I don’t know why the news hasn’t been plastered over the front page of papers and websites all over the world. Sid Meier has built a time machine!
Granted, it only works one way, propelling the user forward many hours into the future with virtually no control over how much of your life will be stolen, but you have to admit that’s still an amazing achievement.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Civilization V still has that addictive magic; that ability to consume you until you are absorbed fully within your newly discovered world. The strategic planning, the carefully followed research arc, the French. All still there. The mantra of ‘just one more turn’ will still be uttered by the most devout Civ fans.
That magic is hard to define. Or put down to one thing. All I know is no other game has led me to spend hours patiently waiting, building, plotting, purely to have my revenge on a neighbouring civilization that 200 turns ago stole one of my cities. If you take my capital with a spearman, I’ll remember. And I will have my revenge, my sweet, searing, atomic revenge.
Luckily, the game isn't merely Civilization IV presented in high definition. The graphics are updated, with a clean art deco feel, but they're not just for aesthetics. With the graphics update comes information and presentation tweaks. Taking the lessons learnt from Civilization Revolution on the consoles, the user interface has been redesigned to be efficient with incoming information. You can see what you need to see, when you want to see it, and also easily file information away when you're done with it.
This new approach comes across as more user friendly, and intuitive. Long-time Civilization fans will find it takes a bit of getting used to, but will almost certainly come around after spending a few hours with it. As some of the info doesn’t appear on the surface it’s easy to assume it’s been forgotten, but don’t let the GUI fool you into thinking the game has been simplified. With a few rounds under your belt, you’ll see the logic behind the changes.
Even the leaders of each culture have had a makeover. They'll speak their native tongues, and make faces to show their delight or disgust at you. They’ll even turn up every now and then just to say something mean about your progress. It's important to note at this stage that actions speak louder than words, and catapults are relatively cheap.
Another benefit to the graphics update is the terrain. Now split into hexes, which I’ll touch on in a minute, the game map now sports a high detail texture system that allows the player to see on the screen exactly how the land lies, and what resources are to be found. Civilization IV’s strategic zoom is gone however, replaced by a mini-map system. I personally found this a bit of a backwards step, but it’s no game breaker. Animations are crisp, more detailed, and enjoyable to watch.
However the wonders and discoveries are now only announced via a pop-up box, or a still image depicting the wonder you had just built. Again, no game breaker but I do feel that the animations of the predecessors gave a better sense of grandeur. Leonard Nimoy, who’s got the sort of voice that could convince me to take up smoking, is also gone. He’s replaced by Morgan Sheppard, who despite being a voice actor for many games, movies and films is just not as good. If you ask the internet, Morgan Freeman would have been the best replacement. After all, he’s already played god several times.
Graphics are of course the obvious change, and the easiest to accept. Coming to terms with Civilization V’s new found hexuality was a little difficult at first. Gone are the squares, and the slightly quirky movement they invoked. With a six-sided system, movement is slightly more fluid. What really changes though is the way you move your combat units in to attack cities. Combining these hexes with a one unit per tile system constitutes the biggest change in the game.
No longer able to put twenty tanks on one tile and simply ‘tankenstein’ my way across the map, I was initially bereft of strategic cunning. Once used to it however, I saw the light. In order to accommodate tile unit limits and hexes, I learned that diversity in units and strategy paid dividends. Ranged units are especially useful, damaging melee opponents long before they can reach your front line. Carefully choosing an army that has range and melee strengths is essential, but equally so is how you choose to place them. Attacking a city on a peninsula is far more realistic, as you realise the single tile is fast becoming a bottleneck. Your infantry units are taking heavy bombardment from the city, while your artillery can’t get within range because your front line has to attack single-file.