Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution Hands-On - Civ Comes to the Consoles

The famed strategy game is coming to the consoles next year, and we get our first chance to test-drive the upcoming Xbox 360 game.

Thanks to its classic gameplay about guiding a nation through thousands of years of history, Sid Meier's Civilization has helped define turn-based strategy gaming on the PC over the past two decades. Now the famed designer and the team at Firaxis Games are looking to bring some of that magic to the consoles next year with Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution, a game that will distill Civ's gameplay into a package that's designed specifically for the gamepad crowd. It's a daunting task; after all, how do you squeeze a game about managing a worldwide empire, armies and navies, research efforts, diplomacy, and more onto a console? We got an opportunity to find out recently, as we got a first chance to play a work-in-progress version of the upcoming Xbox 360 game.

Rome can rise and fall in a single game of Civilization Revolution.

It would be a mistake to think that Revolution is nothing more than a stripped-down version of Civilization IV for the PC. Firaxis has basically rebuilt the game for the console, starting with the close-in view that has the camera close to the ground. This renders cities and units easily distinguishable from one another, even when you're sitting across the room from the television. At the same time, we're impressed at how Firaxis has managed to retain much of the gameplay and depth of Civ while at the same time cutting out every last bit of extraneous fat and injecting a ton of personality and historical flavor into the game.

When you start a Revolution game on the easier difficulty setting, your only task will be to select a civilization to lead. That also determines your leader, as each civilization is lead by a famous figure from history. Pretty much all the familiar Civilization staples are here, such as Rome and Caesar, Russia and the lovely Catherine, and England and Elizabeth. One nice new twist is that civilizations have entirely new bonuses that are based on their past. For example, the Egyptians will get extra trade from desert squares, while the Japanese can harvest food from water squares. Once you select a civilization you're dropped directly into the game and you get to make your first moves. At higher difficulty levels you'll be given options to change the settings for your game, such as the size of the world and the like, but the thinking at the easier difficulty levels is to get new players into the game as quickly as possible.

Like every Civilization game before it, the idea in Revolution is to start with a single city and grow from there. Establishing your first city lets you start to build military units that can be used to explore the map and battle third-party barbarians as well as rival civilizations, and cities let you construct buildings like libraries and temples that can boost your research and culture. You can also build wonders of the world in your cities, great structures from world history that can grant impressive bonuses and powers. For instance, the first great wonder available to build is Stonehenge. If you can construct Stonehenge before everyone else it will grant you a bonus to all the temples in your cities, and that helps push your culture upon your neighbors and expand your borders.

Go ahead and make war. Peace can be dull.

There are basically four different ways to win a game. There's world domination, where you become so powerful that the remaining civilizations basically bow to you. Then there's the space race victory, where you become the first civilization to build and launch an intergalactic spaceship to colonize the nearest star system. The remaining two victory conditions differ from the PC games. You can get a culture victory by either recruiting at least 20 great people from history, and you recruit them by researching certain technologies or achieving some other prerequisites first. Or you can also get a culture victory by "flipping" or converting enough enemy cities to your side peacefully. In other words, your civilization is so grand and powerful that citizens of other nations flock to be part of your winning team. Finally, there's the economic victory, which is achieved by hitting a series of milestones. For instance, the first economic milestone is to save up 100 gold. Doing so gives you a free trade caravan unit. The next milestone is to save 250 gold for a greater reward, and so on. The challenge, of course, is saving up that much gold, because you'll be tempted or forced to spend it on military units and other improvements.

Get Civilized

Revolution features a smaller scale, or what feels like a smaller scale, than the PC games, but that works to the game's favor. The continents in the game aren't huge, but that introduces many more strategic choke points on the map. At the same time, you don't need to worry about building a large amount of units to spread out and explore the globe, as you can focus on what's key, like developing your cities and researching your technologies. Speaking of which, the tech tree is almost identical to the ones found in the PC games, except for the later ages. There are fewer advanced technologies--missing are techs like recycling and lasers--and Firaxis hopes that this will help streamline the end of the game. At this point, you should be in a race to win before time runs out or one of your competitors beats you.

There are plenty of valid strategies since there are four ways to win the game.

New technologies let you build more powerful military units. You start the game with the basic warrior unit, and then you unlock phalanxes, cavalry, and so on. (The names may change depending on the civilization.) Each civilization has its own unique units, too, like the Cossack cavalry for the Russians. Units can be joined together to form large armies that can steamroll individual units, and veteran units get bonuses to attack and defense. For instance, if a green unit wins three battles, it becomes a veteran unit. If it survives six battles, it becomes an elite unit, and you can grant it a special upgrade power, such as march, which lets it move two squares per turn rather than one. One neat addition to the console game is the ability to try to retreat if you sense a battle is going badly. We attacked a Mongol city with an large army of veteran warriors, only to discover that the Mongols had an even larger army of phalanx defenders to greet us. In the PC game, that would have meant instant disaster, but in Revolution we managed to pull the army back by hitting the B button to order a retreat. Then we withdrew the army to friendly territory and had it heal in place over the course of several turns.

