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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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One of the minor vagaries of this game is that as the game progresses turns vary a lot in how much there is to do. In the beginning of the game you'll have many consecutive turns when you'll do nothing but wait for your next improvement to be built and topic of research to be finished, or at most move a tile with an exploring scout and call it good. Later in the game turns can take much longer as you have to manage multiple cities, armies, and workers. This gives each part of the game a much different feel to it.

Individual games are also quite different from one another. There are two different ways to play Civ IV: normal games (Play Now!) and scenarios. In a normal game, you customize the general type of land mass that you'll be dealing with (ranging from great plains to ice age to islands to oases), choose a civilization and leader to lead to greatness from a list of historical Earth civilizations (different leaders grant different advantages, and although different civilizations are mostly defined by slightly different graphics, the leader's specialties have a pretty big impact on gameplay), and choose the difficulty level. If you want you can also create a highly customized game that lets you control more esoteric aspects of gameplay, such as whether or not there are lots of barbarian attacks or not, among other things. After you've made all your choices, the game creates a random new map for you play on, and things are off.

Scenario games on the other hand are placed in maps that have been premade, and often reflect actual Earth geography. Some of them also run modified Civ rules, units, and more, such as the American Revolution scenario in which you can choose to control either the Yanks or the Torries in America's fight for revolution with era-specific units and unique win conditions. Scenarios present an interesting challenge, particularly since they normally start you off with quite a number of cities that are already to some extent established. This means you'll probably have to spend a fair amount of time figuring out how things stand before you can proceed (unlike the normal game, where things start very simplistically).

A standard Civ game played at normal speed can last around five hours or so, although you can also choose to play quick games, which last a fair amount less, or truly epic games that last even longer. With the immense replayability offered by random maps with all their varying options, this makes for a serious amount of game available.

Now here's the thing: up to this point I've given my best shot at giving you a good idea of the basic mechanics of the gameplay, but this bare-bones explanation of Civ IV doesn't do it anything even close to justice. This is, quite simply, because Civilization IV's gameplay is some of the most addictive and varied I've experienced in a very long while. After the initial mild frustration of wrapping my mind around the ridiculous amount of freedom I had, I found myself completely losing track of time as I became entirely absorbed into the management of my civilization. Civ IV is endlessly fascinating, offering such a unique selection of challenges and different ways to proceed that even a losing game is fun to play (although getting utterly wiped out in a military defeat is not much fun). I started a few games that I kept playing long after I knew there was no way for me to win, simply because I was curious about what I might be able to do with what I had. When my girlfriend's arrival for a couple of days of visiting interrupted my Chinese armies in the middle of their march towards Berlin (and thence utter annihilation of the German empire), I found myself thinking back to the game and debating with myself whether I should attack one town or another.

In other words, Civ IV managed to invade my everyday, non-gaming life in ways that few games have successfully done before, and if that isn't the mark of a pretty incredible game, I don't know what is. I've been playing the game quite a bit for two weeks straight, and I still haven't even scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.

Sound: music of an era
Sound in Civ IV is very nice, but not really all that stand-out. Music changes subtly while you progress through different eras of history, units each have their unique noises, and the sound of any given unit or city on the landscape fades and grows as you move closer and further away from it. I was never distracted by the sounds, but apart from a brief moment of happiness when I realized that my war elephants were trumpeting louder because I was closer to them, I never was incredibly impressed by the sound. It was very professionally done, however, and as a part of the whole package is well worth praise. Sounds in Civ IV served to reinforce the gameplay rather than get in its way as is sometimes the case in games.

Graphics: into the third dimension
Civilization IV boasts a 3D engine for the first time in the series, and it is certainly nice looking. All of the units have animations, cities begin to sprawl in truly awe-inspiring ways near the latter parts of the game, and with a flick of the scroll wheel you can get very up close and personal.

This scroll wheel capability is actually the single coolest part of the graphics, in my opinion. You can go from right up close to a unit to a view of the entire globe with just a flick of the scroll wheel, and it's a very pretty sight. As you begin to trade world maps and get a better idea of the layout of the world this can even serve some tactical use as you figure out your next moves in your push for world domination. Other benefits of the 3D engine are that you can rotate the view 45 degrees if you so desire (although it always snaps back), and the perspective always makes sense.

Overall, the game's graphics are extremely good-looking (particularly for a turn-based strategy game), and make for a very pleasant play experience. That said, however, there's a downside: the system requirements.

Civ IV is not nice in the system requirements department. Although I didn't have anything that barely fulfilled the minimums to test on, my MacBook Pro (2.16 gHz Intel Core Duo, 1 GB RAM, 256 MB VRAM) ran it well at native resolution (1440x900) with details turned up, but would noticeably slow on larger maps with lots of civilizations and towns. I also tried the game on my friend's 1.5 gHz PowerBook G4, and even with settings all the way down the game ran so slowly as to be unplayable. On a more promising note, however, this is a turn-based game, so if you have a system that is borderline fulfilling the requirements you could probably scrape by as long as you don't mind a slightly less responsive experience.


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