The Civilization series is one of the most popular games to ever grace Steam. It consistently holds a spot in the top concurrent player list, beaten only by giants of the platform like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike. The series has a long history with this year marking some 25 years since the original Civilization was released. Over those decades the core game has evolved considerably, culminating in the latest release: Civilization VI. With this being the Civilization game with the longest development cycle to date, a total of 6 years, anticipation was high but it seems that this iteration has fallen a little short of the bar that was set with Civilization IV.
The story of Civilization VI is, as always, what you make it. The historic figures representing nations are back with their traits and behaviours heavily influenced by their real world counterparts. You’ll take control of one of them, setting out on a quest to achieve victory by one of several means. What path you choose will have a dramatic effect both on how your civilization develops as well as how others percieve you. You’ll need to employ careful strategy to ensure that your path to victory is achievable whilst your opponents is not, a balancing act that unfolds over multiple hours of game time. Indeed the narratives that build out of civilization games are as interesting as the core game itself, giving you war stories to share with your fellow Civilization brethren.
Compared to its closest predecessor (Beyond Earth) Civilization VI has improved both in terms of overall graphical quality and aesthetics. The maps are much more detailed with the various landscapes, structures and units lavished with additional polygons and higher detailed textures. The bright colour palette is a welcome change as Beyond Earth would feel a bit dreary after a long session. The models for the other leaders are a bit incongruous with the rest of the game, sitting in that weird spot between too realistic and not realistic enough. It’s clear that they’re meant to be caricatures but they’re just not stylised enough, sitting firmly in the uncanny valley. The UI has also been overhauled once again making things slightly more discoverable although you’ll still need an hour or so of clicking to figure it out.
The base game remains largely the same as it always has in Civilization games with the noted addition of a few more mechanics and a reworking of some others. Instead of all your improvements being built in the city centre you’ll now build districts for things like military, science and culture. These districts house their own improvements and have their own adjacency bonuses, making their placement a little more strategic. Units are now able to be stacked in a limited fashion, making it a little easier to handle larger armies. Tech advances can now be boosted by completing certain activities, reducing their research time by half. Culture victories are now a viable route to victory with their own tech tree called Civics, opening up a set of advantages that aren’t available elsewhere. Other than that the core game will be familiar to those who’ve played the series before, ensuring that one more turn always turns into more.
If you’re like me and only¹ play Civilization or similar games every so often then you’ll likely be as overwhelmed as ever when you start out. Thankfully it’s pretty easy to get going with Civilization presenting you with a quick start game right off the bat. However even selecting “I’m not familiar with the Civilization series” in the tutorial options still leaves a lot to be explained, requiring several trips to the Googles to help out. It’s probably best to learn by doing and failing as attempting to theorycraft your way to victory can be a torturous exercise, especially when you don’t know the right questions to ask. I think it took me about 4 failed attempts before I settled on a game which looked winnable and maybe 12 hours of total game time. For someone who hasn’t played a civilization game in 2 years I don’t think that’s too bad!
Once you’ve set your sights on a particular victory condition it becomes easy to figure out what you should be prioritising. Like all strategy games running for the victory condition as hard as possible will likely see you fail as the other empires can outplay you quickly if you’re only focused on a single tactic. Thus the early game usually revolves around striking a balance between your preferred victory condition and ensuring the others don’t get ahead of you. This means you’ll usually have a smattering of various different victory paths going at the start before you can really dig your heels in and charge for the goal. I had (predictably) set my sights on the science victory and spent the entirety of my 20 hours in the game figuring out how best to achieve it.
Whilst this particular victory condition does give you a few notable advantages (like better units and buildings long before your opponents) it is incredibly vulnerable to things like spies and religious attacks. It’s also probably the one that takes the longest to achieve overall as you not only have to research all the required tech but also construct it. Each of the components takes around 20 turns to complete, more if you don’t have a great person to boost your output or a heavily upgraded industrial zone. In the end I think I won at turn 450, just shy of the game’s time limit of 500. Had that time come I would have still won just on points, but that would’ve felt hollow compared to achieving an actual victory.
As I mentioned before some of the mechanics of Civilization VI are a little esoteric, requiring a bit of searching to understand them completely. Amenities, which is the replacement for happiness, is influenced by numerous things that aren’t made readily apparent. Early game it can be quite frustrating as there aren’t many ways to get them, especially if the AI isn’t extremely friendly with you (a near impossible feat it seems). Veterans of the series will likely have an easier time understanding what’s going on here than I did but for new comers it can be a little off putting. If you’re lucky enough to have dual monitors (like myself) then it might be a non-issue, just make sure you’ve always got a blank tab ready to go.
