Civilization III Review

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Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Firaxis Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, DirectX 8.0a compatible video card capable of 1024x768 resolution, 550 MB HD space

Civilization III is the third generation in a series descendant from the seminal game that firmly established the empire building and management genre, Civilization. As with its predecessors, Civilization III begins with the player in control of a Neolithic band, just as they settle down to construct their first city. It ends with world domination, whether through military might, scientific accomplishment, diplomatic prowess, or cultural accomplishments. Broad in scope, players build cities, explore continents and oceans, interact with other cultures, direct scientific research, military conquest, and massive construction projects. As dictator, elected official, monarch, or proletarian, the player controls every aspect of a society, working in cooperation or direct conflict with the other cultures of the planet. Many aspects of the game can be automated, so the player can relinquish control to customizable city governors, or control individual workers as they lay railroad tracks or clean industrial waste. Civilization III allows players to control nearly every aspect of humanity and guide their people to glory. Multiplayer functionality has not been implemented, although this may be added in a future patch.

Kyle Ackerman

The Civilization games are compelling because of the incredible level of control and detail the series brings to the sweeping human enterprise of interacting with the planet and each other. This is simply a great game. While it is easy enough to criticize minor points, Civilization III has that ineffable quality that is the need to play "just one more turn." No matter how far along a player may have progressed through history, it is necessary to play just a little longer to build one more city, complete a railroad, discover electricity or conquer another civilization. Eleven P.M. quickly becomes midnight, which runs smoothly into the wee hours of the morning. There can be no higher praise that to say "this game would not let me sleep."

Civilization III brings a number of sweeping changes to the series. The most obvious differences are cosmetic. As one expects from a newer game, the graphics are considerably improved. Using a pleasing tile set, the various terrains, cities, improvements and units of Civilization III start to bring the same sense of aesthetic appeal to world domination that handling a hand-shaped chess piece brings to its own battlefield. Unit animations are enjoyable, making combat and agriculture alike more fun to observe (they can also be deactivated for those impatient to rush the action) and are accompanied by appropriate and satisfying sounds. Leaders of the world's civilizations are now animated in 3D, so that when the player faces Bismarck or Mao in diplomatic negotiations, those leaders have greater substance than in past iterations. This is almost enough to offset the loss of the terrific movie sequences Civilization II presented each time a great wonder was constructed. Now building a wonder, great or small, merely results in a picture that is then integrated into the scenic view available for each city the player controls. Even the world-creation options are improved from earlier Civilization games, offering flexible and replayable environments. Be warned, though: large worlds may bog down on older machines as the game progresses.

Other changes are more subtle. The Civilization III interface needs to offer the player access to a tremendous quantity of information and actions, and for the most part succeeds better than its forebears. Small buttons have been added at the base of the interface that encompass most of an active unit's possible actions, obviating the need to instantly memorize all possible hotkeys. Most information is presented by the player's advisors, and the Civilopedia help screens offer info, history and instructions (including a list of hotkeys). Some actions are less obvious. It may take a player some time to learn how to cancel treaties, build embassies, or access the city governors.

The changes that have had the most impact on many styles of gameplay are the implementation of "culture" and a change of focus from sprawling empires to fewer, planned cities. Civilization III now has a numerical cultural value that applies to each city within a civilization, and to the player's civilization as a whole. Culture is generated each turn by certain city improvements, such as temples, libraries and wonders. If your culture is significantly higher than a neighbor's culture, cities of the neighboring civilization may be so in awe of your achievements that they defect, and hand governance of their city over to you. Of course, if you haven't been building the appropriate structures for your people, it could be your city that defects. This corrects the problem of one civilization building a new city in an undeveloped nook of a powerful civilization. The tiny new city is often just assimilated. If your culture is developed sufficiently beyond everyone else on the globe, you may simply win, as other cultures give up their identities to join your enlightened society. One's cultural boundaries are also displayed on the map screen, making it clear when military units have crossed into another nation, and which resources are under your control.

The focus on fewer, larger cities is the result of Civilization III's new approach to corruption. As in the earlier games, some cities will produce less and engage in less commerce due to corruption. In Civilization III this problem is far worse than in previous games. Once a civilization reaches a certain size, some cities become so corrupt that they never contribute to the overall economy or produce significant industry. While this may be changed in a future patch, it is not a bad thing, just different from previous incarnations of Civilization. It is reasonable to expect that a Neolithic city half way around the globe doesn't pay much attention to instructions from a distant capital. Because of this change, it makes sense to carefully cultivate a smaller number of well developed large cities. Corruption is not an insurmountable problem. One can build an ancillary palace (the Forbidden Palace small wonder) that will reduce corruption in cities distant from the capital, or simply purchase city improvements using the empire's broader economic resources. City placement is vital, because of the introduction of rules for fresh water access, irrigation, disease and resources.

A few other changes are worthy of note, such as the reliance on resources. Civilization III has added strategic and luxury resources to those that formerly just increased production, food and commerce. Luxury resources (spices, silks, gems and so forth) make people happy when connected by networks of roads, and strategic resources (iron, coal, uranium, etc.) enable the production of certain units and improvements. While this adds a welcome strategic element to development, trade, diplomacy and conquest, it can be upsetting to see a hard won resource depleted, sometimes rendering decades of scientific research useless. Each civilization now has a personality and a special unit which gives a slight advantage until that unit becomes obsolete (for example, the Germans have panzers, which move faster than tanks, but are quickly outmoded by modern armor). Units take commerce, not production, to support, and have no home city. Leaders can emerge with the ability to levy armies or hurry city improvements, and the concept of war weariness now plagues elected governments with unhappiness rather than the unwelcome fiats of the Senate in past Civilization games. Players will discover many small differences, but the last to be mentioned here is the introduction of small wonders. Some wonders were simply too useful to be confined to one civilization (as with great wonders), so small wonders such as Wall Street are available to everyone – once.

Civilization III, while making no world-shattering departures from its predecessors, improves the game enough to be a wholly worthwhile purchase. Some changes are minor, some are deceptively simple but radically influence gameplay. All enhance the fun this series has always delivered.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 27, 2001 6:39 PM.

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