The Windows Phone Xbox Live lineup has long lacked strategy titles. Last year saw the release of Fusion: Sentient, which turned out to be more of a sophisticated boredom simulator than an actual game. Thankfully, 2K Games’ very first Windows Phone release is not just any strategy game. No, it’s part of the illustrious Civilization series: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution.
From humble origins
The overall goal of Civilization Revolution (or Civ Rev as I’ll now call it to be cool) is to steer a tiny settlement from the year 4,000 B.C. into modern times and beyond. There will also be multiple NPC civilizations that yours can deal with in a variety of ways. There are actually four different ways to win the game, allowing for a variety of play styles:
- Domination: Capture all of the other civilizations' capital cities and hold them for one full round.
- Culture: Gain a total of 20 great persons, wonders, and/or converted cities in any combination, and then build the United Nations wonder.
- Economic: Acquire 20,000 gold and then build the World Bank wonder.
- Technological: Research all technologies necessary to build and launch a spaceship, and finally be the first to reach Alpha Centauri.
After selecting one of 16 historical civilizations, each of which has a few unique bonuses to help it along, you’re thrust into the game itself. An optional tutorial teaches some of the game basics, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough to explain the game flow to new players. If you’ve never played a Civilization game before you may be in for a rough ride, but I’ll do my best here to explain the general flow of the game.
Initially you have a single settlement, your capital city, from which the rest of your civilization will eventually spring. If the capital city is captured by an opposing force you lose the game, so either keep it defended or make sure it’s surrounded by other well-defended cities that will keep it safe. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!
During each turn, players have the opportunity to move any available units, which may include:
- Military units who can explore, attack and defend
- Settlers who can start new cities
- Less common types: caravans, spies, and great people
The other part of a turn involves city management. Press the appropriate button the right side of the screen to enter the management interface. From here, you’ll decide whether to build new units, buildings, wonders, or roads. All of these tend to take one or more turns to complete, so once you’ve gotten a city’s production started, you can usually leave it alone until production completes. If you set it to unit production, the city will endlessly produce that type of unit until told otherwise. But after a building or wonder finishes, the city’s production goes idle and will be wasted unless you start manufacturing a new item.
The other important choice in the management screen is how to divide the city’s budget. You can choose to focus on either science or gold. The more science produced between your cities, the faster you’ll research new technologies. Gold is useful for building roads and accelerating production of units, buildings, and wonders. At first all science research is a good strategy, but in time you’ll want some cities on science and some on gold.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is watching and guiding your civilization’s technological development. After your first turn, you’ll decide whether to research an Alphabet, Bronze Working, Horseback Riding, or Pottery. Each research item takes a set number of turns to complete, which varies depending on your overall scientific production. New technologies allow for either the production of new units, buildings, or wonders, in addition to unlocking further subjects for research.
It’s wide to choose what win condition you’re going for and research the appropriate technologies. If you’re going for a military victory you’ll want to focus on military technology. Gaining access to archers, swordsman, and eventually tanks and planes before other civilization should fill power mongers with glee. But other technologies are more useful for keeping your citizens content and enlightened, perhaps leading to a cultural victory.
At the start of the game the area beyond your village is surrounded by black fog of war, so you’ll want to explore as much as possible. Send your sole warrior out to fill in the map and search for friendly villages and unfriendly Barbarian tribes. Reach a village and they’ll bestow you with one of a variety of resources (unit upgrades, settlers, technology) or geographic info. Barbarians are aggressive and will attack and destroy your undefended cities, so make sure to take them out and gain valuable battle experience (and sometimes free cavalry units) from the encounters. You may also come across ancient wonders that provide terrific rewards, though these usually require sailing to find.
Unit movement is the gameplay elements of the mobile versions of Civ Rev that needs the most work. To move a unit, you tap and hold it and then drag out a path. So far so good. Yet inexplicably, dragging against the edges of the screen doesn’t scroll the screen, making long paths a chore to create. Pinching to zoom out gives a bit more room to work, but zoom out very far and units disappear from the map, limiting its usefulness.
War and Peace
As your units spread out and fill in the map, you’ll eventually come across competing civilizations. You may choose to establish friendships with them or go to war. Unless you’re already assured of military superiority, the former is a much better option early on. Diplomatic mechanics pretty much come down to the sale or trading of technologies. Play long enough and your friends usually start to get aggressive and request offerings of money or tech, though you can safely ignore them without going to war if your size is much greater.
Should you attack an enemy city or units, you’ll want your own units to be grouped first. Stacking three of the same unit creates a much more powerful army, so you’ll want to rely mostly on armies. Battles are automated and come down to how each side’s offensive and defensive stats compare. For instance, gunmen will likely defeat opposing cavalry, assuming they get to attack first. Building up a strong force and taking down weaker civilizations proves almost as fun as the other victory types, if not more so.
Xbox 360 version
Despite its deep gameplay, this title looks like it got hit by the ugly stick. Let’s dissect how that happened. In 2008, a streamlined (but pretty) version of Civilization called Civilization Revolution launched on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. A Nintendo DS port was quickly thrown together in order to launch at the same time as its big brothers. The combination of a rushed schedule and the original DS’s lack of horsepower resulted in a game that played well but looked homely. A year later, 2K China produced a slightly prettier iOS port using most of the same assets. Both DS and iPhone versions fall a bit short of 2005’s Civilization IV (also 2D) in the looks department.
Fast-forward to 2012 and 2K China has ported their aging and not-that-pretty-in-2009 iOS game to Windows Phone with zero graphical improvements. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the graphics actually look a bit worse now. What happened? The pre-Retina iPhone game runs natively at a resolution of 480 x 320; Windows Phone 800 x 480. Near as I can tell, the developers simply resized every shred of the existing assets, even UI elements, in an automated fashion without increasing the detail. As a result, edges that looked smooth on a tiny iPhone screen now appear jagged and aliased. It plays wonderfully, but could have looked much nicer.
Civ Rev’s Achievements aren’t tough; they’re just boring. You’ll get an Achievement for completing a game with each of the 16 civilizations. That would take a lot of grinding if not for Scenario Mode. If you’re in a hurry for GamerScore, simply pick Art of War on the lowest difficulty and you’ll easily complete a game in less than an hour. I would have preferred Achievements for getting each type of victory or completing higher difficulty levels.
Even once you’ve knocked out its Achievements, Civilization Revolution remains an engrossing and rewarding experience. A full game can take hours to complete, especially on the higher difficulties. I often found it hard to quit because I wanted to complete just a few more buildings or some other goal. It may not be much of a looker, but gamers who enjoy strategy or history will find Civ Rev gives a tremendous amount of bang for the buck.
Civilization Revolution costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Discover it here on the Marketplace.
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