During my play through there were numerous design choices which drastically reduced player quality of life when playing. Spies had to be constantly set to guard whatever resource you wanted to protect, meaning every 6 turns would be spent sending them back to where you came. The AI is as illogical as ever with long time allies suddenly declaring war on you for no good reason. Worse still the AI will constantly denounce you for anything you do to them but has no qualms about doing the same back to you. Strangely, and I’ve not found out if this is a bug or not, cities that had been ceded to me would often result in the other empire denouncing me as a warmonger (even if it was from a war they started). This wouldn’t be an issue if it happened once or twice but it’d usually happen every 6 turns or so.
Civilization VI is another great instalment in the series, even if it doesn’t live up to the high expectations that it’s predecessor set all those years ago. The updated visuals are great, ensuring that the long hours spent staring at units and buildings don’t get stale as quickly as they used to. The core mechanics revitalise the core game play ensuring that Civilization VI isn’t just a new coat of paint on an old engine. There’s a few rough edges, some of which I’ve heard have recently been patched out, but the overall quality of the game is still high. For long time fans of the series Civilization 6 is sure to keep you coming back for turn after turn, the hours ticking away as you build out your empire once again. Newcomers will also find a lot to like, if they can make it past the wall of bewildering choices early on. Overall Civlization 6 is a solid title in this series and that will likely be reflected in its continued popularity long after release.
Civilization VI is available right now on PC for $69.95. Total play time was 20 hours with 16% of the achievements unlocked.
¹ I initially wrote “old” here (accidentally!) instead of only but I think the sentence works either way 😉
I have something of a love/hate relationship with 4X style games. Usually at the beginning I hate them, the complicated web of variables that needs to be balanced properly usually irritates me to no end, especially when I figure out I’ve backed myself into a corner. Whilst that might make put them down initially there’s always that voice at the back of my head that tells me I should try again because this time, it says, you’ll get the balance right. And so the cycle goes until I look at the clock and its 1am…2 days later. The Civilization series has long set the benchmark for the 4X genre and with its latest instalment, Civilization: Beyond Earth, it seems set to keeping setting the standard by which all others will be judged.
Earth lies a ravaged husk of its former self. 600 years into the future humanity made a terrible error, The Great Mistake, that is slowly rendering the planet unliveable. Thus all the great nations of the world put their resources behind a desperate plan: they’d send their best and brightest across the galaxy to find new worlds, to start fresh and save humanity from its certain death. It is now up to you, dear traveller, to restart humanity on worlds that are not of our own. Will you remake humanity in it’s own image? Or will you craft a new kind of civilization, free from the bonds of its past? The world is yours to craft.
Having not played Civilization V it’s hard for me to comment on how the graphics compare to its predecessor although perusing through some screenshots shows that there’s been some improvements, not least of which comes from the form of a better UI. Like most 4X games Beyond Earth tends towards a more simple graphical style mostly because the screen ends up littered with hundreds of objects in no short order, able to bring even a respectably specced machine to its knees. That being said it’s not an ugly game, especially when you’re zoomed out, indeed it’s probably the best looking 4X game I’ve played.
Like all other Civilization games Beyond Earth has a bewildering amount of things to do. It’s enough that, at first glance, you almost feel like you need to read a novel to make sure you know what you’re doing before you click the start button. However, just like other games in this genre, the best thing to do is to simply plonk yourself down and attempt to hammer your way through it, figuring out how each different mechanic works. There’s a semi-helpful AI who’ll pipe up every so often to let you know when something’s happening or there’s a mechanic that needs explaining, which helps a little bit, but the larger overall strategy is still left entirely up to you. With so many options available to you, along with the routine 6+ hour per game play time, you have a recipe for an incredibly addictive game.
Unlike Civilization games of years past Beyond Earth allows you to craft your own history by making a few choices. Your opponents are no longer historical figures, instead they’re representatives of the various factions of Earth that have been sent to settle this planet. The tech tree that we’re familiar with is gone, replaced with a tech web that sprawls out in numerous directions, opening up several different paths to unlocking technology. Beyond Earth also brings with it a system called affinity which sets the overall tone for how your settlement behaves in this new world. With technology trading removed it’s nigh on impossible to research everything in one sitting, ensuring that Beyond Earth will keep you coming back for several more play throughs.
