Last Friday I headed down to the glamorous Hotel Monaco to check out some of the multiplayer functions of Sid Meir's newest addition to the Civilization franchise, Civilization Revolution. I had seen it previously at E3 and E for All but neither had really shown off the multiplayer functions of the game which is what this viewing was all about.
The first thing I noticed is the graphical overhaul the entire game has gone through in it's trip from PC to home console. Armies are no longer small collections of little dots, but now are fully fleshed out characters that actually engage enemies in animated battles. It sounds like a small thing but is actually a huge improvement and really draws you into the game a bit more. The closer camera angles help with this as well. Also completely revamped are the character models for all the various nation's leaders and advisers. They are much more detailed and while they are still technically rather cartoony, they still seem much more realistic than the ones in previous games of the series.
We launched right away into a multiplayer game against Wired's Chris Kholer. Now before you go skipping all the way to the end just to see if I kicked his butt, no I did not. Nor did he kick mine. Unfortunately we did not have the forty five minutes to an hour it takes to play a full vs game, but we got enough in to get a feeling for it. There are three different multi-player modes in the game: Free For All, Head to Head and Teams. We played the head to head version but I am sure the other modes play similarly in their basic play.
There are sixteen different civilizations to choose from at the top of the game, each civ having it's strengths and weaknesses. An interesting addition to this version of the game is the ability to apply an handicap to your team. So if you are a new player going up against a more experienced one, you can choose from one of four different levels of handicap that will speed up your building and production speeds and the like. Of course choosing to handicap will stick you with one of the impressive list of names for the handicaps: Noobish, Noobasauraus, Noobatronic or Noobalicious.
Once the game started I could tell it was moving at a faster pace than previous titles. According to the developers, this is the best multiplayer functionality yet seen in a Civilization game. The controls and functions from the PC version have all been retrofitted to suit the controllers for the PS3 and Xbox 360. (The version I saw was the 360) The controls were comfortable and intuitive and within a few turns I was playing pretty smoothly. Civilization is kind of like riding a bike, once you find your balance your gliding along like you've been playing your whole life. I started off by building a couple cities and then sending my men out to start exploring the land. Several turns later I had acquired enough units to create an army. The armies area great addition since you essentially combine any three matching units together and you instantly have a nine person force. The is great for those ground skirmishes where you get to steal land from lowly barbarians. The game is still turn based and you have to wait for your opponent to finish his move before you can start yours. This can be boring at times, but it does afford you a little time to try and think ahead about your next move. The battle animations are done using the Havok engine and it was cool to watch the little guys fall off a mountain or die face down in the ocean. I did manage to get in a scuffle with the fine Mr. Kholer's army but in the time allotted I only managed to steal his camels. Not a great prize, but I enjoyed my feeling of accomplishment.
Before leaving, I got to check out a little of the DS version of the game albeit briefly. The handheld version is almost an exact replication of the console game with the exception of the graphics which of course had to changed to accommodate the DS screns and resolution. The controls and gameplay however are exactly the same. The developers explained that they didn't want to present a stripped down version just because it was on a handheld. From what I could tell in the short amount of time I had with it, they did an admirable job.
I enjoyed my time with Civilization Revolution and will definitely be picking up a copy when it comes out on June 3rd. It has made the jump from PC to console nicely and the graphical improvements will make it an interesting play for long time Civ players. For new players just getting interested in the title or those who just don't care for PC gaming, it will be a great introduction into the city building, wonder erecting, micromanaging world of Civilization.