CIVILIZATION II : 'MY EMPIRE STRIKES BACK'


Review by Paul Cooke


Specifications

Requirements : 486 DX2 66 with 8Mb of Ram, 10 Meg of Hard Drive space, a mouse, and dual speed CD Drive with all those driver thingys and it is compatible with those cheap Sound Blaster cards that we all have. [do we? Ed]

Recommended : 486 DX4 100 or Pentium 75 or above, 12 Meg of Ram, a bit more Hard Drive space and a Quad Speed CD Drive. However I reviewed this game on my 486 DX2 50 so don't worry too much about these specifications, just don't try and run it with less than 8 Meg of Ram or that old 286 stuck in the corner of the office at work.

The recommend retail price is .... hmmm I didn't buy it so I'm not sure, but they charge anything these days don't they. [About 30. Ed]

Introduction

Now I probably do not need to introduce the concept behind Civilization II to any of the readers of this review (but I have to, so I will). Civilization II is the sequel (obviously) to Civilization, both are 'God-Games'. A 'God-Game' basically involves you controlling everything, the people, the buildings, the cities, your country, your military, even the landscape if you wish. There has been a proliferation of 'God-Games' in the last few years, but the original Civilization is still both a classic and a standard for others to aspire to. Civilization II is even better.

Game

Initially as with Civilization, with Civilization II you are presented with a choice of who you want to play (predictably I picked the English) but you could be the person who leads the Romans or the Babylonians to the stars. Then you have to choose how many other Civilizations you are playing against (TIP 1 : if you have never played this type of game before pick something like two or three other civilisations to play against), then you have to pick the difficulty level (TIP 2 : pick easy until you know what you're doing otherwise the computer will chew you up and spit you out). And then you are off and running.

GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING : IF YOU CHOOSE TO GO BEYOND THIS POINT WITH THIS GAME, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT POSSESS THE FOLLOWING ITEMS. A PARTNER, A JOB, A THESIS TO WRITE, AN APPETITE, A WILL TO LIVE OR SOMETHING BETTER TO DO.

Basically what I am trying to say is that the journey that you have undertaken is a long one, a long long one. This is not a simple, quick game. By playing this game you will be committing yourself to days in front of the computer, be they rewarding or frustrating ones. Sorry to labour the point but I for one do not want to be cited in any divorce papers. I digress.

Well you're in! You start with one group of settlers. Settlers can irrigate land, build roads and most importantly build cities. Cities work on a very simple principle. You start with a population of one, which requires one food icon to sustain it. Food is grown in the lands around your city. In your City View this is represented by grain. If your city produces two food icons the surplus goes into storage. The surplus adds up. When the grain store is full your population grows by one - simple or what! Now you've built your city (TIP 3 : Don't build your city in mountains - you will not produce enough food to let the city grow. Make sure there are plains and grasslands about and irrigate these to produce even more food).

You then are presented with more options, these include either improving your city or building up military forces for defence. You also have wise men (all of them are male!) who later become the scientists you set on the path of discovering advanced technology. When advancements are made they enable you to build other things (e.g. masonry allows the construction of city walls).

After a slow start the game really gets going and you start to expand, possibly even building some more cities. Eventually you meet another civilisation, your options now increase to include diplomacy, spying and of course all out war. The game then spirals out of control, you find yourself encountering other empires and wandering tribes, you may have to fight a war on two or more fronts or (hopefully) you find yourself at peace on all fronts. You also have to keep building your cities up and discovering new technologies. Your cities can, with the correct choice of advancements, become the envy of the world you play in (yes it may be Earth but it doesn't have to look like it) through constructing 'Wonders of the World'. These range from The Colossus and The Pyramids in the ancient world to Women's Suffrage and The Cure for Cancer in the modern world. These Wonders improve your status with your people and make your cities look good.