Diplomacy is handled whenever you meet a new civilization. Upon the first meeting you can agree to live in peace with one another or you can declare war. If it's the former, you still have the option of letting slip the dogs of war at any moment later in the game. These diplomatic interactions are very colorful thanks to the larger-than-life avatars that represent the leaders, as well as your various advisors and military units. Encounter the barbarian leader Norte Chico and you may very well want to rub his shiny pot belly for good luck even while he's busy making humorous insults at you. There's just more charm in Revolution than in previous Civs. The regular civilization rankings that show you what position you're in are treated like a game show, with lots of cheering and sound effects. Create a city and you get to choose from several names that are colorfully described (like "the awesome city of Riga") or create a custom one. If you discover a new river or major geographical feature, you can also name it in addition to getting a gold reward.

Then there's espionage, which also sounds like it's going to provide a lot of fun. You can start recruiting spies as soon as you discover the writing technology (and the first civilization to discover it gets a free spy). Spies can move two squares per turn and insert a spy in another civilization's city and there's all sorts of mischief that can be done. You can destroy fortifications and sabotage productions, which are Civ staples. But you can also kidnap a great person, which opens up a whole lot of opportunities. Basically, when you get a great person you get a choice to use them up in order to access their special ability (for instance, you can sacrifice a great builder to instantly complete a wonder), or you can have them settle into that city to bestow a long-term bonus. For example, settling a great military leader in a city grants all military units built in that city extra experience, on top of the experience granted by having a barracks there. Using a spy, you can kidnap one civilization's great leader and make him or her your own.

Aww, isn't the barbarian adorable?

Firaxis has had to completely rethink the interface to make all of this work on a console gamepad, and impressively, it does. The right analog stick basically moves the cursor around the map, while the face buttons let you select units and issue commands. Select a military unit, for instance, and you can order it to fortify in position (which adds a defensive bonus to it if attacked) by hitting the X button, or tell it to wait in place for one more turn by hitting the B button. If a unit is already fortified or in sentry mode, you can activate it by hitting the A button. You can toggle through units by using the left and right bumpers. Managing your cities is as easy as selecting one on the map or hitting up on the directional pad; you can then toggle through your different cities using your bumpers. The game features quite a bit of automation to take out mundane tasks, so when you create a city it automatically sends out workers to develop the squares around it. You can manually direct the workers using the city management screen.

Thanks to the sheer depth of its gameplay, there are almost countless ways that a Civilization game can unfold. That's probably why the series has endured for so long. Revolution looks like it's capturing the essence of Civ while making it much more accessible to the console crowd. We're told a good, solid single-player game can last as long as three or four hours, and when you're done you can always play a new game and challenge yourself again. There are a lot of possibilities in here, and Firaxis hasn't even really talked about the multiplayer. Revolution isn't shipping until the spring of 2008, though, so there's plenty of time to cover all that at a later date.

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Discussion

60 comments
Lord_Drax
Lord_Drax

Guys... PLZ wait or at least play the Demo... It really is different from the PC games but it's a blast to play, single or mutliplayer game. I loved all of the PC versions, but this console version really is a breeze and some kind of a "revolution"... Will definitaly buy!

AlecHP234
AlecHP234

I completely agree with BrolyGuy. Play the demo before you start criticizing it. I played it, and really enjoyed it. Like BrolyGuy says, it feels very natural even though you're playing with a controller. everything works and plays out perfectly for a console version.

BrolyGuy
BrolyGuy

play the demo. i bet half of the people knocking it already havent even played the demo yet. its good, and it feels natural enough.

fadetoblack_666
fadetoblack_666

man, looks like theyre dumbing the whole game down way too much for my taste... they should provide the options, at the very least in single player, to retain the depth of gameplay and tactical options that the PC games have... What theyre doing will make a great multiplayer game, no doubts there, but ive always revelled in the long drawn out games that can span weeks if not months in single player... i really hope they give us those options, coz potentially this game could be really good...

CampusVoice
CampusVoice

Using an analog stick will be kind of a pain with this game, but using the Wii remote would have been flawless. Too bad they just cancelled the Wii version! -----signature----- civilization revolution

dryden555
dryden555

if there ever was a great PC game that will fail on a console -- this is it. You need a keyboard for this game.

OremLK
OremLK

I can't stand even the thought of playing strategy games on the 360. Shooters work marginally well, though M+K is still a far better control system, but moving a cursor with a control stick *sucks*. No thanks.

boratman
boratman

I played this game at e for all and it was pretty good for the five minutes I got to try it. I hope they come out with a demo on Xbox live soon.

Riverwolf007
Riverwolf007

Civ 2 on PS1 was great and although I own the Pc version of Civ 4 I will mos def try this out.

