When you think about turn-based strategy games on consoles, most people tend to think of isometric strategy-role-playing games like Final Fantasy Tactics. When you think about them on handheld consoles, most people tend to think of tile-based games like Advance Wars. But what about the classic turn-based games that stole away countless hours from PC players? Aren't those PC turn-based games too complicated and boring? Not if designer Sid Meier has anything to say about it. Meier and his team at Firaxis are hard at work on Civilization Revolution, a faster-paced turn-based console version of the classic Civilization series for computers. It is more or less completely identical in terms of content on both consoles and on the Nintendo DS. We recently had a chance to dive into some multiplayer sessions of the Xbox 360 version of the history-themed game, as well as to try out the DS version, and we have much to report.
The multiplayer in the console games, as Civ players might expect, resembles the single-player game. In both cases, you start off on a new map and choose to play as the world leader of a specific nation, such as Gandhi of India or Julius Caesar of Rome, then start your operations with a single city with the goal of doing nothing less than taking over the world. However, there are several different ways you can accomplish this goal, including, but not limited to, conquering the world by force by capturing all your opponents' capital cities (which contain palaces); achieving a scientific victory by topping out your scientific research, which happens automatically with each passing turn; or achieving a new economic victory tied to amassing large amounts of wealth. In Revolution, unlike in the PC versions of Civ, you have much more freedom to choose different victory conditions and much more leeway to change the direction of your nation midstream.
The game is being built around numerous bonuses that are either automatic or unlockable. For instance, every nation and world leader has a great variety of powerful bonuses. These are available both at the start of the game and unlocked each time your nation advances scientifically to a new "age" (such as going from the Stone Age to the Classical Age). Each of the national bonuses--such as the Germans' ancient-era bonus of automatically having all soldier units start at the extra-tough veteran level to begin with--are much more powerful than the traditionally minor Civ bonuses of "+1 to food production" to the extent that, in Sid's own words, you're supposed to feel as though "you can't lose" picking any civilization.
In addition, you'll unlock many other bonuses throughout the course of the game from traditional sources, such as the bonus units or technology or resource caches from "goodie huts" that you can wrest from hostile barbarian tribes or the powerful bonuses you can generate for your nation by constructing an expensive "wonder of the world" (like the Great Wall or the Pyramids). Revolution will also offer all-new bonuses for being the first nation to research a specific technology or even reassemble secret artifacts that are hidden in various territories across the map. These additional bonuses will not only give your general operations a boost, but may also open up new paths that may make you want to change directions. Rushing to research a certain military technology may net you a pile of money that may make you want to seriously consider changing course toward an economic victory, for instance.
In our experience with the multiplayer on the consoles, the game starts out at a rather brisk pace. Exactly where each player starts the game is random, though there is apparently only one map size for multiplayer; a rather smallish map that randomly generates bodies of water, terrain, and resources. This map may toss you into the world right next to another player (or far, far away from anyone else to let you develop your civilization's culture, technology, or finances, if you care to). We began our session playing as Germany to churn out as many freely upgraded veteran military units as possible from the get-go, founding our first city in a coastal area near plenty of food and production resources. Like with the PC game, the lay of the land surrounding your cities will determine how quickly they can produce units or buildings, as well as how quickly your population will grow (and therefore be capable of faster production or leaving town with a settler unit to build a new city elsewhere). Fortunately, much of the minutiae of the traditional Civ game have been streamlined out of both the console and handheld versions. Worker units appear onscreen automatically, and roads (which make going from one city to the next much faster) can be built as an automatic civic improvement once selected.
We had no trouble at all quickly advancing through several military-themed technologies, such as bronze working, to produce warriors, archers, and legions to wipe out all nearby barbarian tribes. Interestingly, Revolution will let you band together any three military units to create an "army"--a single unit with the combined strength of all three core units. All military units, whether individual or armies, can gain experience points that eventually advance them through experience levels that not only toughen up your forces, but also unlock additional bonuses that you can choose from, such as the ability to automatically heal from damage over time or the option to take an extra move even after attacking (which normally ends your turn for that unit). Multiplayer sessions have an option to select the speed of the turn timer (so that you can either take your time each turn or limit all players to an onscreen timer that counts down). At the medium speed, we did just fine keeping up with each turn. We even snuck a small army into a rival city across the water in a galley unit and captured it for ourselves.
However, things weren't all rosy for us; several barbarian tribes kept us busy with defenses (and even kidnapped one of our undefended settler units, though we were able to recover the settler after laying waste to the barbarians' camp). Meanwhile, the computer-controlled nation of Arabia made a beeline for us with its horse archers and began laying waste to our northern borders. Arabia was able to attack us because multiplayer games allow for both human and computer-controlled players. If we had had the time to play further, we surely would've gone back and crushed them--or so we'd like to think. Nevertheless, the console versions of Revolution seem to have plenty to offer--lots of new twists with every turn taken and lots of new reasons to take just one more turn.
We also had a chance to try out the DS version of the game, which, according to a 2K Games representative, is being developed simultaneously with the console games and, with a very few exceptions (such as the all-encompassing "Civlopedia" reference), features all the same content--just with a different graphical wrapper. All the nations, leaders, bonuses, and gameplay of the console versions of Civilization Revolution are otherwise present on the DS from what we can tell. Building new cities, creating units, fighting battles against barbarians and enemy nations, researching new technology--everything seems intact on the DS as well. Fans of traditional handheld console strategy games should be in for an intriguing new experience, while fans of traditional Civilization gameplay will likely be ecstatic that they'll finally have a version of their favorite game that fits in their pockets. Civilization Revolution is scheduled for release on the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the DS this June.