Civilization: Call to Power

As befits a game with so grand a name, Civilization is billed by its makers as “the greatest strategy game series of all time”. The empire-building simulation has sold over 2.5 million copies since its inception as Sid Meier’s Civilization ten years ago, yet hasn’t been properly updated since 1996’s best-selling Civilization II. The latest version, Civilization: Call to Power, follows the same epic course as the earlier games. You start out as a brave but puny settler – armed with a ragged sack of basic technologies – and slowly build yourself an empire of cities and awesome army of might. Turn by turn, you explore your new world, building cities here and there, discovering and inventing things, managing your natural resources, organizing your people, and knocking seven bells out of neighbouring nations. The first things you notice about Civilization: Call to Power (CTP) are the wonderfully modelled 3D unit icons and terrain squares. In the original Civilization, the Settler unit was a flat wagon on a coloured square; in Civ II, it became a static peasant with a spade; in CTP, we get a walking, talking young man – looking a lot like a gay gardener. Settlers no longer build roads, irrigate or mine – this is now down to the size of your Public Works budget. While it makes things easier, it does take some fun out of the early stages of the game compared to Civ II. And, roads no longer affect production or trade, only movement points. Scottish-Australian axis
CTP offers you a trireme-full of new nations to choose to hail from: aside from the usual Romans, Greeks, English, etc, you can now be Scottish, Jamaican or Australian. CTP is also full of new unit types – from Samurai to Storm Marine, there’s now 65 in total. And civilization Advances are, well, more advanced – from Alchemy to Nano Assembly, there are 90 to complete. There are also some new Wonders of the World for you to build: the Labyrinth, East India Company, and Dinosaur Park, to name a few. This is a great improvement on Civ II’s limited options – but the lack of Civ II’s Leonardo’s Workshop wonder makes unit-production a bind. In CTP, you can build underwater cities and orbiting space colonies. And, you can wage unconventional warfare, with economic attacks, propaganda, biological terrorism, and religious conversion. While adding realistic levels of complexity, I found these relentless non-combat attacks – the injunction-wielding Lawyer especially – detracted from the traditional blood-&-thunder fun of clashing armies. CTP lets you witness your units clash with your enemy’s, in a small animated combat sub-screen. Combat has been made more sophisticated by the pooling of units’ attack and defence ratings. Sounds super, but even small groups of primitive units can now wipe out a Stealth Bomber – which is just silly when it happens more than once. This is equivalent to Star Wars’ Ewoks winning time after time. Instead of colonizing Alpha Centauri as your ultimate goal, in CTP you must breed alien life forms – although you can still win by knocking off every other nation. CTP’s gameplay “improvements” aren’t always welcome. A line follows your cursor to show you the path your unit will take, but in practise, this just gets in the way – ruining your centred position on the map if you move your mouse. One slip of the mouse button, and the path can also issue false instructions to your unit – sending it marching off in totally the wrong direction.

OUR VERDICT

While I haven’t spent anywhere near the game hours on CTP that I have over the years on Civ II, I’m still perturbed by many of CTP’s gameplay “improvements”. The lush graphics and wider range of units, advances and wonders are welcome, but some of the fun seems to have |been stripped out in favour of either sophistication – often too complex – or simplicity – often too automatic. Civ II addicts should try it out for size, but don’t delete the old classic. Newcomers should grab Civilization II while they can.

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