Review by James Bannister

Sid Meier’s Civilization (containing a z because he’s dirty and foreign) is a truly remarkable series
of games for a variety of reasons. For starters, it is the only series to date that has ever reached
the “5th” release and actually remained fun (something even Silent Hill couldn’t manage). Its
gameplay has streamlined over the years without becoming massively dumbed down, and, barring
the one or two forays into the console market, it has even remained a true PC game ever since its
original release in 1991.

Which makes it all the stranger that I’ve never played a single one before Civilization V came out.

Being a huge fan of the strategy genre, it seemed all too hypocritical of me to have not sampled
what is toted as the deepest, best strategy games on the market, much like someone claiming to be
a connoisseur of music because he once heard Queen on the radio and liked it. As fantastic as the
Advance Wars and Fire Emblem series’ are, I can hardly consider myself to have any opinion until I
start trying new things.

So I decided to try out Civilization V. And, by and large, I wasn’t disappointed.

The gameplay remains deep without being too complex. For anyone as new to the series as myself,
I’ll summarise: You and (usually) eight other CPU players start with a settler and a warrior in a
vast, unexplored land. The settler is near-immediately used to found a city, and from that point
you slowly work to expand and perfect an empire, researching scientific advancements, creating
workers, founding new cities, etc. etc. to achieve victory. Which, by the way, occurs if you manage
to conquer all other players’ capitol cities, send a man into space, vote yourself head of the UN or
finishing a Utopia project.

On its surface, it appears to be a boring, “Next Turn” masher waiting for something to happen. But
that is where the beauty of the game comes into effect. You are always planning ten, maybe even
twenty moves into the future. Whereas in other games, you only need to outmanoeuvre and outthink
an opponent by two or three turns, Civilisation requires a lot of forward planning. One more turn
turns to ten more turns, as you wait until your nuclear-powered robot to finish construction [oh
yeah, there are nuclear-powered robots. That in itself is a reason to buy this over previous civ
games], and then another ten turns as you use it to raze your long-time enemy’s empire to the
ground. My first session with the game ended with me nearly passing out at my desk, before turning
to a clock and realising what used to read 00:00 was now a much less acceptable 5:30.

The game is simply a joy to play, and if not for the sheer amount of potential missed by the number
of niggles, both in CPU behaviour and game design, I would be urging people to buy it with
the same gusto as Amnesia. But niggles there are, and once again the bulk of my efforts go into
describing them.

Most notable of all is the AI in this game. During a first playthrough, it seems reasonable
enough, reacting to your efforts naturally and reasonably. But then you start a second campaign.
Catherine of Russia asks to become an ally. She spends the following 50 turns fluctuating between
begging for resources and insulting you for no apparent reason, and then finally snaps when you
inadvertently become friends with a citystate near her by fending off invading Aztecs. Then, when
one unit sits about 6 panels off her borders on one turn, she demands to know if you’re planning an
invasion. Many turns after that, when the offending unit has been moved about half a map away,
she attacks one of your own citystates, prompting you to declare war on her. She claims that you’re
a lying coward, due to the earlier claim of innocence, which marks you as Dishonorable to every
other civilisation for the rest of the game. Finally, after killing just six of her units, she offers a
peace treaty in which she gave me her entire empire (save the capitol) in exchange for the war to
end.

While this would have made a humorous anecdote on a single occurrence, the unfortunate fact is
that every CPU in this game behaves in a similarly aggressive-bipolar manner. Paris has declared
war on me before after capturing a citystate moderately near them. The persians have severed all
contact and trade with me because I failed to help them wipe out Shanghai. And, in my most recent
campaign, Ghandi would just not stop asking me to declare war on every other nation.

Because of this unbelievably unpredictable AI, the only real way to win the game is through war.
And even then, they are surprisingly dim when it comes to warfare, and suddenly the game turns
into a one-sided game of Fire Emblem (or Advance Wars, depending on era) with little effort
or challenge involved. Other routes to victory can work, but only by putting up with constant
aggression and small war efforts from other nations in the meantime. It took me under 150 turns
to destroy all my opponents during my first playthrough, making sure to capture every last city.
Conversely, it took well over 300 turns for me to construct a spaceship or become head of the UN,
and I have yet to play a game in which I managed to finish the utopia project before the other AIs
destroyed each other before flinging themselves at me.

The obvious solution, then, would be to play with friends as opposed to computer-controlled
opponents. Unfortunately, there are three hurdles with such an approach. Games of Civ last for
hours, sometimes even days, making the game more something for an all-night, pizza-fuelled
LAN party. Therefore, trying to complete any kind of multiplayer game would require a lot of
time, while other strategy games can be completed within a half hour at absolute most. A suitable
remedy would be to use the save / load function, but at present the ability to actually load a saved
multiplayer game is curiously missing. The developers promise it will be instated soon enough, but
they get no points for it here. And, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, 2K Games has once again used
Gamespy to handle multilayer functions, which, considering this is a steam game, is second only to
additional DRM on the list of experience-ruining experiences.

Speaking of 2K once again making stupid mistakes, I feel obliged to mention the most minor of the
niggles: DLC. 2K have thus far offered additional civilisations as pre-order, bonus content. Going
by their history, you can expect all of these civilisations, plus more, as pay-to-play content later this
year, or early in 2011.

All things considered, though, Civilization V is a solid strategy experience, marred only by poor
AI and questionable build quality. However, if previous Civs are typical, everything will be fixed
through patches and expansions. At which point, you can consider adding an extra point to its score.
but till then, all it can ever be is great.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V was developed by Firaxis Games and was published by 2K Games for the PC. The game released worldwide on the 21st and 24th of September 2010.