Perhaps the most fundamental thing to understand in Beyond Earth is what all the resources are, what they’re used for and how you can generate the required amount of them in order to unlock the things you want. In my first game I heavily prioritized science which, unfortunately, meant I quickly found myself in an energy hole from which there was little escape. The second time around however I figured out that building out certain resources first were far more advantageous, as was the low hanging fruit in the tech tree. Indeed Beyond Earth, like most 4X games, rewards players for planning out a strategy and then executing it, rather than rushing for the best technology first and hoping your opponent doesn’t get there sooner.
One of the things that I don’t think was explained terribly well was trade. It’s a completely optional thing to engage in, however it quickly becomes one of the largest sources of resources that you’ll have access to. Indeed my energy-first strategy often allowed me to fully kit out a new colony with a trade depot and 2 convoys the second it came online, dramatically increasing its capabilities and growth rate. There are downsides to trade, of course, like your convoy getting eaten by native fauna or picked off by an angry neighbour but trade still seems mightily powerful when compared to the alternatives.
I’m not sure if it was the difficulty setting I was playing on but the AI seems to have some strange quirks when it comes to reacting to what they perceive as a threat. My blue neighbour, who was my biggest trading partner by far, declared war on me twice for nothing I could clearly discern apart from maybe my huge stockpile of energy. The thing is though that they needed me far more than I needed them so the second they broke all trade with me they lost all means to produce additional units. It didn’t take long for me to whittle them down and get a juicy peace treaty as a result but it still felt like the AI should’ve understood the situation it was getting itself into, rather than attempting to bully me with its puny force.
There’s also a few rough edges here and there, like you can see in the first few screenshots in this review. For the most part the innocuous, just seeming to be glitches in certain parts of code that either fail to display something or display it more times than it needs to, but it happened often enough that it did become a little irritating. Since I was coming into this game a little late I usually expect these little rough edges to be gone by the time I get to it so it was a little disappointing to see. That being said the rest of the game runs perfectly so it’s a very small mark on an otherwise smooth experience.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is yet another great example of why Sid Meier’s series is considered the best in the 4X genre. The staggering amount of mechanics, playstyles and strategies that the game puts before you means that there’s always something new to discover or try out, providing nigh on endless hours of entertainment. Like all of the previous Civilization titles it demands a heavy investment of time in order to get the most out of it but should you commit the experience that you’re rewarded with is simply unmatched within its genre. It’s not a perfect experience, lacking a good introduction and having a few rough edges, but it’s still a solid overall experience, one that’s sure to delight Civilization fans all over.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is available on PC right now for $49.99. Total game time was approximately 8 hours with 20% of the achievements unlocked.
There are few games that have managed to reinvent themselves as successfully as the BioShock series has. Whilst the first and the second did not differ too much in terms of setting they did play as wildly different games and they both managed to explore different parts of the same universe. The Rapture universe was pretty much tapped out however (barring a prequel) and so it was with a sense of intrigue that I waited to see what Irrational had planned for their magical steam punk world. BioShock Infinite is the next installment in the BioShock franchise and the first one to be set outside of Rapture, but that’s not the only difference this game brings with it.
Set about 48 years prior to the original BioShock Infinite puts you in the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a private security agent who works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. You are charged with a simple mission, retrieve a girl and your large gambling debt will be wiped clean. It’s not going to be that simple of course as she’s being held captive in a city called Columbia, a city that resides in the clouds and is ruled by a man whom everyone calls The Prophet. Thus a simple snatch and grab soon turns into much more than that as you unravel the events that led up to you being here, and why your opponents seem to know so much about you.
BioShock Infinite has the same art deco feel as its predecessors and there’s been a notable step up in the graphics. Whilst Rapture is quintessential BioShock I can’t say that I missed it much when playing through Columbia as the wide open environments just felt a whole bunch better. Sure there wasn’t a lot more detail, with the world rapidly fading into the blue sky, but there was something refreshing about being out in the open. Combined with the excellent foley and music work the environment of BioShock Infinite is top notch and is something I’ve come to expect from Irrational’s games.
The way BioShock Infinite plays will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played the previous instalments. Lovers of the original’s much more RPG like elements will be disappointed to know that the simplification has continued with many of the more complicated ideas being distilled down to their basics. The necessary elements of a BioShock game are still there, plasmids are called vigors and you use salt instead of eve, but on a scale from Mass Effect 1 to Call of Duty we’re definitely starting to lean towards the latter side in terms of overall game complexity.
