Civilization Revolution 2 is a Good Mobile Game, But is It a Good Civ Game?
Tanks beat everything.
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In 2009, developer 2K China brought Sid Meier's Civilization series to mobile with Civilization Revolution. This week, it has launched its next foray into tablet gaming with Civilization Revolution 2, now available for iOS devices and coming later to Android. With a number of visual, UI, and gameplay improvements, Civ Rev 2 brings the tablet Civ experience even closer to the PC's. But like its predecessor, this is not a full Civilization experience. It's been streamlined, reduced, and changed to make it compatible for mobile and accessible for people who don't know the Civ series. As a result, Civ Rev 2 is not a great Civilization title--but it is its own entity, a full-fledged mobile strategy game with engaging combat and resource collection. Ultimately, there are elements in the game that may alienate some hardcore Civilization players. But for people who just want a strategy experience on a tablet, it is an excellent title that will expose them to some of the magic of Civ games.
The main differences between Civilization Revolution 1 and 2 can be seen in the visuals. In the sequel, environments are lush. Cities grow as objects within the world, rather than just icons. Battles now occur with full animation in the environment, rather than the tiny, pixellated window that popped up for combat in the first game.
Controls and the interface have also been upgraded. Moving a unit now only requires selecting the character and double-tapping on the tile you want to move to. Selecting a city now brings up every build order and statistic, so you do not have to navigate through a maze of menus to get there.
However, the improvements do come with a tradeoff: the camera is difficult to use. You cannot zoom out from the default perspective, and I could never find a world map to look at. It's difficult to find cities and units. Fortunately, the camera automatically cycles through idle units and cities that, so manual perspective control is usually not necessary.
Civ Rev 2 also doesn't have multiplayer. Although it has weekly scenarios with scoring systems, the player-vs.-player mode seen in the first title has been removed for this game. The developer said that the removal was due to low player counts in multiplayer and a design choice to focus on the single-player experience.
When I began a game, I noticed immediately that, like the first game, Civ Rev 2 doesn't have workers. Instead, the entirety of resource collection is done via the city menu and citizens. Tapping on one of a city's tiles reassigns a citizen to work it and collect the resources it contains. This system, which existed in the first Civ Rev as well, vastly increases the importance of city growth and location. When I play Civilization V, the most recent PC entry in the series, I generally don't pay much attention to the landscape where I found cities, because I can simply make farms everywhere to get enough food from the land. In Civ Rev 2, the lack of workers and tile improvements forced me to be far more conscientious of where I set down my cities so that I could maximize the food output of my citizens. This led to more citizens being produced, which allowed me to then collect the other resources in greater amounts.
Although I prefer the worker system--I like having more control over which resources I collect at what time--the focus on the citizens is likely the best way to handle resources in a mobile game. The level of micromanagement that workers require in Civ 5 would be frustrating on a mobile device.
Of course, resource collection is only one part of the game. For many players, building armies and sending them to war is the main draw of Civilization games. In Civ Rev 2, militaries grow quickly, far quicker than I expected. There are fewer buildings in the game than in Civ V, so I found myself building units for most of the time. Since the cities will keep producing a unit until it is manually deselected, I often ended up with fairly large armies just because I forgot to change the build order for one of my cities.
But what makes Civ Rev 2 so dramatically different from Civ V is that units stack. There's no struggle to move military units around to get them to fit in friendly territory. Instead, you can have a great number of soldiers in one tile. Although each unit must attack individually, a group of three identical troops can combine to form an "army," a single unit that gains a substantial strength and health increase. Units have visible attack and defense ratings, so making an army out of three units will generally triple the ratings of the unit.
Even slightly stronger units can rampage through enemy ranks unimpeded because, except in the case where an individual soldier is killed, health is not persistent across battles.
In addition, instead of a Civ V-style health bar, damage is measured by the number of individual soldiers in each unit. A warrior unit has three soldiers, for example, and so it has three bars to eliminate. Each battle is determined by a random system like a dice roll that's influenced by the relative strength of the two sides, with the stronger unit having a greater chance of killing one of the enemy soldiers. If you eliminate all three individual soldiers, the unit is destroyed, and your unit can occupy its territory--unless it was stacked. Then, you must fight the enemies in the tile turn after turn until every enemy soldier is killed.
The problem with this system is that it almost completely eliminates the ability for weaker units to kill a stronger unit. In Civ V, you can surround an enemy with a number of weaker units and pick away at its health until the enemy succumbs. In Civ Rev 2, if you have a warrior with an attack rating of 5, and you go against an enemy archer army with a defense rating of 12, it's virtually impossible to take it down, no matter how many warriors you have in adjacent tiles. Even slightly stronger units can rampage through enemy ranks unimpeded because, except in the case where an individual soldier is killed, health is not persistent across battles. There's no measurement for how much damage a unit takes. Although the battles are dice rolls, and I've seen a rating 10 take down a 13 (and consequently receive a huge experience boost from it), for the most part, the stronger unit will always win.
