Civilization IV: Colonization First Look

The battle for the Americas has begun. Welcome to the New World.

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Life wasn't easy for the colonists at Jamestown. Just two years after John Smith founded the settlement in Virginia, only 60 of the more than 200 colonists survived a mass food shortage that came to be known as the Starving Times. Colonists constantly feuded with Native American tribes. And as for Smith, his bag of gunpowder exploded while attached to his belt, and he was forced to return to England for treatment. Think you can do better? In Civilization IV: Colonization, you can.

A remake of the original Sid Meier's Colonization released in 1994, this version uses the Civ IV engine and focuses on the settlement of the New World, during which you tackle such standard colonial issues as relations with the natives and, you know, declaring your independence from an oppressive monarchy. The game takes place entirely in colonial times, from about 1600 to 1800, so you won't be researching nuclear power or manned space flight. Probably the furthest you'll progress on the tech tree is upgrading to rum and cigars from your respective sugar and tobacco resources, which actually doesn't sound bad at all.

When taken by the British, New Amsterdam is rechristened New York. No word on whatever happened to the New Red Light District.

The goal of Colonization is to found a colony and eventually gather enough of your citizens' support--known as rebel sentiment--to declare your independence and stave off the military response from your homeland in Europe. How you do that is up to you, but in general you'll need to gather enough resources and wealth to fatten up your citizens and convince them to create a country of their own. A little negative propaganda against the motherland never hurt, either, but that's just Common Sense.

There are four countries to choose from, each with its own leaders and bonuses. English settlers are led by George Washington and John Adams, and are regarded for their tolerance. As such, an English colony will have a healthy influx of immigrants to add to your workforce.

The Dutch are championed by Peter Stuyvesant, who is credited for introducing tea to the colonies and overseeing the construction of a wall in New Netherland, which later became New York. Next to the wall, coincidentally, ran Wall Street. He is joined by Adriaen van der Donck, the first lawyer to live in the Dutch colonies (who just happened to lead a political uprising against Governor Stuyvesant). The Dutch receive a mercantile bonus, and prices for goods will not fluctuate.

The French are headed by Samuel de Champlain and Louis de Buade de Frontenac. Champlain was the famed explorer who founded Quebec City and is widely considered the father of New France, whereas Frontenac was twice governor of New France. The French are known for their cooperation and receive extra bonuses from allied natives.

On the other hand, natives do not like Spain, mostly because Spanish colonists enjoy a conquistador bonus and can slice through native ranks like a hot knife through butter. The syphilis probably doesn't help, either. Spain is led by Simon Bolivar, who organized the independence of most of northern New Spain, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. Jose de San Martin is considered Argentina's national hero for his role in liberating much of southern New Spain.

Four colonies aren't much to choose from, and the Portuguese are a notable omission. The Italians made the rounds. Heck, even Germany gave colonization a shot in Venezuela. The New World was anyone's game in the 1600s, and it seems that having only four countries to choose from is a bit limiting. The game is also played out on randomly generated maps as per past Civ games, which is too bad. A real-world Manifest Destiny mode on a geographically accurate map, on which colonies would each have to race to dominate the Americas, would have been a fun idea. Such geography remains reserved for the Total War franchise, but at least Colonization will ship with a nifty map editor.

As you lay the foundations for self-sufficiency, diplomacy with the natives will play a crucial role. The Pilgrims didn't get very far without the help of the natives--we even have a holiday for it. Canada, too. Though there's no Thanksgiving in the game, you'll be thankful if you play your cards right with the native tribes, which include the Iroquois, Aztecs, Sioux, Cherokee, Incan, Tupi, and Apache. You can befriend tribes in a few different ways. The most straightforward method is to give in to the chief's requests for trade and to not encroach on the tribe's land or resources. A more subversive way is to build missions and churches and simply convert them, which also gives you a handy influx of manual labor. If you befriend a tribe, you'll receive trade bonuses, and they may even aid you in battle against other tribes or colonies, which will also be fighting for sovereignty during their turns.

We played for a few minutes as the British and quickly established a colony at Jamestown. An Iroquois village was positioned nearby, and the chief was so pleased at our presence that he sang kumbaya to celebrate--seriously. Your resources include tobacco, lumber, sugar, cotton, furs, ore, and food, each important in increasing your population, building new structures, and researching new technologies and farming methods. Before you declare independence, be sure to purchase new technologies that you can find only in Europe. The natives also have exclusive techs to offer, including master tobacco farmer and master scout.

When you eventually reach more than 50 percent of rebel sentiment, you can choose to valiantly declare your independence and trigger an inspirational cutscene in which you raise the American flag over a fort and fire cannons into the distance. Our patriotism was quickly squashed under the boots of a giant army of invading redcoats. It's important to build up your local militia and minutemen, and to construct some warships before deciding to secede. Otherwise, as with our case, troops armed with cannons and state-of-the-art warships will run over your scattered troops and reclaim the colonies in the name of the king. If you do stave off the invading forces, you will claim victory and your fledgling nation will go on to invent baseball and apple pie.

Refine resources such as tobacco into cigars. Refined goods fetch a pretty pence.

At this point, Colonization looks like classic, award-winning Civ gameplay reskinned with muskets and coonskin hats. In addition to a few single-player scenarios, expect four-player online multiplayer, as well as a play-by-email mode. For those eager to fight taxation without representation, Colonization is slated for release this fall.

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