Col-Neil
Col-Neil

I have mixed feelings about Civ being ported to consoles and the ds hopefully they do try and think things through instead of just rushing things

SuperMarioDude1
SuperMarioDude1

It looks good but i wonder if the DS version will be able to have all that data. I hope so cause that's the only one of three systems i own

Kerm1122
Kerm1122

AOE is ok but its too simple and i get bored of it too fast, sooo go civ

Generic_Dude
Generic_Dude

I am so stoked about this... I hope they don't tard it out too much.

matt_dangelo
matt_dangelo

civ is good...idk it takes a long time though...age of empires i like better...

martin_f
martin_f

I love CIv and Civ 2 on PS1 made that so :)

DarkLordPJ
DarkLordPJ

looks interesting hope they make it a bit more like civ 4 in graphics because it's looking abit too cartoony at the mo and RTW is for the battles Civ is for the Building of a Civ which is why it's called Civ and RTW will do well when they put a proper online in it I want to play full games not just one battle, You know like what Civ already has

dmalone569
dmalone569

RTW is far better than Civ, its the other way round from your post leem

leem2k1
leem2k1

Oh please. RTW is nothing but a simplified version of Civ. It has nowhere near as much depth to the turn based play. The battles are cool, but that only counts for so much. RTW is pretty much Civ for people without the patience to play a thinking persons game.

andytech
andytech

There's no way I could ever go back to Civ after playing Rome: Total War. Civ is just obsolete compared to RTW/M2TW. The Civ style of play was cool back in the 90s, but newer and better ways of turn-based play have come about since then.

illinoissooner
illinoissooner

I look forward to the DS version of this game. I will probably pass on the others but I can't have enough strategy games for the DS. I am a big fan of the series.

Shinoadr
Shinoadr

Well have to see how it handles on the consoles....

Hippoboy
Hippoboy

Seems pretty good so far

Dire_Weasel
Dire_Weasel

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

mrn71
mrn71

I'll have to check the demo before I buy this. I'm assuming it's 3-4 hours on 'easy' with the small map and automated workers. This may help multiplayer games, but single player does need to be longer.

LoranHalvard
LoranHalvard

I'll just stick by Civilization IV and GalCiv II, thank you.

xboxFan101
xboxFan101

not a big the whole fan of turn base , but they have there moments . if u look in the related games section u see 2 games I've never heard of operation darkness and super robot . do any u no these games ?? o well they probably those game that only get Japan release.

Lazyimperial
Lazyimperial

They "squalor and filth." Methinks that Gamespot has found a pre-release typo within the game. Either that, or Sid is of the opinion that "filth" is a verb. I filth you, he filths me, and we all filth each other every night. Eh, who knows? I'm going to be keeping an eye on this game though. Civilizations is a franchise worth watching, and I hope this game sells a lot of units.

nick15uk
nick15uk

I don't like the look of the interface, looks too patronising. We'll have to wait and see. Hands up who thinks this will work well with a controller rather than a mouse? Will check it out though defo :)

Daeman_Uhr
Daeman_Uhr

Sid finally sold out....a shame.

ChargEd
ChargEd

A long game equals tree or four hours? Multiply that by 10 and then we're talking real Civ. ^^

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

Hmmmm I will have to check this game out.

uberjannie
uberjannie

Damn, ive alwasy bought every civ game ever released.. Time to get myself a 360...

lsny
lsny

"...a good, solid single-player game can last as long as three or four hours..." ??? Shocking...but perhaps this will be the one Civ I don't put down after finishing it for the first time. Civ games are too limited and not strategically challenging enough for my liking, though. I still almost always play the new ones (borrow them from a friend) but wouldn't buy them. I would prefer to see an Alpha Centauri II than another Civ.

Wayward_Son_88
Wayward_Son_88

I was excited until I saw how water down the game is going to be. It will improve multiplayer games, but I prefer the solid gameplay of the PC versions. Looks like I'll have to buy Civ4 with the two awsome expansion packs.

RLJSlick
RLJSlick

Hmm I will have to take a wait and see on this one. Sound dumbed down, like what EA is doing to Sim City.

L7UWP
L7UWP

I can't wait :D

SpeedMan72
SpeedMan72

civ4 is awesome this looks just like it!!!

CapRandor
CapRandor

I remember civ II on the play station it was great but it was a gimmick of the pcs version. Hopping they really make this one from the scratch and adapt it well to consoles, this will actually be a revolution.

the_one_finn
the_one_finn

as much as i love the Civilization series, i can't be interested in this. The Civ series for me will forever stay on my PC. However, for those who are NOT into pc's at all (not any readers here i doubt).. this will be a good way to introduce them into a great game (provided it's true to the series). We'll see.

owi_bong
owi_bong

I prefer playing it on PC.

DJ_Vhat
DJ_Vhat

Consoles are making a comeback!

xmg0
xmg0

i like it

MechWarriorX
MechWarriorX

I really enjoyed Marathon mode form Civ:BtS. I had a 30 hour game on that one!

Deihmos
Deihmos

There is a reason i never play the PC game online. It's just too long.

NoFear87
NoFear87

Civ 2 has already been on PSX -_-

sealedexit
sealedexit

Civilization has already been on consoles!! Or are you people not old enough to remember that?