The strategy in combat, then, becomes exclusively to make armies of three of the strongest units you can make. I eventually stumbled upon tanks, which I quickly grew to rely on. When I set out to win by military conquest, I focused on researching tank technology as quickly as possible. When I had a group of three tanks, I made them an army and discovered that it had an attack rating of 90. Since I had researched the tech fairly early in the game, I easily rolled over every enemy in my path, including every city.
A lot of what makes combat so difficult and rewarding in Civ V has been removed and changed in Civ Rev 2. There's no need to flank, no need to encircle, and no need to diversify unit types. I never even needed ranged attacks. All I needed was the strongest unit possible, and I went undefeated in battle.
And yet, it was still satisfying. I was engrossed with trying to determine the correct path to get to tank technology as quickly as possible. As a result, the early part of the game was tense as I tried to repel enemy advances with sometimes slightly inferior units, getting extremely lucky that I was able to defeat them. One of my cities was taken with ease, because I had forgotten to fortify it. Cities in Civ Rev 2 don't have their own defense; they must have a unit stationed in them or they can be taken simply by moving into them. I forgot about this and lost a city early on, which made me have to direct some of my resources to building up a big enough military to get it back.
The first half of a Civ Rev 2 round is where the game really shines. This is where settlements are important, and you have to juggle having enough troops to beat back an enemy advance, and devoting enough to science so that you can keep the technological advantage. This is where buildings matter. The choices you make in the early game compound into your advantages at the end of the game. When I focused on science buildings at the beginning of one round, it snowballed into the acquisition of stealth bombers by 1960 and unlocking all tech by the turn of the century. Although the developer stated that it was attempting to prevent such "funneling down" of the game, so that early-game decisions didn't irrevocably affect the endgame, I noticed that my focus at the very start generally informed my results at the end. I did note that up until the research of Industrialization, there was a tug-of-war for territory and resources going on between the different civilizations. It felt balanced, and I was able to come back from some catastrophic losses of cities and territory. For the most part, however, the victor became clear as soon as guns were researched.
Of course, no Civilization game would be complete without several different paths to victory. Following the system of the first Revolution, Civ Rev 2 has four different victory types: economic, cultural, conquest, and scientific.
Economic victory is perhaps the most strange to me, because it requires you to simply collect a huge amount of gold. In Civ V, gold can be used to purchase buildings, units, tiles, and city-state alliances. In Civ Rev 2, from what I could tell, gold existed only for the purpose of furthering economic "milestones." These milestones give perks every time you pass one, but that's the only clear use for gold.
Conquest victory is identical to all Civ games. Simply capture all of the enemies' capitals, and you win. Cultural victory combines diplomatic and cultural victories in Civ V. You must occupy towns, build wonders and great people, and collect culture, and if you achieve 20 wonders, great people, and towns, you can build the United Nations wonder and win the game. It's an interesting method of encouraging you to focus on culture, but I wish there was stronger diplomatic gameplay in the game.
I enjoyed science victory the most by far of the four victory conditions. To win via science, you must research enough technology to be able to build a spacecraft. Then, several spacecraft parts must be built and launched into orbit to create a space station. In Civ Rev 2, this process is fully animated, and a cutscene plays every time a part of the ship is completed. You see the rocket launching into orbit and each module pairing with the space station. A screen of statistics shows the readiness of the ship. Finally, when you pair the last module--a habitation capsule that allows ten thousand citizens to live comfortably for many years--the ship launches for a distant star. In a fun nod to the Civilization series, the citizens fly for Alpha Centauri, where the upcoming Civilization: Beyond Earth takes place.
This is a game you can turn off, pick back up, and have no problem jumping right back into a round. This is a game I can imagine playing on a short car ride, or a long plane ride, for one hour or six hours at a time.
There are things about it that might turn a hardcore Civilization fan away. Combat strategy is frustratingly superficial. Controls still aren't amazing. The camera is hard to move around. Resources have been significantly simplified.
But this isn't a hardcore Civilization game. If anything, this is a bite-sized turn-based strategy game with inspiration from the Civ titles. This is a game you can turn off, pick back up, and have no problem jumping right back into a round. This is a game I can imagine playing on a short car ride, or a long plane ride, for one hour or six hours at a time.
When I stopped comparing it to Civ V, and instead enjoyed it for its merits as a good mobile strategy title, I realized that Civ Rev 2 is a great game with enough to it to keep me coming back. Even though it is not a full Civilization experience, Civilization Revolution 2 improves on its predecessor in all the right places and continues to bring that turn-based Civilization feel to tablets in an effective and engaging way.
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