Call to Power II
Windows - 2000
Description of Call to Power II
Every genre has its game of games. Whether it's Doom for action gamers or Ultima for RPG fans, everyone can easily recite the key games that propelled a particular genre from the fringes to the mainstream. Civilization and its sequel Civilization 2 are the kingpins of turn based grand strategy games. The strategy genre purist considers these 4x games the only "real" strategy games in the genre. They place on equal footing the two parts of strategy that are so woefully inadequate in real time "strategy" games. Diplomacy and politics join logistics and armed conflict at their rightful places along the strategy continuum. If you believe that Age of Empires 2 is a strategy game, then read this review no further. Go and find an old copy of Civilization 2 and play a few turns to learn how simplistic and arcade-like RTS games really are.
It's hard to believe given Civilization 2 's sales success, but turn based grand strategy games have been few and far between over the years. Aside from Imperialism and Imperialism 2, I would be hard pressed to name a good non-science fiction/space 4x game published since Civilization 2. In a rather public wrestling match, Activisionfought to throw their weight into the 4x arena by licensing the "civilization" name. This resulted in a legal tussle that finally produced a game titled Call to Power that received lukewarm critical response. The dismissal of the game by hardcore strategy gamers and critics did not seem to hurt sales much. Many players didn't seem to mind the awkward interface, strange units, simplistic design, and other oddities. It seemed that the 4x genre wasn't quite as unattractive as publishers may have thought because those of us who had worn out their Civilization 2 CDs were looking for anything that closely resembled our aging game. With sales figures and many fan suggestions in tow, it seems that Activision knows a good thing when they see it and Call to Power 2 is now on the shelves. Let's see if we have any reason to purchase this title while we wait for Civilization 3.
Call to Power 2 shares much of the empire-building game style of Civilization. Your aim is to build cities, improve them and their surrounding land to gather resources, in turn boosting your population and allowing you to research new technologies and devlop a military force. Spanning thousands of years of history, it's a grand strategy game where long-term planning will pay off. For more info about the game system, you should read our original review of Call to Power.
Opening the Call to Power 2 retail box reveals a very nice map and a 92 page manual. The map is a big paper fold out map that has unit descriptions on one side and the tech tree on the other. Having played Space Empires IV pretty recently, the map was a breath of fresh air and really helps make things pretty clear. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the manual. Here's an interesting concept. When writing a manual about empire building, why don't we just not mention anything about the empires themselves in the manual? Seems like trivial information, or so Activision must think. There is zero discussion in the manual about how the different empire AIs work, why I should care if I am the Zulus or the Cubans, and how empires are assigned their personalities. Thank goodness for the internet because I would be completely lost in Call to Power 2 without it.
Once you've come to grips with the fact that you're essentially on your own in Call to Power 2, the game loads pretty easily and reveals quite a few game play options. The tutorial, unfortunately, didn't work too well when I tried to use it. This feature is activated when you play a beginner difficulty game and consists of instruction menus that pop up when you do certain things the first time. I don't think that the tutorial will help new players because it doesn't really guide you past building the first colony. Either that or there is a bug which keeps you from finishing the tutorial.
The normal game includes five empires, but you can include up to eight according to the manual. Not documented is that a text file can be edited to increase the number of empires to as many as you want, although 16 empires is where the game really gets slow. The game includes 41 different empires, yet you will always get the same opponents (depending on number of empires chosen). Another non-documented feature is that you must edit files in order to make the choice of empires a random event. Otherwise you're stuck playing against the same opponents every game. Not sure what Activision was thinking here.
The normal game winning conditions that are pretty standard now in 4x games are present in Call to Power 2. One twist is the "science fiction" victory where you must build the Solaris Project to win the game. Victory conditions, difficulty, map size, and the physical makeup of the map can all be customized. A map editor is included which theoretically is supposed to allow even further customization. How it works isn't documented in the manual and I had trouble getting it to edit anything at all.
Call to Power 2 's visuals and sounds are pretty good for a 4x game. We're not talking about Homeworld graphics here, but they are nice to look at and are an improvement over other titles in this genre. There are many animations and the battles are fought so that you can watch them unfold in a much prettier manner than in Civilization 2 or Space Empires IV. The wonders animations are nice to watch, although there appears to be a bug in the game that causes the wonder animation to stay on the screen without any apparent method for closing the screen. Clicking on the screen in various places usually got rid of the animation. The sounds available in the game are also pretty good. Clicking on the various units will get some sort of verbal response that is consistent with the type of unit it is. Even the intro movie is nice to watch.
As in most 4x games, Call to Power 2 's interface has its good and bad points. There are different levels of game "managers" to choose from that help you run your empire. The empire manager is a nice tool that you can use to see, at a glance, how your empire production is during any given turn. You can globally adjust the wages that workers earn, the number of hours they work, and how much food they are given and these all will affect your people's happiness. Production can be further refined through adjusting the ratio of units spent on research or on the cities. Public works points can be adjusted so that you can make all sorts of "tile" improvements in your empire. The tile system is a very nice feature and eliminates the drudgery of assigning specific units to perform specific improvement tasks. Expending public works points allows you to make certain levels and numbers of improvements around your empire. Changing governments is also accomplished via the empire manager.
A build manager allows you to easily manage your cities and provides access to your city manager. This is one part of the interface that I found a bit awkward, because one manager allows you to scroll through cities and center the map on the city while the other one does not. I also would have liked a more intuitive and accessible way to view what was already built in my cities and what units were present. You can do this, but you must navigate through the interface and this can be painful during the late stages of the game. Otherwise, you can manage what improvements your city will build very easily from within both managers. Science and diplomacy managers are useful, although the science manager isn't very intuitive.
