Note: This review is for the XB360 version of Civilization Revolution.

The PC/Console gap is a tough one to bridge, and has given quite a few crossovers the kiss of death.  The only options for making the switch are to either stuff everything into a limited interface and cross fingers, or to completely revamp the game and risk losing people in the trade-offs.  Civilization Revolution ( 2008 ) went for the latter and made risky changes to the beloved PC franchise.

You can begin as any one of 16 civilizations (two less than the last PC installment), each of which has one leader (ten less than the last PC installment).  Each of these civilizations has different traits which are engaged with the passing of four eras – Ancient, Medieval, Industrial, and Modern.  Many of the civilizations have special units (like the Sherman tank for the Americans), though some do not (i.e. the Chinese).  Perhaps it is meant as more of a challenge when playing these seemingly undeveloped countries, but it feels like unbalanced gameplay and only makes certain nationalities undesirable.

Taking account for all the missing features , one has to wonder if the designers felt as bummed as the player.  Gone are the map choices (the closest thing to this is the “scenario” choice, which gives the same map every time).  Gone is the ability to directly choose where the workers go for production.  No longer can you develop queues for city production, or even name your first settled city.  Yet as integral as many of these things sound to the veteran Civilization player, the game benefits from their absence.

Considering the headache this game would be with a full set of PC features, the simplicity is more of a blessing than a curse.  The matches are generally short, with only four nations and small maps, and the quick hit-and-run games make CivRev addictive.  Proximity between nations and no options for open border treaties becomes an obstacle early on because of the small maps.  Without the option for larger, more open maps, altercations with neighbors happen early on, tipping the scales in favor of a Domination (capturing all enemy capitols) rather than Cultural, Technological, or Economic victory.  Even so, my own experience found the latter three the easiest to attain with the least conscious effort.  The gameplay doesn’t demand much in the way of the managerial role of the player, allowing him to focus on building, fighting, researching, and maintaining cities to work towards victory.

The designers did try to make up for what is lacking, though in aesthetic trappings, not functional

Civilization Revolution city screenshot.

Civilization Revolution city screenshot.

mechanics.  For instance, every match, your capitol gets a “trophy room.”  During the game, leaders from non-playable nations (like the Phoenicians) will send presents, like cotortionists and magicians.  You can view the trophy room and watch your gifts perform.  My first gifts were five jugglers and four dancing bears.  While entertaining, it’s little more than repetitive motions and changing camera angles.  By the third time I received a gift, I decided to stop going to the trophy room until after I was done with the game.

Another new feature is the right to name what you discover.  Traveling across a river will trigger a pop-up menu with suggested names that are associated with your nation (i.e. the Thames for the English).  This can happen with deserts, oceans, rivers, and plains, and gives a fresh, if not disappointingly small, role in discovering the world.  Another is that, at the end of a match, you can view the statues of rulers that you’ve played against thus far, as well as the wonders of the different ages and the Great Persons (scientists, philosophers, merchants, etc) that you have acquired so far.  Each item is linked to the Civiliopedia, which holds a wealth of information about everything in the game.

There are a few random picky things that should be mentioned as well. CivRev is disappointingly easy on the lower two difficulties for the random matches, but can be startlingly brutal in the scenarios.  There’s no way to preview the defense bonus for a tile except to go into the Civilopedia.  The lack of a queue system means that each turn something is completed, another assignment has to be given – which becomes a huge hassle in 10-15 city civilizations.  The advisors, while they do give advice instead of showing charts like the PC version, all speak some strange Meierian version of Simlish.  In an irritating turn from an attempt at some sort of authenticity, each ruler speaks in an accented form of Simlish (i.e. Russian accented Simlish, or German accented Simlish) instead of their actual language.  I’m not sure why that choice was made in the production of the game, but it seems childish and even lazy. Diplomatic options are extremely sparse, making war constant and trade deals nonexistent.  With no option for “open borders” and small maps, making and maintaining massive armies is mandatory.

To be more positive, there are some great things in the game.  Troop management is easy, and it only takes one button to make an army or go defensive.  It’s easy and simple to build roads between cities (though you can’t build them to the middle of no where).  Spending gold to complete production can give immediate results, meaning that improvements or troops needed for defense of a city or reinforcements for traveling armies can be made immediately.  The battle system is lots of fun, with closeups of the action and the sounds of motions of battle.  You truly feel like a general sitting on top of the world.  The decision to keep  troop management costs, city happiness, and city health allows for the player to truly focus on playing the game and keep away from the details that would bog down the game into a unnavigable mess.

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is more than a facelift.  In many ways, it’s unrecognizeable.  Really and truly, Civilization Revolution should be seen as just that -a revolution from the old ways of playing.  Trading the complicated interface and endless opportunities for micromanagement, CivRev simplifies gameplay and successfully creates an entirely new and addictive experience.  Fans of the series will feel the pains of the slimming effect of the console and will miss the setup of the old games, but even they will be able to find enjoyment in this newest installment.  Once they are able to move past what’s missing, they will be able to accept the game as having its own identity.