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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.3    CPU: G5 @ 1800 MHz    RAM: 512 MB    Hard Disk: 3500 MB    DVD-ROM    Graphics: 64 MB VRAM

Civilization IV
August 23, 2006 | Ian Beck

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Gameplay: taking over the world, your way
The gameplay of Civilization IV is really where the game's strength lies, but there definitely a bit of a learning curve before you can really enjoy it. Although a normal game starts you off in 4000 BC with little to worry about beyond a single settler (which very soon creates a single city) and a warrior or scout unit, things quickly become more complex as you have to chart a course through a slew of research discoveries, getting through the growing pains of a new civilization threatened by barbarians and neighbors, deciding whether to focus on generating culture or on creating a military presence, figuring out where and when to settle new cities, getting workers to improve the surrounding tiles, and exploring the world. As a result, for a totally new player getting into the game can be a bit challenging.

Fortunately, as long as you work your way through the initial shock of making so many decisions, Civ IV isn't that difficult to penetrate at least as far as basic gameplay goes. After skimming over the manual, I was able to blunder through my first game without too much frustration, helped by the fact that the game offers a lot of help in the form of suggestions what to research and so forth. By the time I'd made it up to the early AD years I had a pretty good idea where things were going wrong, and was able to start a new game that went significantly better. I still hadn't quite figured out how religion plays into the game (it has a number of benefits, particularly if you found a religion, including boosted culture and revenue) or what to do with diplomacy, but I had a pretty good idea of what way was up.

On the other hand, this is something of a case of a game that is not too difficult to get a handle on, but can be pretty difficult to master. Beyond figuring out the basics of how to create and grow a civilization, the most difficult aspect of Civ IV is the simple fact that there are six different ways to win, all of which require a different strategy of play: conquer all other nations, control a dominant portion of the land and population of the world, be the first to construct a spaceship capable of getting to Alpha Centauri, control three cities with legendary levels of culture, win votes in the United Nations (once it's been built), or simply have the most points by the time the game hits 2050.

Personally I haven't yet devised a workable strategy to win except with points. My attempts at cultural victories have ended in ignominious military defeat when I forget to build up enough of a defensive force to dissuade my neighbors from coming for me, and I still have yet to get a really solid handle on the immense number of available research options, much less gun for the space ship. Yet even without having figured out a solid strategic approach for any of the win conditions, I've found myself drawn into the game for hours on end, pushing for just one more turn so that I can see what the Taj Mahal will do for me.

Buildings like the Taj Mahal, the World Wonders of the game, are unlocked for any number of reasons, and building them will often give your cities cultural boosts, among other bonuses (such as a fair number of points). Whenever you build a World Wonder you get to see a fun little video showing a speedy time-lapse style construction of the Wonder. Although this doesn't really serve any gameplay purpose, these little videos are a fun interjection into the otherwise fairly straight-forward turn-by-turn experience.

The makeup of your average turn goes something like this: if you've just finished researching something, then you'll be prompted to pick a new item to research. Then the computer will go through all of the cities that have finished production, and ask what you want to produce next. After that you'll be prompted to assign an activity or movement to each of your units that isn't sleeping (or fortified, depending on the unit), automated, or otherwise engaged from a previous turn. Then if you wish you can enter any of your cities, assign the citizens to patches of land or otherwise micromanage. On the other hand, just about everything in the actual city screen is taken care of automatically until and unless you take a hand in it yourself, so you can also just let things work on their own while you focus on the grander strategy.


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