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by Infogrames

units.jpg (6847 bytes)Do you remember Falco? Don’t feel bad if you can’t, because you’re certainly not alone. But I’ll bet you remember "Rock Me Amadeus." Something about that song rocked hard enough to catch the attention of the eighties. Surely you remember the eighties—a whole decade of flash-in-the-pan artistry that didn’t breed a single Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones, even though the music industry was as vibrant as ever. There were plenty of rock stars getting filthy rich off the proceeds of a single song, and some of them are still coasting on that song to this day. There’s the music business for you.

Image6-01.jpg (7249 bytes)Every morning Sid Meier wakes up and thanks God that the computer game industry is not the music industry. If the two were alike, for instance, Meier would be living in a trailer park off the proceeds of 1991's scorching success Civilization, or he’d be touring state fairs playing it at the beginning and end of every set. But Meier proves there’s no such thing as a one-hit wonder in the computer business by releasing the third revision of his game, Civilization III. It’s, you know, like the first and second one, only different. How different? Good question.

city_view_game-01.jpg (7381 bytes)If for some reason you’ve been living in a cave for the last decade, you’ll need to be told that Civilization is the wildly popular turn-based strategy game that offers players the chance to lead their people from the bronze age to the information age. Along the way you overcome obstacles like the unhappiness of your own citizens and the hostility of other civilizations, guiding your scientists through researching advancements from the alphabet to stealth technology. Will you go down as a militaristic bully or a peaceful and glorious bastion of high culture? Will you rocket to Alpha Centauri or pound your enemies into dust? Commanding an empire that spans millennia, you make these decisions and more.

mil_advisor-01.jpg (7975 bytes)So you can see why Civilization was so popular in the first place. What’s not to love about immortality, power, and the quest for world domination? Indeed, Civilization set a standard that no game has ever succeeded in matching. Master of Orion and other turn-based strategy games have sometimes worked from the same principle, but they have you taking over the galaxy instead of the planet, or they concern themselves with a particular period of time. For strategy games that span from the dawn to dusk of time, pitting you against various civilizations while forcing you to rule wisely over your own, Civilization remains in a category of its own.

Image9-01.jpg (8492 bytes)In fact, if the game ever had a weakness, from the beginning it’s been the ambitious scope of everything Civilization tries to accomplish. Like its predecessors but now a little more so, this latest installment forces players to confront the nagging question of how much is too much. Civ III threatens to outgrow its britches with a fully indexed instruction manual that weighs in at more than 230 pages, a user interface that has to gracefully allow the micro-management of potentially every city on the face of the earth, and a clunky troop system that theoretically allows for global military campaigns, but really amounts to watching your enemies charge around and shoot at you, and then guiding your troops to charge around and shoot at them. Some changes in this addition do attempt to help with the administration of less significant matters. For instance, there are now governors in every city who can be told to take over production duties and concentrate on manufacturing food or trade or industry. There’s an updated culture algorithm that calculates how far your civilization’s cultural influence extends, which also determines your borders for the purposes of military invasion. If your cultural advancements are particularly impressive, foreign cities will secede and flock to your banner.

Hi_angry.jpg (10132 bytes)Culture represents just one of the now six different ways the game can be won. Where before you either had to colonize Alpha Centauri or destroy all your rivals, now you can compel other civilizations to join your magnificent culture, establish a vast majority of the world’s population under your control, be elected Secretary-General of the United Nations, or secure the highest Histographic score when the game’s time limit runs out. All of these options require maintaining a happy civilization and secure boundaries, but apart from that there’s room for several different playing styles. For once, wonders of the world like Shakespeare’s Theater have the kind of global impact they deserve, and it’s possible for turtle-like players, who keep all armies within their own borders and focus on city improvements, to rule the day.

Image22-01.jpg (11257 bytes)Unfortunately, turtle players like myself have been severely neutered in Civ III. Recall that the way to be a true turtle player is to focus on building incredible cities and gaining knowledge advancements at an accelerated rate. This used to be much easier in Civ II, where you could learn the Republic form of government, convert, and then advance so quickly that sometimes you had tanks in the 1500s, and you could fight horsemen with mechanized infantry. Those were some great times. I guess that kind of mercurial advancement pissed off one too many history nerds, because in Civ III it’s impossible to gain knowledge quickly enough to be even a century ahead. And even if you do pour 70% of your GNP into science, even at the easiest levels your foes will have somehow kept up with you while also building huge armies. In Civ II, you could get away with fewer military units of higher quality and giggle the whole time you destroyed their primitive asses. Those halcion days are gone forever in Civ III.

Mao_n.jpg (9382 bytes)To make matters worse—and stupider—you now have to find salt peter before you can have musketeers, or you have to find oil reserves and steel before you can have tanks and cars. This would be understandable, and might even make the game more fun, were it not for the fact that these resources never, and just to make things perfectly clear, despite what the player’s manual says about these resources appearing when you gain the knowledge that makes them useful, let me repeat, these resources NEVER appear within the boundaries of your established civilization. Oil will not be under them thar hills outside your capital, it will be in the middle of a vast desert on another continent, and you’ll have to build a crappy little city that will be young and defenseless and will inevitably be overrun by other civilizations jealous of your high culture.

domestic2-01.jpg (5618 bytes)Devotees of the Civilization industry will probably find enough new gizmos, like animated troop icons that sink into the ocean or fall down when they die, to make buying this version worthwhile. Newcomers will probably find enough here to entertain them, especially since they won’t know what they’re missing from previous versions. After all, Civ III remains unparalleled in its breadth and scope. But if you liked Civ II just fine, or if you don’t need a turn-based conquer- and- rule- the- world fix right now, then it’s likely you’ll be better off waiting for Master of Orion III. Or even Civ IV.

Paul Cockeram   (11/29/2001)


Ups: New troop animations; culture is more important; still fun, but...

Downs: More of the same old thing with some of the good stuff from Civ II "fixed".

Platform: PC