corner enemy units along the coastline. Now, that level of strategy is obsolete since any unit is ‘more than meets the eye’ and can transform into boats faster than you can say ‘Autobots, transform!’.
Graphically, there have been a number of changes to the game as well. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the game’s graphics, but the game is much more stylized than any of its predecessors. For that, I have to give the game props. The game takes on an art-deco feel and for the most part, the style works well for the series – and being a gay guy who likes old Hollywood, I can dig it. The actual game map is a bit of a disappointment, however. Colors are muted, textures such as trees that were once animated 3-D objects in Civ IV are now painted and lifeless. Roads and railroads also render poorly and don’t flow in a logical fashion. Furthermore, cities that are built near water tiles will often place buildings on water tiles. In one game, I had a city build a colosseum in the middle of the ocean. It was like having Lex Luthor and his cronies at the Hall of Doom lurking right outside my city waiting to spring a surprise attack. So, while I approve of the art-deco approach, the game has a number of graphical bugs that are simply unacceptable for a world-class franchise like Civilization.
In conjunction with the art-deco graphical style, Civ V has created a more streamlined user interface (UI) that I want to like, but ultimately find myself continually frustrated with. While I appreciate their attempts to not overload the player with too much data, the developers have ended up providing the player with not nearly enough information. For example, statistics on rival civilizations are almost impossible to find and city management is over-simplified to the point of not being enjoyable. Managing your budget, happiness and production have are now mostly automated or largely dependent upon what city improvement you build. However, it’s not always clear exactly how these new mechanics work. Additionally, trying to access information on what world wonders have been built, what rival civilizations think of you, and what the top cities of the world are have been completely eliminated from the game. That’s like, so not cool, man!
There are a number of other issues I could discuss, but the last one I will mention is diplomacy. In short, the diplomatic functions included in the game don’t seem to work, and some diplomatic functions are strangely absent. For example, you can no longer trade technologies with rival civilizations. This particular function was one I often use as a player because it’s a great way to bolster up weaker rival civilizations when they are threatened by larger, more powerful ones. Further, in Civ V I have gone to war with many civilizations who will, on the turn following a peace treaty with me, ask to form a pact of cooperation with me. That’s like if Gargamel were to one day suddenly have a change of heart and become best friends with the Smurfs. It simply isn’t going to happen.
All told, I think Civ V has a long road ahead. While it does incorporate some unique changes to the game, it fails to deliver on some very basic levels. While the new hex system, military combat system, and streamlined UI all have potential to make Civ V a great gaming experience, those features simply fail to deliver a gaming experience that is fun, interactive, and sustainable. Additionally, diplomacy and interactions with rival civilizations is simply an unenjoyable experience. Negotiations with civilizations are rarely satisfactory and players never know what the long-term consequences of those negotiations are.
I have been keeping a close eye on the forums over at Civfanatics. It appears that Civ V has polarized the Civilization fanbase in a number of ways and that I am not the only one left scratching my head in disbelief. Many seem to love it, and many, like myself, are not yet sold. The potential here is great, but I can’t help feel like the game, in its current state, is incomplete. So although my love of the series continues to be strong, I must admit I am disappointed.
Undoubtedly there will be patches and expansion packs to come. With that in mind, in what direction should Civilization V go next?
Update: Steam just finished downloading the latest patch the game. Can’t wait to see what’s new!