"You say you want a Revolution. Well, you know, we all wanna change the world."
I never played Civ or Civ 2. The first time I had a PC that could really do the job SM:AC was the flavor of the day and I got my first taste of Meierian awesomeness as the Spartans. Locked into an abusive relationship with the Hive, I was unable to do anything except what they demanded for over a thousand years. Until I got the bomb and began stockpiling. I was eventually forced to win that game by carpet-nuking the entire planet, wreacking untold devastation on every enemy city - and even some of my own - spartan concrete and iron cities shattered under the overpressures of proximal planet buster detonations. If the only honorable death is in service of Sparta... I unleashed a lot of fucking honor that day. Only a handful of domed Spartan cities remained - awash in a radioactive sea.
Civ 3... I must have played it ten times and never finished a game. Somewhere around the Renaissance - either at the tail end of the Middle Ages or the dawn of the Industrial Era at best, I would become swamped. With hundreds of units in play and often well over fifty cities, I would not be able to maintain any forward momentum. The sheer weight of Civ 3's background systems would drag the pace of the game down to a standstill. Maintenance, Inefficiency, Unit Support and proper basing, Pollution... all of these factors would fall like a hammer on my growth and mire the game down into turns that would sometimes take me over an hour to execute. My PC would then need to churn away on the turns of the other factions - sometimes for 30 or 40 minutes or more.
I never even considered playing another Civ game after that... until they announced it was coming to console. It was then that I realized there was no way they could even release a game whose turns would take two hours to complete. They would be forced to deliver a game that could be played from beginning to end in that time. The only question was whether or not the game would be fun with all the complexity stripped out? How much simpler and lighter could you make Civ without it becoming too easily solvable or too degenerate.
I've now bought the game twice. Once on DS and once on X360, and I have played the game upwards of 20 times. In almost every case I have finished the game (after having played it 5 to 8 times, I would tend to abandon a fresh game if starting terrain seemed particularly lop-sided either for or against).
So what's so great about Civilization: Revolution?
You will finish every game you start
And you will do it in between 2-6 hours, depending on how you play, which path to victory you choose, and how singular your commitment to your strategy. Playing on DS will be faster as you can skip the animated depiction of combat... cutting quite a lot of dead time from the game.
It is 'Civ:Lite'... but in a good way
A lot of the heavy underlying systems of previous Civ titles have just been removed. Not consolidated. Not automated. They are just gone. Unit Support? Talk about hidden numbers that have very far reaching effects... this concept is gone entirely. Efficiency? Again - a hidden 'tax' on what a city could produce that diminished the further the city stood from the capitol - it's gone... simply removed from the game. Does this unbalance the game? Now you can support 10,000 units if you want. Now growth is unchecked by efficiency. Isn't that a problem? Well, we could talk about it for hours, these sorts of questions are rooted in fundamental questions about game themselves. In the end, I am pretty certain that the answer we will arrive at is 'no' ... boy I could write 100 pages on that...
It's the same game on X360 and DS (and presumably other platforms)
This is what is world changing for me. In a game development climate where we seem to be trying to release a version of a game on every imaginable platform and we seem to have to do a lot of work and make a lot of compromises and a lot of changes for each platform (often staffing an entirely new team to deliver the game on each platform), Civ:Rev proves that you can release the exact same game on a handheld as you can on a Next-Gen 'living-room' console. Why - oh why - have our DS games tended to be shoddy reskins of other DS games painted up to look like whatever AAA console title we're launching. Why - oh why - do the big console versions of handheld titles seem almost like a joke of an 'up port'? For me - this is the most important statement made by the game. It is the thing that proves Sid Meier still fucking ownz all our asses. It is the thing that calls into question all of the assumptions we've made about game development for this entire generation - even making Will Wright's statements about player creativity and proceduralism, and the 'second processor' and sharing, ranking, rating - seem a bit off the mark. How do we deal with the current generation's 'divide' between the big machines from Sony and Microsoft and the generation-winning machines from nintendo? Sid just showed us.
The Air War
My friend Greg loves kicking people's asses with air-power. From the TIE Defender to SMAC's shard helicopters, nothing can stop him gloating over his air power as he pounds the fuck out of everything with endless waves of aircraft that seem to materialize around him when his singular Goring-esque commitment to air-war pays off at the start of the end-game. Civ:Rev's air-war is different. Civ: Rev wins the air-war thus; there is no better game to play while on an airplane than Civ:Rev on a DS. Period. Trust me. I flew to Africa, Tokyo, Sydney, Shanghai, and then Africa again with Civ:Rev DS. If you don't have a DS and you have a flight coming up, it is worth buying one right now, just so you can play Civ:Rev on it while you fly.
What's wrong with Civilization: Revolution?
It is degenerate
The game is degenerate. Keep in mind, I still had to play the game ~10 times to lock down degenerate strategies, but lack of some of the above mentioned overly-complex balancing features leads to two major problems. The first is that aggressive growth strategies always win. I typically win the game with 20+ cities compared to my next leading opponent having 8 or so, and behind him a cluster of opponents with 4-6. The AI simply does not seem able to keep up with even moderately aggressive player growth strategies.
Another unfortunate degeneration is that the Aztecs simply seem unbeatable. The ability to have units always heal to full, plus the later bonuses that this Faction receives (Temples producing science, reduced cost roads, increased gold production) all stack up to make a faction that is just too powerful.
As I mention above, I tend to restart a game within 50 or so turns if the starting terrain seems too lop-sided. If a kind of bias to a theory of geographical determinism is leveled against Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, then nowhere could this bias be more clearly expressed than in Civ:Rev (note - this is a failing of all the Civ games I ever played, not just this one). The reality is, there are myriad ways in which the starting geography of the game can determine the entire outcome of the game, and after you have played half-a-dozen times, you will probably want to abandon about one game in three after the first 45 minutes or so should the geographical advantages be too extreme.
A sadly missing feature is the ability to customize - even to a slight degree - the nature of the planet you will play on. The planet tends to always be a fairly similar Pangaea, causing games to often play out in similar ways. In Civ 3 and SMAC you could tell the world generator how much to age the planet, how wet or how dry to make it, how eroded, how old, etc. I miss this feature. For example, I would like to try a very naval focused game playing as the Spanish, English or the Japanese - but the probability of an archipelago-style world being generated by the game is low. Also, you cannot choose which factions you will play against. Having the ability to customize the planet generation parameters and the opponents allows you to play some interesting edges of the game... setting the world up as an archipelago and playing as the Spanish - but offsetting your naval advantages by filling the world with powerful military factions like the Mongols, Germans, and Aztecs forces you to play a game of aquatic commerce and culture, which is very different from the 'typical' game which is imposed by the degenerate elements. I miss that.
Anyway, that's my review of Civilization:Revolution for the XBox360 and Nintendo DS. I highly recommend you try one or the other (or both).