Call to Power 2 's AI is sometimes good and at other times... not so good. The designers use the governor/minister concept by creating city "mayors" that can be set for a particular build emphasis. For example, if you want your city to concentrate on greater production, you simply select the "production" mayor and you city will build buildings and make tile improvements that will increase production. The mayors are pretty good at maximizing your city's potential for the type of mayor chosen. The computer player AI is another story. The AI is pretty easy to defeat except at the most difficult levels. Veteran 4x gamers will routinely out produce and out research the AI unless you give it a pretty big advantage.
The AI is very good at empire building, but it is not very good (or consistent) with diplomacy. The diplomacy system itself is nice and has some interesting options. You can do all of those nice diplomatic things you can do in most games. I do like the fact that if you show up with a 30-unit army at a city's doorstep and demand it's surrender, the AI will usually give up rather than let its city be razed. You may have to threaten it a bit, but eventually the AI will see the handwriting on the wall. It is sometimes inconsistent with its treaty making and breaking, but I didn't notice too many oddities. Given the proper difficulty level, the AI will do a competent job managing its research tree.
The tech tree is a great relief compared to Space Empires IV. The map included with the game clearly outlines what you need to research to get to the next level of sophistication. The tree itself isn't huge, but it is big enough to make things interesting. Research allows you to build interesting units and buildings. Call to Power was heavily criticized for some of the strange types of combat in the game. Call to Power 2 has these same units, but they make a bit more sense. Seeing the effects of lawyers on the US political system should silence critics who do not believe that lawyer units should be in a 4x game.
Government specific units add an interesting twist because when you switch governments, you loose the units. For example, the eco terrorist and his nano-attack and the eco ranger with his terra forming are devastating units and could be too powerful. Fascist units are nice to build in the early staged of the game because they are very powerful and pretty darn cheap to build. One nice ability of the diplomat in the game is that he can hold receptions near cities and sway government opinion toward your empire. There are the usual collections of spies of various flavors that can execute a wide variety of cloak and dagger assaults on enemy governments.
Call to Power 2 's combat system is very simplistic, but effective. Instead of the clash of stacks that you see in Civilization 2, you get to observe a set piece battle on your screen. Units attack one at a time. This means that if you have a stack of twenty, your first unit will attack until it is dead and then the next will attack. Flanking units (units such as knights and other mobile units) can attack at the same time as units that cannot flank (or with units that can also flank). Bombardment is also an abstraction in the game and very simplistic. I can see how future editions of the game could really be beefed up with a tactical combat system (one like in Imperialism 2), but I can understand why not too much emphasis is placed on making the combat system more robust. The emphasis is on the grander strategic aspects of empire building and combat is just one of many ways to build an empire.
Unlike many folks in gamedom, I can see why Call to Power 2 is a very attractive game to many fans of the genre. It allows you to execute some pretty complicated strategies but doesn't bog you down in the minutia of empire building. Some of the subtle ways that Call to Power 2 eases your ability to do grand strategy are very transparent. This may lead folks to dismiss the game as grand strategy-light. I disagree. The late game in Call to Power 2 is pretty darn entertaining. You must worry about all sorts of calamities and stealth attacks on your empire. Pollution rears its ugly head in the game (very Alpha Centauri -like) and there are all sorts of weird science-fiction things that can occur. It is a fun game to play on the hardest difficulty levels because of the wide variety of special units and the AI's ability to use its units properly.
Call to Power 2 is far from perfect. The interface can be frustrating at times (especially the multi-windowed managers), there are a few bugs that need to be fixed in a patch, and the documentation is not very good. Moving your units can be awkward at times, especially if you give orders to move somewhere and the unit doesn't complete the move. You will not be prompted to see if you still want the unit to complete the turn and the movement is executed automatically. This is very, very frustrating during the later stages of the game when you have so many units that remembering which is doing what is pretty difficult. I also was very confused by the option to not wait for a prompt to continue the next turn. Units seemed to be moving randomly at will, so I turned off this option and used the traditional method of executing the next turn.
The trade system is tedious and seems counter to Call to Power 2 's desire to make things as simple as possible. You must build multiple caravans depending on the number required to establish a trade route. This is the only portion of the game that does not at least attempt a better level of abstraction than found in older titles. Another complaint that I have is that all of the empire units look the same. Zulus look like Americans that look like English, etc. which is pretty strange. The abstraction that Americans had Samuari, for example, may make the game easier to program, but it doesn't make much sense from a player perspective. A more diversified unit set that looks like the empire in question would help improve the depth of the game. The unit functions could still be similar across races, but at least make the units look empire-specific.
Otherwise, I think that fans of the genre should at least give Call to Power 2 a once over before dismissing it. Multiplayer options are limited to turn based movement, so you should plan on spending a long time playing the game. The single player experience, however, is pretty fun. It doesn't quite set the standard for the genre in the way that Space Empires IV does for space 4x games or Civilization 2 did for 4x games when it was first released. It is a better game than Civilization 2 in many respects, but it lacks the epic feel found in the older title. Some of the special units seem a bit forced and contrived, but if fun is the ultimate metric of a good game, then Call to Power 2 passes this test. Throw in the three scenarios included in the game and you should have no problem finding something interesting to play. I'm not too excited about it, but there's enough going on for me to keep it on my hard drive past the time spent reviewing it.
Review By GamesDomain
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