It's hard to imagine a game like Civilization working on a console. Sure, there's nothing technically stopping it from functioning, but tweaking the controls and interface so they can be managed almost effortlessly using nothing but the limited selection of buttons on your average gamepad has to pose a bit of a problem.
It'd have to be extra painful for a developer so intimately familiar with the PC. Yet, Firaxis has taken up this exact challenge. Civ: Rev represents the first time the series has ventured to other platforms.
Last week I had a chance to play the Xbox 360 version of Civilization: Revolution up at Take 2's HQ in Hornsby. I was hesitant to pick up the control pad, feeling that it would somehow taint my love of the series, but then I wouldn't have been able to write this hands-on.The first stop on the preview train was the civilisation selection menu. At the moment there's 16 civs on offer, and I'm pretty sure this number won't be changing anytime soon.
Rather than throw up a bunch of confusing statistics as you flick through each civilisation, they're conveniently summarised into the pros received during each game age. For example, the Romans get half-price roads and wonders, while the Indians get rapid city growth and free religion technology. I went with the Romans - the classic choice - and started the game.
The most obvious change is the streamlined interface. And by streamlined, I mean streamlined. All the vital details of your civ are compressed into the bottom-left hand corner, including the amount of gold in your treasury, how much gold you're getting each turn, the current year, the progress of research and how long until your next civ hero will manifest. Moving units is as easy as twiddling the left analog stick, and going through a stack requires nothing more than the D-pad. A downward press while over a city will drill into the specifics, and allow you to manage unit and building construction.
Further console tweaks don't appear until you found your first city. By default, a new city will automatically start producing warriors, which can be used to defend your newly established towns and explore the world. There's no auto-explore option as of the preview I played, so I had to move them around manually. Like previous games, you'll encounter barbarians that will slow you down, and special sites to give small boons of gold and other resources.
Once you get your troops moving, you can combine a stack of three identical units into a single force by pressing "Y", providing an additive bonus to their attack and defence values. Unsurprisingly, I found this the most effective way to conquer enemy cities.
Troops gain experience as they fight, and at certain experience levels can be given special abilities, such as Guerrilla, Blitz and Infiltration. The preview build I played didn't provide any descriptions for these, and I'm hoping they'll be added later considering how numerous the other context-sensitive help pop-ups were during the game.
Units with special abilities receive cool names, like "Ninja" for Infiltration and "Lightning" for Blitz, so you don't forget who can do what.
Advisors didn't appear to be fully implemented in the preview, as there didn't seem to be any way to place them on automatic. Not that it's a big deal with everything as streamlined as it is.
There were some speed issues, but nothing that won't be fixed by the time it comes out Q1/Q2 2008. If you can wait that long, then all you'll need is an Xbox 360, Wii, DS or PS3.
Oh, and the main menu had an option "Game of the week", which may be part of a plan for downloadable content, but there's nothing definite at the moment.