Those were the days - when games were games and gamers were gamers. Back then we didn't need anything dumbed down. We didn't need motion-sensing controllers. We didn't need perfectly rounded, perfectly completable 10-hour experiences. All we needed was 100-hour hardcore God sims on the Amiga. All we needed was Sid Meier's Civilization.
But times change. People change. Gamers change and games change. Now in order to make the money needed to survive games need to be perfectly rounded, perfectly completable 10-hour experiences. Games need to have fast-paced console online multiplayer. Games need to have pick up and play controls. Games need to have easy to navigate menus. And games need to have a timer that makes sure you can't grief everyone else in a multiplayer deathmatch by buggering off for a pint down the pub. Now, all we need is Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution, due out on June 6 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS.
It was with this in mind that we trotted along to 2K Games' Windsor HQ to get a multiplayer hands-on of the Xbox 360 version of Civ Rev, Firaxis' console version of the classic turn-based civilisation sim. We knew Firaxis would have to make the game more accessible, building it from the ground up specifically for consoles. The essential question is, of course, have they done a good job? The answer? Yes. A resounding yes.
Along with a few other game journalists we were thrust straight into a four-player free for all match (other civilisations were handled by the AI) via system link (there's a co-op mode too). Civ Rev has some nice tech which allows players to drop in and out of multiplayer games without putting an end to their Civ's participation in the game. This hot join option sees the computer take control of your civ whenever you're not. And from what we've seen it does a decent job, too.
Despite the cartooney graphics the essence of what makes Civ so addictive and compelling has survived the fresh console translation. Civ Rev will feature 16 civilisations in total, from the English to the Japanese, each with its own unique leader, from Napoleon to Gandhi, and starting bonus. There are four ways to win a match - technological (winning the space race), economic (reaching the gold cap), domination (killing everyone) and cultural. The turn-based gameplay remains. Here, the first player to end his or her turn will trigger a countdown (the host can switch the speed of turns from slow to medium to fast), displayed on-screen by a red circle. When the countdown ends everyone's turn is over, thus stopping the potential for players to take hours over one turn and ruining the game for everyone else. During that turn you'll have loads of options open to you, even at the game's early stages, including unit movement, city founding, combat, resource tweaking and unit/building construction. As you'd expect though, the longer the game goes on the more you'll have to manage in one turn. In theory, multiplayer games will at first be very quick but eventually will slow down as players need to deal with more cities, more civs and more units at once.
During our multiplayer session it didn't quite work out like that. The countdown timer appeared to be slightly bugged, meaning it often took ages before a turn was completed. Because of this we didn't get the chance to get far along the timeline. Don't expect this to be an issue with the final game though. There's plenty of time for any bugs to be ironed out before release.
We did, however, get a good sense of how the game feels to play on console. As we all know, the big issue with strategy PC titles coming to consoles is the control system. It's so easy to manage multiple units at once with a mouse and keyboard. As yet, no developer has completely nailed this on console. And while Firaxis hasn't completely solved the problem, playing Civ Rev on console never feels frustrating. In fact, we'd go as far as to say that it feels effortless. Left and right on the d-pad toggles on-screen units. The right thumb stick scrolls the map, the left thumbstick dishes out orders. The left trigger zooms out, giving you a slightly expanded view. The left bumper switches to the city screen, where you manage resource gathering and construction. The right bumper brings up your diplomacy options, where you can communicate with other player or AI controlled civs. The right trigger gives you an information overview, back on the Xbox 360 controller gives you city reports and technology research, and finally the B button ends your turn.