After the five gigabyte download and two sessions of playing Civilization 5 (both ended in the game crashing), a sense of déjà vu overwhelmed me; it was the same feeling of bitter disappointment I felt after playing the dumbed down sequel to Supreme Commander. Up until recently, I was still playing Civilization 4 thanks to the modders who were keeping things interesting, but it's going to take some serious modding to put right what's wrong with Civilization 5.
If you're not familiar with the Civilization series, then here's a brief summary: the game involves you, the leader of a budding civilization, trying to expand your empire, build cities and either defend against or conquer your rivals in order to win one of several types of victory. Civilization 5 is quite different to its predecessors, in that it uses hexagonal tiles, rather than square ones for movement. There are also city states who are not competing with you to win the game, but can be conquered, befriended or traded with. Not only that, but your cities are no longer as venerable as they were in previous titles; they can not only resist invasion but shoot back at enemy units from a distance too. There is also a new government system consisting of a list of eight "traits", which act as power-ups, giving you bonuses such as improved defence while fighting on friendly territory, or an increase in worker speed etc. That, unfortunately, is where the changes for the better end.
The new government system requires an accumulation of "culture" points before a particular policy can be chosen. It's not like the previous titles, where changing government in response to changing needs or technologies was simply a matter of revolution. One you've chosen a set of policies in Civ 5, there's no going back. What's more, you have no idea what policies your opponents have chosen, nor do they seem to react in any way to the ones you've chosen. A religiously orientated civilization did not seem to have any distain for my rationalistic one. A freedom-orientated civilization does not seem to react any differently to an autocratic one. There's no religion or espionage in this game, which is shame, because those made things interesting and more realistic.
When we get to the subject of unit building and game mechanics, things go from bad to worse. Units take too long to build; by the time you've built them, they're usually obsolete. City improvements also take too long to build; at one point, it was quicker for me to build wonders of the world than it was to build city improvements. Strategic resources are no longer unlimited; each one you control will only support a certain number of specialist units, which wouldn't be so bad if the requirements for said units were logical.
Want to build some knights? You need iron. Okay, that makes sense.
Want to build a tank division? You just need oil (but not iron, apparently).
Want to build a gas-guzzling jet fighter? You just need aluminium (but not oil, unlike the fighter unit it rendered obsolete).
What about a nuclear submarine? You obviously need uranium, right? Wrong! You need aluminium. No, I don't get it either.
The rocket artillery unit needs aluminium, whereas the SAM battery, which is virtually identical in form, doesn't.
It doesn't help that the instruction manual is wrong, either; it claims you need iron to build anti-aircraft guns, but no such requirement was found in the game. Everything except aluminium is strategically useless towards the end of the game. These are just bad gaming mechanics.
And once you've managed to build your units, the silliness continues:
- Men with bows can perform a "ranged attack" from two squares away, while tanks and men with rifles can't.
- The most powerful unit in the game is called the "giant death robot". Was this game made for adults or children?
- You are only allowed to have a single unit on a hexagon at any one time. This sounded like a good idea in theory, but in practice, it's a bit of nuisance, especially when you're planning a mass attack and you're trying to reposition your troops, in which case it's like playing one of those sliding puzzles with the one square missing.
- An easily exploitable bug allows your units to gain experience points (and thus upgrades) by just putting them in range of an enemy city and letting the enemy blast away at it, retreating, healing, and then repeating the process; a unit gains experience points every time its attacked, whereas a city doesn't.
In addition, there were also numerous graphical glitches, such as the time I built a great engineer - only to see a featureless magenta box where the "congratulations" picture should have been, or the list of strategic resources, located at the top of the screen, which expands as you gather them, eventually overlapping the year and turn number to the point where you can hardly read either. The rivers looks awful too; they're just featureless, motionless, monochrome blue strips meandering into the sea. But having said that, the graphics, where non-glitchy were okay, full of Nick Gaetano style artwork.
So there we have it. If you're new to the series, you'll probably be blow away by this game, but to be honest, you'd be better off sticking with Civilization 4. As it is, Civilization 5 is disappointing and desperately in need of modding.