Probably the biggest change to BioShock’s combat, at least in terms of its overall impact to the game, was the addition of a rechargeable shield. Now it’s not like this was just slapped on top of the previous combat system, no its implementation seems to come at the cost of being able to carry consumables. The reasons behind this seem to be two fold: the primary one being to facilitate the overall simplification in aid of making the game more fluid. At the same time though it also encourages you to search around as you’ll often find yourself low on health, salts or both. However the infusion system, which allows you to upgrade your health/sheild/salts capacity, would seem to heavily favour you going for shields before anything else, well at least if you were playing BioShock the way I was at least.
Many of the vigors will seem familiar, notably ones like Shock Jockey and Devil’s Kiss, but they’ve all got a unique twist to them that sets them apart from their predecessors. I’m not exactly sure why but the alternate use mode for most of them, activated by charging up the power, is usually to create a trap version of said vigor. This can be useful if that’s your play style but for someone like me they were mostly useless unless I was facing down one of Columbia’s larger enemies. The traps might come in handy if you’re playing on 1999 mode difficulty but after a certain point I rarely found myself needing them due to the plasmid/gear combination I found that made me feel completely broken.
My vigor of choice was Charge which allowed me to get up close and personal with enemies who were usually quite a distance away from me. It wasn’t particularly great initially however once you’ve upgraded it not only do you get bonus damage on your target your shields are instantly recharged and you’re made invulnerable for a couple seconds. Combine this with some gear that gives you a 30% chance to possess things and a 400 damage fire nova when struck and you have a recipe for someone who’s essentially invulnerable in battle with most of the enemies tearing each other apart, if they’re not on fire already. Once I had that combo down there wasn’t really enough enemies in Columbia to stop me, unless they weren’t grouped together.
Gone is the two tiered currency system where Adam was used for plasmids and cash for everything else, now all you’ll deal in is cash. Again this seems to be done in aid of simplifying the whole game although this means that gear prioritizing cash rewards, like the Extra Extra! hat that gives you cash from voxophones, is by far the smartest choice early on. This does feel a bit limiting to begin with as taking away those sources of revenue, in favour of other gear upgrades, feels like you’re cutting yourself off from a potential killer build.
This is in stark contrast to BioShock 2 where you were basically able to try out any build you wanted in the space of a single playthrough. In BioShock Infinite there’s no way that you’ll be able to get the cash required to upgrade all the vigors and all the guns in a single play through (I say this as someone who found the vast majority of voxophones and much of the hidden coin stashes and finished with 2 maxed weapons and vigors. I could have afforded 1 more of each though). This is possibly done to encourage additional playthroughs as previous BioShocks could be done as one shot deals, should you make the right choices. I don’t necessarily hold this against BioShock Infinite though as it forces you to make choices about how you’re going to play rather than just pick and choosing whatever you need for the particular situation.
Minor-ish plot spoilers follow.
One very notable thing that’s absent from BioShock Infinite is the franchise’s moral choice system. Now it’s not like you’re completely absent choice, there are many occasions where you’re presented with similar binary choices that affect the game in some way, but the whole idea of crafting a good/bad/mixed character is gone. I believe this is mostly due to how the story is constructed, what with the whole pre-determined fate idea woven throughout the game’s narrative, but it did remove a significant amount of the agency in Booker’s character which was one of the stronger points of BioShock franchise previously.
This is not to say that the story suffers because of this, far from it. Whilst it will be easy to pick holes in the “tear” idea that’s central to Elizabeth’s character and the overall plot it does function well as a plot device. This, combined with Ken Levine’s brilliant writing and the various voice actor’s great performances, make BioShock’s story engaging, thrilling and, whilst ultimately tragic, beautifully executed. The only criticism I’d level at it was it became somewhat predictable past a certain point but the overall concept was still solid.
BioShock Infinite is another great instalment in the BioShock franchise, aptly demonstrating that Irrational is capable of delivering a fresh game experience when it would be all too easy to just crank out another Rapture. Whilst the game may have undergone a lot of simplification from its predecessors I don’t feel that it suffered because of it. Indeed BioShock Infinite feels a lot more fluid, the story flows better and rarely would I find my immersion broken by something in game. For both fans of the series and newcomers alike BioShock Infinite provides a gaming experience that’s hard to find a direct comparison to, one that’s incredibly enjoyable.
Rating: 9.25 /10
BioShock Infinite is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Hard difficulty with 10 hours play time and 48% of the achievements unlocked.