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Big Versus: Civilization IV and Revolution

Shying away from our original concept of weighing the pros and cons of multiplatform releases, Big Versus has transformed into a opinionated comparison piece regarding our overall experiences with the multiple versions of a game. Which version will we keep playing in the end? Find out in Big Versus.

Since the early 1990s, Sid Meier's Civilization franchise has challenged strategy enthusiasts to shape an empire and make their mark in virtual history. While PC gamers enjoy the latest expansion for Civilization IV, Beyond the Sword, they may not realize Firaxis Games has been hard at work redefining the conventions that made the original series so popular in the console exclusive, Civilization Revolution.

Promising a more streamlined and accessible entry into the franchise with Revolution, the Big Download team decided to visit both virtual worlds in our latest installment of Big Versus.

Are PC gamers missing something with Revolution? Find out today, on Big Versus.

Civilization IV
Publisher: 2K | Release Date: October 25, 2005 | PC Exclusive

View all downloads for this title now!

Civilization Revolution
Publisher: 2K | Release Date: July 9, 2008 | Console Exclusive

Comparing Civilization Revolution to Civ4 feels like going to the groceries. There's a set list of what you expect to get but sometimes you notice something you imagine you'd want. Specifically, a simple Civilization was never on our minds.

Conceptually, a console focused Civilization seems plausible considering the push consoles have had with real-time strategy games. Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth, Command and Conquer 3 and, most recently, Supreme Commander have all made the jump to consoles with varying degrees of success. Rebuilding the traditional turn-based gameplay of its predecessors, Revolution isn't simply Civilization IV with a tacked on control system -- it is a complete re-imagining of the franchise.


One of the most enticing qualities of Civilization has always been the size and scope of the world around you. The world can be as large as you wish while hundreds of abilities help shape your experience differently each time you play. Civilization Revolution unfortunately doesn't feel the same way. The game is limited to one singular map, which randomizes landmass at the start of each game. Randomized or not, the world is small. It isn't uncommon to scroll in any direction for a few seconds before looping around the planet back to your starting point. The realization can be quite disheartening at first.

Another substantial change from Civilization IV is the in game research system -- the Tech Tree. When released Civilization IV increased the tree to 86 research-able items, CivRev is halved to 45. The missing abilities are usually stepping stones to greater technology in an effort to make research faster for console gamers but it sometimes renders technology obsolete quickly. For example, within thirty minutes of being able to build Pikemen units the ability to research gunpowder was made available and rendered the new attack unit useless. Due to its size it might look like the research experience would be short but fully researching the tech tree totals out to a few hours of work. A notable omission of important in CivRev is the focus on religion and in-depth civics from Civilization IV. Instead of a focus on both concepts, they are simply relegated to research-able technology.

The research itself works well but it eventually, just ends. Future Technology is the research ceiling and affords you the option of creating a space-station. The space-station, when fully upgraded, can be used to venture into space in search of the Alpha Centauri system, winning the match for the first person to do so (via technology). There are four ways to win in Civilization Revolution. Military conquest (capturing all other civilization's home city or Palace), cultural victory (by amassing 20 great people, wonders or culturally-flipped cities and then creating a United Nations wonder), economic victory (by amassing 20,000 gold and constructing a World Band) and the aforementioned tech victory.

While the game omits some of the best qualities from Civilization IV, the entire thing feels right. Make no mistake, it's a title that could only be released on console due to its streamlined presentation. While it's enjoyable, some of the design choices make the entire experience feel watered down. For example, there are no controllable workers in CivRev to build farms or roads. Instead the grid surrounding your controlled cities consist of icons that display the available resources to gather. Food grows your population, production builds units and buildings, and trade furthers scientific research or swaps that research for gold. Instead of a worker being delegated specific tasks you select a general work order for the city itself which could be used to focus on one resource or a balance of them all.

The end result changes the feel of the game dramatically. While Civilization always felt like a extremely controllable game where you played king, CivRev is very streamlined and feels like a god-game. Want a road between two cities? Pay for it and *poof!* there it is. No build wait, not worker units. It just appears. Quick and painless.

Developers who bring strategy games to consoles are known to bullet-point control schemes. Every new release is an updated version of the last which always claims to solve the mystery as if they had deciphered the Da Vinci Code. But RTS controls on a console are complex, mapping simple mouse and keyboard functionality to a controller often leads to a series of button combinations that ultimately fall apart during the action. CivRev does away with this controller circus. As a low intensity but challenging experience, CivRev works well on a gamepad because of its simplicity.

There are three basic controls in CivRev. Left-analog is unit movement, right-analog is a free-look magnify-glass and the 'A' or 'X' button (on the Xbox 360 and PS3 respectively) controls selection. Other buttons come into play but those three basic controls are the core of the experience.

If there is a major complain about the control it is that there is no manual option to end a turn at any time. Instead players must wait until all units and cities have been given orders before a prompt allows you to progress further. What it means is that once your empire begins to grow you'll be faced with multiple menus that get extremely annoying as you wait for research or build orders to complete. Civ4 was known to melt away the hours and while you can spend just as much time with CivRev, nothing will snap you back to reality quicker than having to lug through menu, after menu.

One new addition is the onscreen presence of attack and defense statistics during the revamped battle system. Information on each unit displays during battle and outline a probable outcome based on the stats. Combining three of the same unit can create a fleet or army, which increases the attack stat accordingly. In some instances the in game advisor will warn players that a battle will not yeild favorable results, which can be a helpful tip to run-and-gun style players.

Very simply put, Civilization Revolution is a beautiful game. Rather than continue the realistic design from previous games, CivRev has a more playful art style. Units are all represented well and are easy to differentiate and each civilization has its own unique visual presence. The returning advisors from Civilization II, which help walk you through the game, look fantastic and are a treat to watch evolve as the ages are upgraded from Barbarian to Modern.

Hearing them. That's another issue. All in game characters are fluent in 'Sim-ish,' meaning they mumble made up words to convey the fact that they are speaking to you. This wouldn't be such an issue if they rarely engaged in conversation but they always have something to say. Eventually it will drive you mad. It's honestly that brutal.

Civilization Revolution is a great console game. What it does, it does very well. Its purpose was to convert the Civilization experience into a new style that is better suited to console gamers. There are certain gripes we have about the game from a PC standpoint but it offers one of the best strategy experiences console gamers have ever had. The question is, are PC gamers missing out? Not at all. This is an entirely different beast and was created to simplify the classic genre for console gamers.

Civilization was an evolution of the strategy experience and its recent console counterpart has shifted its focus to a more accessible experience. PC gamers still clutching copies of Civilization IV should note that this version may feel too watered down. But, as a console experience Civilization Revolution is a blast to play and we recommend you try it and judge it for what its worth if you have the chance.

Xav de Matos is a contributing editor for the Joystiq Network at Big Download and Xbox 360 Fanboy as well as the producer of the weekly BigDownload.com gaming podcast, the BigCast. Questions or suggestions for this or future features may be directed to xav.dematos [at] weblogsinc [dot] com.

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