Summary: The first time was the charm. In fact, so was the second. Now, Firaxis presents Civilization 3, designed by the original master of turn-based epic strategy, Sid Meier. But does he still have that magic touch? Gather your military, economic, and diplomatic units and find out here!
Civilization III Official Page: www.civ3.com
Before First-Person Shooters, Real-Time Strategy, Massively-Mulitplayer Online RPGs, e-mail, and the Internet, there was Sid Meierís Civilization.
For the poor souls out there who have never played any of the Civilization games, Iíll describe the experience as briefly as possible: You are the supreme leader of a historical civilization, i.e. Cleopatra of the Egyptians. You start with a small group of people under your control, willing to build a city to start your empire. You can build more cities and improve them with civic buildings like Libraries and Churches. You can also build military units to fight other civilizations. As time passes you learn new technologies, from written language all the way up to genetics. To win the game you need to dominate the map through political or military power. You can alternatively build a spaceship and send it to Alpha Centauri for colonization.
300 MHz CPU
500MB Hard Disk Space
1 GHz CPU
1 GB! RAM
A Massive Chessboard
The graphics in Civilization III have no bells or whistles, figuratively. You wonít find a bit of 3D accelerated, ďletís throw this in here to look hip,Ē junk that many developers add. Sid Meier and Firaxis know from experience that a good game doesnít need fancy graphics if the gameplay is exceptional. This doesnít mean that Civ III is ugly; quite the opposite in fact.
Initially the map doesnít look like more than a pretty picture. As you play more and start analyzing what youíre looking at, youíll realize that there is a ton of information right in front of you. For example, when youíre scouting areas to build a new city it is very important to choose proper terrain for the type of city you want to build (if you build a city surrounded only by plains, you can have a huge population, but very little production). You need to pick apart what the map tells you about the terrain Ė this is easy to do with Civ IIIís graphics. The information is all there, and is so elegantly presented that it doesnít get in the way of the aesthetics.
The only animations in the game are units moving, working, and fighting. All of these are functional as well as fun to watch. Workers have several tasks, each with its own animation so you can tell what a worker is doing without pulling up any menus. Itís also neat watching units fight Ė you can see Archers load their bows and fire, Spearmen stabbing their spears, Bombers fly bombing runs, and units falling apart when they lose. A far cry from the original Civilization where you would see two tiles bump into each other, with the loser vanishing.
One thing you should note is that Civilization III requires a lot of RAM for optimal performance. I upgraded from 256MB to 1GB of RAM (extravagant even only a year ago, but an investment of less than $75 nowadays) while I was playing this game, and it made a huge difference in the speed. Simple things like scrolling around the map and waiting for opponentsí turns to end were a lot faster. RAM is cheap nowadays, and playing Civ III is a good excuse to upgrade.
Firaxis nailed the sound effects in Civ III. I like that every unit has its own set of sounds Ė an M1A1 tank doesnít sound like a guy on a chariot. I can see many a game company cutting corners and using the same sound effect for several units, but Firaxis has its act together.
Change is good
This section is on whatís significantly different from Civ II as compared to the other Civ games Ė it may not make sense if youíve never played Civilization games before - feel free to skip to the next page if so. For everyone else letís take a look at the major differences in the third installation of Sid Meierís private Iliad.
Resources: Want to build a knight on a horse? Thatís hard to do if you donít have a horse. In Civ III you now need to have access to a resource before you can build units that need it. This is a huge strategic change in the gameplay. Now as you build new cities and deal with other empires you need to balance resources found on the map. So even if you donít like the nasty Romans, you may have to grease their palms if the only way to get horses is by trading with them. If a resource is just out of reach of a city, you can build a colony to harvest that resource, saving you from overlapping cities.
