We played Civilisation a lot back in the day. A hell of a lot. It was one of those games that sucked up time like a planet-sized hoover... that could suck up time. This was, of course, because it was a very long game. And so it should be. You were taking a civilisation from the dawn of time to the space age. That's a lot of time.
And that's exactly what Sid Meier's Civilisation Revolution, the series' console debut, is not. It does not take a lot of time. It may well suck up a lot of time because it's quite good, but leading your civilisation from the dawn of time to the space age takes, in this game, what feels like a blink of an eye.
The title says revolution but it's more of a re-purposing. It's certainly dumbed down, as any fan of any of the PC titles will agree, but as far as turn-based console strategy titles go there's certainly enough depth to satisfy. The graphics have been given a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon overhaul - there are more primary colours than we thought existed and advisers will push each other out of the way as you give them orders. Inevitably there are less options and emphasis on in-depth strategy, at least on all but the hardest difficulty level, but don't take this to mean the game isn't any good. These changes were inevitable.
Last time we checked in with Civ Rev we got some hands-on with the four-player online multiplayer. So this time we'll concentrate on the single-player experience. There are a number of options here - quick game lets you jump straight into a game with your choice of civilisation. You've got the standard new game, which allows you to do a similar thing to the quick game. Game of the Week automatically selects your civilisation and jumps you into a one-off game with predetermined opponents. And the Play Scenarios mode contains a number of specific matches, including Attack of the Huns (the barbarians are much more aggressive), Chariots of the Gods (civilisations are given the knowledge of future technology straight off the bat) and Lightning Round (players start in the Medieval Era with an emphasis on speed).
There are 16 civilisations in total, everything from Elizabeth I's English to Caesar's Romans. Each civilisation comes with its own unique units and special abilities granted at the beginning of the game. The Japanese, for example, begin with the knowledge of Ceremonial Burial, and have available to them special units like Samurai Knights, Ashigaru Pikmen, Val Bombers and Zero Fighters. They also have unique upgrades as you progress through the game's four eras - ancient, medieval, industrial and modern.
In an actual game, it's not long before you've encountered other rival civilisations and you're either trying to destroy them or make peace with them. Things move very fast - the game pushing you through its turn-based system as quickly as possible. When units fight the game weighs up the attack versus defence score and plays out a little battle. Three of the same unit can join together to form a powerful army, which can then assault other units or defend cities. As units win battles they unlock special abilities, for example healing or adding a bonus to city attacks, and their graphics alter as a result. Having a number of levelled up armies at your disposal is a sure-fire way to destroy your enemies. From our time with the game, there's a much greater emphasis on battle than in previous versions of Civilisation. We completed one Game of the Week against the computer in about half an hour, wrapping things up in 1945AD by dropping a nuclear bomb on Rome, taking out one of our own nearby jets in the process. Let's just say it was worth it.
Menu navigation is well done and simple to use. Cycling through city screens (LB on the Xbox 360) is a doddle. Speaking with rival civilisation leaders is done through the Diplomacy Panel (RB). Movement is controlled by the left thumbstick, the right thumbstick lets you look around. The view will automatically dart from one position on the globe to another as units and cities need orders. After only about 10 minutes of play we completely forgot that we were playing a Civilization game with a joypad, which is testament to the job Firaxis has done with this crucial part of the game. We would like access to a wide view so we could see things on a global scale (the available view is quite close), but we can take it.
While Civilization has always been somewhat of a serious strategy game, some absolutely bonkers bits have been thrown into Civ Rev, and we can't see any good reason why. If you're doing well during a game, you'll receive gifts from far-off admirers. These might be sexy dancers, magicians, infallible fortune tellers or dancing bears in tutus. That's right, there are dancing bears in tutus in Civ Rev. You can then check out the performers from multiple angles, if you're so inclined. Apart from unlocking an achievement by seeing them all, we can't think of any good reason why they're in the game. How bizarre.
Civ Rev is a curious one. From our time with a near-finished preview version of the Xbox 360 game, we know for sure that the addictive nature of the series has been reassuringly replicated. It's a much quicker, more combat-heavy version of the game, which has its advantages, but at the same time we're not sure PC-owners will be fussed. The graphics are ropey, although there's still a little bit of time for polish. And we're a little disappointed Firaxis decided to go down the cartooney route rather than utilise the power of the next-generation consoles for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. But then that's the Civilization fan in us talking, and that's not what Civ Rev is about. Civ Rev is about introducing one of the best-loved PC strategy titles to a vast, new audience. Firaxis is hoping this revolution will be one that stands the test of time.
Civilization Revolution is due out on the Xbox 360 and PS3 on June 13 and on the Nintendo DS early to mid-July.