At a time when pulsating fast paced shooters Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 regularly fill the top two spots on Xbox LIVE, and every second game released on the 'next gen' consoles shows muscle bound marines splitting grotesque mutants in two, Civilisation Revolution, the console re-imagination of Sid Meier's classic PC strategy title proves to be a refreshing antidote.
While hardened fans of the PC version of Civilisation might turn their noses up at Civ Rev, slamming it for 'dumbing down' the pure hardcore strategy experience, for a console game it's positively pedestrian. Expect a single game over Xbox LIVE or PSN to last at least an hour and a half, as each player watches the turns pass and their cities pump Warrior units out for exploration.
But that doesn't prevent Civ Rev from being the quickest, most action packed Civilisation game ever. Because the world map is so small contact with other civilisations, whether they be controlled by the computer or real people, is almost instantaneous. The luxurious time afforded to early decisions in previous versions of the game has been stripped away for a more arcadey and streamlined experience. Do you declare war on Tokugawa's Japanese or offer your hand in peace? Do you go for a swift domination victory or hang back and aim for the cultural win? Do you concentrate on diplomacy, perhaps offering Literacy in exchange for Bronze Working with Lincoln's United States, or ignore everyone and do your own thing? No time for dithering. You'll need to answer all of these questions before the Countdown-esque clock ticks down and everyone's turn is automatically ended.
Developer Firaxis' greatest achievement is that Civ Rev on consoles simply works. Admittedly, with Civ Rev being a turn-based game it's an easier job than solving the console RTS riddle, but the execution is no less impressive. The camera swiftly and deftly (bar some slowdown when there's lots to compute) moves from unit to unit, from city to city as and when things require attention without the player's input. If you want you can move around the world map yourself, you can with the right thumb stick. Every menu, from city screen to diplomacy to who's winning, allows you easy access to the rest of the game. This is Civilisation streamlined, and, dare we say it, more efficient.
It was a given that the game's gameplay would have to be tweaked for console gamer's different needs. What's great is that the game still feels like Civilisation despite this. Players who come across ancient artefacts, like the lost city of Atlantis, will enjoy an explosion in knowledge that can turn a match on its head. You'll also get technology benefits and free units and buildings if you're the first player to research a technology, or when you reach a new era. Combining three units of the same type into an army, and levelling them up with useful powers like bonuses to movement or city attacks, is made simple and encouraged. In Civ Rev you'll be more concerned about whether your Legion army will be able to capture an enemy city filled with defending Archers than you will by the micro management of your city workers.
There are drawbacks to the new approach. As we said the world map is small, but at times it feels way too small. It seems like an oversight that the game doesn't allow players to generate custom maps that are bigger. And despite the world being tiny, it's sometimes hard to get an overview of what's going on because the camera's distance to the action is fixed in place. It's kind of like only being able to play PES on the short camera view. Sometimes you need to switch it to wide in order to see more of the playing field.
Tied in with the new feel is a fresh, more cartoon-like look. We're less enthusiastic about this. The cartooney graphics and the mumbo jumbo Telletubbies-esque speech of advisors and rival civilisation leaders grates for us. Yes it's cute, and initially has a degree of charm to it (your advisors will push each other out of the way as you switch between cultural, military and scientific orders), but we reckon that Scooby Doo-ing a game's aesthetic isn't the only way to make it more accessible.
The game has a distinct lack of next-gen sheen too. Battles between units are distinctly underwhelming. The camera will zoom in slightly, the individual character models will circle each other, attack and defend until there's no one else to kill. Why not utilise the power of the 'next gen' consoles by making the battles more interesting and more impressive? For a Civ that is so combat heavy, this would seem like an area of focus. In the end actually watching the combat becomes an afterthought.
The game's graphical shortcomings however, don't prevent that 'one last turn' addictive quality that has kept the series selling well over the last decade. All that heavy strategy stuff, the micro management of workers and land tiles, is still in there, but can on the whole be ignored. The key is that you can get a hell of a lot of enjoyment out of Civ Rev without getting completely bogged down by the game's statistics.
Civ Rev is certainly a game that console-owning strategy fans should at the very least try out. We also reckon fans of the PC versions should give it a go, especially for the online multiplayer, which is a vastly different beast to what they will be used to. There's definitely room for improvement and, if Civ Rev proves a success, perhaps Firaxis will get the opportunity to refine the Civilisation console experience even more in follow up titles. For now though we're happy to dip in and out of this re-imagination of one of the greatest, most durable strategy games ever released, and have some innocent, no nonsense fun. Put that in your online FPS pipe and smoke it.