Trade:No more camels and no more trudging across a continent to setup a trade route. Personally, I never liked all the work involved with setting up trade in previous Civ games. Finding a city that produced a desired trade good, finding a city that wanted it, building a Caravan, and walking the caravan to the second city was way too much work. In Civ III you just need to make sure your capital city is connected to the capital city of the empire you with to trade with. Not just by roads, but through a network of roads, harbors, and even airports. Contact the leader you wish to trade with, shake hands, and you have a trade and a source of additional income.
Leaders: The most significant change in combat is the Leader unit. When an elite unit wins a battle, thereís a chance that a Leader unit will be produced. This Leader can do two things, create an army and hurry production. Armies are vital in winning wars Ė theyíre groups of units that attack together, with cumulative hitpoints and increased attack/defense. Hurrying production is another huge change Ė by sacrificing the leader, you can finish a building in any city in one turn, even Wonders. So if the Pyramids normally takes 200 turns to complete, a Leader could finish it in only one turn.
What does all this mean?
Compared to the previous Civ games, Civ III feels streamlined. Everything is easier to control since you can access the command options quickly. Long menus are replaced with command buttons and right-click menus. The game feels more focused since redundant units and options are gone. This also speeds up the game considerably. All together, Civ III is a spit-shined version of an already spectacular game.
Just one more turnÖ
The first thing you should know about playing Civilization III is that it is incredibly addicting. You can literally play this game for eight hours straight and not realize that the sun is rising. Eating and sleeping will be secondary to finishing one more turn. Why is this game so addictive? For the same reasons MMORPGs hook gamers -- the more you play, the stronger you get. Thereís always something on the horizon that will make your Civilization stronger. A new city improvement will double your income, or a new technology will allow you to explore new lands, or you just need a few more turns to conquer an enemy. Thereís never a break in the flow of the game, but itís not like youíd want one anyway.
War and Peace
War in Civilization sets it apart from a simple simulation game. Much like a tech tree in an RTS game, Civ IIIís tech tree allows you to build better units. The difference is that units progress through history, from the first horse-mounted rider to musketeers to stealth bombers. Itís rather funny watching a guy with a spear beat on a tank. You have a lot of options in fighting as well. As technology advances you can have massive naval battles, and even naval blockades. When you discover flight you can rain bombs on your enemies, and later smart bombs. Rocketry allows you to use cruise missles and even Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) loaded with nuclear warheads. Again, the numerous options add a lot to the fun of playing Civ III.
Diplomacy in Civilization III is a tricky beast. Besides taking care of your own empire, you need to deal with everyone else on the planet. Trade, treaties, and sharing technologies all depend on how well you can wheel and deal with other leaders. Some leaders are xenophobic and demand a lot before theyíll deal with you, while others are there only to please. Be careful however, as all of them would love to screw you over and win the game themselves. Diplomacy also adds something that other simulation games (like SimCity or Rollercoaster Tycoon) donít have, namely competitors that you need to interact with to win.
SIDEBAR: When youíre attacking a neighboring empire, bring a lot of Workers with you. As you attack and take over cities, build roads and railroads along your warpath. This way you can send damaged units to heal, and send fresh units to the front of the battle.
You against the world
After numerous incarnations, the AI in Civilization III is something to behold. On the easiest levels the AI lets you play at your own pace and figure things out slowly. At the middle difficulty levels the AI will give you a run for your money, constantly pressuring you to keep up your technology and military. At the hardest levels the AI will hand your ass to you on a silver platter. The computer never breaks any rules either (although sometimes it feels like it does), it just plays the game with maximum efficiency. If you want to really learn how to play Civ III well, play against eight opponents on Prince difficulty Ė youíll have to break your back every turn to win.
There are 16 civilizations available to play in Civ III, less than Civ II and missing some notable Civilizations. You can no longer create your own civilization, nor can you name yourself. These changes may upset some, but I didnít really mind because Firaxis added qualities (cultural and economic advantages) and civilization specific units. These unique units add a lot to the gameplay since they replace regular units. For example, the Zulu replace the Warrior unit with an Impi unit, a stronger version of the Warrior. This gives the Zulu a huge advantage at the beginning of the game since they can attack with superior units early on. This causes you to learn about the civilizations youíre playing against and adapt accordingly. This is good because it adds variety in the opponents you play against, as well as the civilization you choose to play. In other words: more replayability.
