Sid Meier's Civilization III
Windows - 2001
Also released on: Mac
Description of Sid Meier's Civilization III
Few strategy series have been longer running or bigger selling than Civilization. Since Civ 1 was first released in 1990, and counting expansion packs, the Alpha Centauri games, and re-releases, there have been no less than nine in the sequence; Civilization III (or as the box would have it, Sid Meier's Civilization III) makes it round ten.
Never played a Civ game before? Seeing as total sales for the series number around four million, that's probably not true of too many gamers these days. Still, some kind of brief resume is needed. The game starts on an empty planet in 4000BC. A number of fledgling civilisations, comprising just a band of settlers and a military or exploration unit or two, start in different locations around the globe. Broadly, the objective of each is to be successful: to expand their populations, to develop new technologies and to spread around the globe. Gameplay proceeds from here in a turn-based method not too far removed from a great many strategic boardgames, Risk being probably the most familiar example. The winner is declared when one of the six victory conditions is met; these now include cultural, territorial and diplomatic victories as well as the traditional military dominance and construction of a colony ship to send to Alpha Centauri.
Simple, eh? Well, no, not really. Playing Civilization is a thoughtful, slow matter of balancing countless factors - your scientific development vs. luxuries for your population; expansion vs. city growth and defence; cultural vs. military development, and many others. Each civilisation has certain, vaguely historically accurate strengths - the Chinese, for example, are industrious and scientific, while the British are expansionist and commercial. Each starts with slightly different knowledge and units, and each has its own special unit that can't be built by the other civilisations.
As the game progresses, your civilisation's scientists will research whatever you tell them. Early on, discoveries like pottery and currency are important... by the end of the game, you'll be researching nuclear power and space flight. Each discovery enables the construction of new units and city improvements, and reveals further avenues of research. Discovering mathematics, for example, lets catapults be constructed, and allows research into currency.
A new development for Civ III is the strategic resources that appear on the map. For the building of certain military units, it's necessary to have access to certain supplies - horses, saltpeter, oil or uranium, for example. These appear on the playing field as icons, but only once you've developed the technology necessary to use them. So those apparently useless desert zones can become absolutely critical late in the game, when oil becomes necessary for just about all units. They don't necessarily need to be in your territory, though - you can arrange to trade with other civilisations for whatever you lack. Caravans are now gone, and all trade is done from the diplomacy screen.
Actually using your units in anger has become easier than in previous incarnations. Before Civ III, when you had a representative form of government and attempted to attack another civilisation, the Senate would often overrule your decision and prevent the military action. This dynamic is gone, thankfully, replaced by the concept of "war weariness," where your population gradually grows discontented in long military campaigns. This is a great improvement, meaning that aggressive rulers must face the possibility of frequent revolts rather than just being prevented from taking their chosen course of action.
International opinion of you also plays a larger part. Breaking peace treaties or using nukes will often make other civilisations unwilling to trade or bargain with you; there are many more options open here than in previous games, and cunning players will find plenty of ways to exploit their opponents. Sadly, while it's possible to give scientific advances to other players, it's not possible to give military units; there were times when we wanted to arm our less technologically developed allies with modern hardware, but there was no simple way to do it.
Less aggressive players will find many more paths open to them than in previous options. Games can be won by developing the most advanced culture, or by developing international relations to the point where the other rulers elect you Secretary-General of the UN. And when the game ends in 2050 -- you can continue after this if you wish -- victory is awarded to the player with the highest cumulative score, in a histograph victory. High culture scores can cause nearby enemy cities to change allegiance to you, in a kind of peaceful invasion.
Any sort of victory has been made substantially more difficult in this incarnation. It's clear that some serious time has been spent on improving the AI, and new players will find it a challenge on even the lower difficulty levels. Higher levels range from the difficult to the nigh-impossible, but there's never evidence of the AI cheating, or having access to any more information than you would in their position, making for an interesting challenge without being unfair.
The new special, one-civ only units add an interesting new dimension to civilisation development. They're only useful for a certain period of time before they get superseded, so decisive (usually offensive) action during that time is absolutely crucial. The Greeks get the Hoplite, a strong defensive infantry unit, right from the start of the game, so fast expansion is pretty critical early on for them. The Americans should get used to being hammered in the early-to-mid sections of the game because their special, the F-15, doesn't appear until the Modern Age.
You'll also find that the Modern Age goings-on have been significantly improved. The end-game in Civ III is much more interesting than Civs passim, thanks to a combination of small tweaks; about time, too, as it was always disappointing when a ten-hour marathon game ended with a whimper. The new resource system is probably the biggest factor; uranium, oil, rubber and aluminium all appear late in the game, and conflict over any one of these is a possibility. Once the game is over, the replay facility gives a fascinating insight into the path the game took -early in history you're not aware of what's going on with the other civilisations, and watching the replays can often be very educational.
New, too, are the military leaders the game creates. Occasionally, when an elite unit wins a battle, it is converted into a leader, with the power to create an army from three regular units, or enter a city and complete whatever is being constructed there. These are rare in practice, though, and if you're not the military type, it's not unusual at all for a game to go by without you seeing one; it's also somewhat questionable what advantage combining the units in this manner gives the player. The army can attack once per turn; the three separate units could attack once each, wearing down defenders gradually.
But probably the most obvious change in Civ III is in the graphics. All the tile and unit graphics have been updated, and it now runs in 1024x768. It's true, though, that turn-based strategy games aren't about graphics - all the screen needs to do is convey enough information for effective play, and in this respect, Civ falls slightly short. When more than one unit is occupying the same square, the only indication is a little white line to the left of the unit. It would have been useful to have some more information; there's no way to tell at a glance whether those units are artillery, transport, naval - there's plenty of times this information is necessary.
The interface has been improved, too - there is a list of keyboard shortcuts as long as your arm, and in most cases tasks are simple to accomplish. The excellent manual gives an in-depth and comprehensive overview of just about everything Civ players need to know. Just be careful not to drop this 235-page tome on your foot. There are plenty of ways to remove micromanagement by letting the AI manage certain aspects of your development itself; or, if you prefer, you can get involved in the nitty-gritty city management yourself.
So to multiplayer. Or not, as the case may be. For reasons best known to Firaxis (the old "we wanted to focus on getting the single-player right" chestnut) there is no multiplayer included in Civilization III. This is a real shame; although games take a long time to play, there's plenty of scope for shorter, multiplayer scenarios, and the game is just crying out for a play-by-email feature. Firaxis says it's looking into the possibilities for future upgrades to include multiplayer, but it's still unfortunate that it's currently absent.
In the end, Civ III does suffer a significant drawback - the game's well realised, it's deep and it's addictive, but I'm sure I played it already in 1993. You can buy Civ 1 for a buck in discount stores these days - should you have to shell out almost fifty times more for something that isn't anywhere near fifty times as much game? The progress made in this installment is a little disappointing, but that said, Civ III does continue the franchise's tradition of delivering the very best that the genre has to offer, making it worthy of a hearty recommendation to newcomers and even devoted Civ fans who simply must have the latest and greatest. Perhaps the inevitable expansion pack will deliver the goods for the rest of us.
Review By GamesDomain
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