There have been a lot of great moments in the world of gaming, but starting a game of Civilization II has to be one of the best. There you are, cast into the distant past, alone in the wilderness with nothing but a small band of settlers. Before you lies the greatest challenge imaginable: to build an empire that is powerful enough to span the globe, advanced enough to reach the stars, and durable enough to stand the test of time.
Just gives you chills, doesn't it? No wonder the Civilization series has been among the most popular ever released on the PC, and that its creator, Sid Meier, is widely recognized as one of the best game designers in the world. Now, PlayStation owners have a chance to experience this empire-building phenomenon firsthand, with the newly released Civilization II.
A little background is in order. Civilization II is a turn-based strategy game that incorporates a seemingly endless array of options. In playing the game, you'll build cities, construct wonders, research new technologies, raise armies, develop an economy, and engage in diplomatic tete-a-tetes with other rulers. The game begins in the prehistoric era (around 3500 BC) and ends in the late 21st century (assuming you survive that long!). The goal is to wipe out all the other empires on Earth - you must contend with the likes of Genghis Khan, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon, among others - or be the first to colonize a planet successfully in far-off Alpha Centauri.
As you might have gathered by now, playing Civilization II is a highly involved intellectual exercise that puts a premium on strategic thinking and long-term planning. It takes patience to learn the rules, although a tutorial mode helps quite a bit. The games themselves can last 30 hours or more. In other words, if you are in search of a quick adrenaline rush, you are advised to run, not walk, away from this game.
However, if you're willing to invest the necessary time to learn and play Civilization II, you will be rewarded by some of the most intricate and involving gameplay available on the PlayStation. The level of control you have over your empire - everything from the political orientation to the tax rate to the names of cities, is under your command - lets you build a civilization that reflects your own personality. Be a violent dictator, a benevolent prince, or a noble republican. Forge alliances with other powers and then betray your allies when it suits you. Build a peaceful, economically oriented civilization and then convert your wealth into military might and crush your unsuspecting enemies. The bottom line is that just about whatever you dream up, you can do, and that is what makes Civilization II such a joy to play.
Not that this version isn't without some shortcomings. Even in its PC form, Civilization II was never much to look at, and things have gotten considerably rougher with this port. As the game progresses, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between units, and it's consistently hard to read the fuzzy text on the screen. While the control-pad interface is quite efficient, the lower resolution means that almost all the game's menus and information screens have been redesigned for the PlayStation, and many of them seem thrown together. (The world map is particularly horrible.) The sound is also dull by today's standards, and the background music gets monotonous as the hours go by. (Fortunately, you can turn it down.) And at ten blocks per saved game, you'll be stacking up the memory cards in no time, since you'll want to save every few turns.
For purists, I should also mention that there are a couple of fairly significant gameplay changes between this and the PC version. The first is that this version appears to use the combat engine from the original Civilization, rather than the more sophisticated engine introduced in the original version of Civilization II. This isn't that big of a deal - personally, I always thought the older engine was better - but it is somewhat curious. The other major change is that the PlayStation version doesn't include certain automation features (such as "smart" settlers that automatically improve your cities), which means you'll have to do a little more micromanagement than you might expect if you have had experience with the PC version. Finally, it seems that, level for level, the PlayStation version is somewhat easier than the PC version. (Either that, or I'm a lot better at this game than I used to be!)
In the final analysis, Civilization II is just that - a game of analysis - and as such it's a welcome change of pace for the PlayStation. If the graphics were better, it would be a must-buy, but as it is, Civilization II is a solid, if not spectacular, game that strategy fans will not want to miss.