Civ III features multiple ways to win the game. Each way allows you to play the game in the style you prefer. If you like emphasizing technology and commerce, you can build a space ship destined to colonize Alpha Centauri. If youíre into conquest, you can win by destroying all other civilizations on the map. You can win politically after the United Nations Small Wonder is built if you can get yourself elected Secretary General. If youíre good at building up your cities, you can win by achieving such a high culture rating that even other leaders want to join your culture. Through a mix of culture and war, you can win by controlling two-thirds of the land on the globe. I really like multiple victories because it allows you to play Civ III the way you want to. If you donít like dealing with other civilizations you can seal your self off from the rest of the world and still win scientifically or culturally. If youíre a good at schmoozing with the other leaders you can get yourself elected Secretary General. Itís all about how you want to play the game.
Is there anything you donít like?
Thatís a tough question, and I really have to pull things out of the air to come up with some nit picking points, but here goes. Thereís no multiplayer. I donít think this is a big issue, mostly because I donít like playing Civ games in multiplayer settings. Who has eight hours to kill with a group of friends - online? Not to mention it takes a long time to complete a turn, which could get boring very quickly. Maybe if an e-mail would work better, but even without multiplayer Civ III is an excellent game.
Reasons to play
Some games are so good that itís hard to describe why you like them. Well, after playing the Civilization franchise for years Iíve come up with a few reasons:
History 101: I know more about history, technology, and ancient empires because of Sid Meier than all of my history teachers combined. You can actually learn something from a video game, the humanity of it all. If you read the Civilopedia descriptions youíll pick up on a lot of the advancements of human civilization, why they were significant, and when they happened. Obviously you wonít learn historical dates on wars or locations of cities, but there is a wealth of knowledge available.
War and Peace: Strategy gamers will appreciate the complex military aspect within Civ III. War is an underlying theme in all of human history, so itís clear why war is such a big part of this game. More than just building cities and handling politics, youíll be stretched to strategically conquer your enemies with good Ďol brute force. Youíll also see what it takes to keep your empire at peace when you deal with other civilizations and their demands.
El Duce: Itís good to be the king. Itís even better to be the deity of a vast empire. Everyone likes to be the head honcho; calling all the shots and having people bend to your will. This is one of the reasons games like The Sims, Civilization, and Roller Coaster Tycoon do so well. The sense of power over peopleís lives (even if they are digital) appeals to everyone.
Everybody wants to rule the world: No, Wham isnít on the Civ III soundtrack. Iím talking about taking over the world. You donít need to be a cat-stroking super-villain to do it, either. Civ III lets you be an armchair conqueror, taking over the world through military, cultural, or diplomatic means.
Do it again:Civilization III is one of those games that you can play over, and over, and over, and over again. There are no two games that play out the same way, even if you choose the same civilizations, map, and starting positions. Hell you can load a game ten turns back and never have the same outcome. Luckily, the random map generator, 16 civilizations and multiple difficulty levels will never put you in that position.
SIDEBAR: Build spearmen to defend your cities early in the game. They may cost a lot more than Warriors, but they can be upgraded. As you enter the industrial and modern age youíll be able to upgrade your spearmen all the way up to Mechanized Infantry.
Civilization III is that damn good. Itís everything Civ I and II were, but focused and easier to play. It may not have bump-mapped curved surfaces with a million polygons, but gameplay always supercedes looks. Itís also not a new, super-hyped game that ďredefines the genreĒ (how many times have you heard that phrase?). Yes, itís comfortable. Itís an old sweater in the PC gaming world. But itís an old sweater that youíd never throw out.
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