You are probably thinking this is all well and good but is there a point to this game? YES THERE IS. When you are advanced enough you can build a spaceship, go to Alpha Centauri and set up a colony and, if you do this before the other civilisations you have won. The other way to complete the game is to conquer everybody else through warfare. This is the much harder way of finishing the game, as it involves a long campaign of victories as well as setbacks. It is also tremendous fun.

The options on this game are endless. They range from setting the type of government you control, to setting tax rates. It is always a fine balance between keeping your subjects happy and having enough money to keep the military and scientists in pocket. You have help in the form of your city council. They pop up from time to time offering little pieces of advice on affairs both foreign and domestic. The people's mood is represented by an Elvis look-a-like. Nice touch.

The Windows interface is neat and tidy. All the controls are easy to use, being either mouse clicks or ALT - key presses. It contains nice music and sound effects. But later on in the game when the playing field gets larger and everyone has many units on the move, then it can sometimes take an absolute age before your turn comes around again. There is definitely still room for improvement in this aspect of the game. Sometimes all the endless options and details can be irksome. They tend to slow the game down and hold you back on occasion. Sometimes you just want to get on with it. Resist the urge to hit the keyboard. Just save your game and play it again in three days time. Rome was not built in a day and neither are these civilisations.

I've left loads of things out, but that because this game has loads of things in it. If I tried to include everything, I may as well just re write the manual, which leads me to : BIG MANUAL ALERT. This game has a massive manual, but don't worry just dive in head first and when something weird pops up, just look it up and then toss it aside.

If you have played the original Civilization and want to know what the differences are, here you go.

Archaeology

OK, I'll come clean, I'm not an archaeologist, but you can't hang around these assemblage types too long as you might start picking up a few things. One of my favourite parts to this game and its predecessor are the reconstructions of the many Wonders of the World on offer, (the range is much greater than the real thing). All of these Wonders when incorporated into your city have a graphical representation and it is nice to see the way at least one person believed they looked. Unfortunately there are still some of the cop-outs that appeared in the original, i.e. the Colossus is still only a pair of feet, but reconstructions of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are nice (can anyone tell me if it is accurate?).The only problem with them is that in order to have one, you need only to save up enough money, and there it is in all its glory. This doesn't strike me as being a very realistic method for the building of such edifices, especially when you consider the amount of 'man power' and control of a massive workforce that may have been involved. Secondly, ideas like central place theory might have had a chance to be simulated in the game, only each individual settlement has the potential to become the largest one in the game, in many cases whether you want it to or not. This, combined with the fact that everyone wants to kill you, leads you to either having a strong aggressive streak or dying early on which certainly curtails your attempts at creating the civilisation you really want. All the civilisations are commanded by a famous historical figure, and I think it would have been a nice touch to have tried to give them a personality based on our knowledge of them rather than just making them genocide fans.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed playing this game for this review (assemblage might have to fight to get it back) and I think if you have played this type of game before (e.g. Sim City, Caesar or indeed Civilization) you will love this one. It has all sorts of little touches that you don't always notice at a first glance. You could play a dozen times and have a dozen different types of game (it is nice to be all good and peaceful, but trust me, just go out build loads of tanks and give the opposition a good kicking!). A truly varied and entertaining game. Full marks to Sid Meier and to Microprose. Highly Recommended. If Civilization was not your cup of tea, give this version a wide berth. However if you did like the original get out and buy Civ II now you cheapskate!

'It's Civilization Jim, but not as we know it.'

Paul Cooke is an Analytical Technician/Dogsbody with ECUS, the Environmental Consultancy University of Sheffield, Endcliffe Holt, 343 Fulwood Road, Sheffield, S10 3BQ,South Yorkshire, England.

ECUS undertake all sorts of work from the University as well as from the industrial and business sectors. Projects undertaken include Environmental Audit, Contaminated Land reclamation work and Ecological and Environmental projects. ECUS was founded in 1986 and now employs over 20 people and has over 50 associates within the University. They may also be contacted via telephone : (0114) 266 9292 or by fax : (0114) 266 7707 ask for Mr Chris Routh (Manager)

Paul Cooke 1997




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