The 2008 version of Colonization seems like it's too good to be true. Like, a remake? Of 1994's brilliant strategy game Colonization? Pure remakes of games are rare enough, but remakes of such a niche, underappreciated title? Its like the PC gaming gods took a break from the usual fire and brimstone and were instead dispensing smiles.
Problem is, in going for a pure remake - as opposed to a sequel with big additions and/or changes - they're also taking a big risk. A straight-up remake will beg the question: why bother? Why go to all the trouble of shoe-horning a 14 year-old game into a modern engine, changing some art assets and pushing it onto the market when the original was nearly perfect as it was?
Nip and Tuck - Civ IV's engine, though still good-looking for a game of this type, has had a bit of an upgrade, most obvious in the added detail of the settlements and the new water textures. Nothing OMG there, but hey, it's nice to see.
Smallpox Blankets, Beads For Land - There's a bigger emphasis on dealing with the natives in this version, as they're both more numerous and more capable, acting as fully-fledged nations (you can negotiate diplomacy, enter into alliances, etc) on a par with the Spanish, French etc. This makes them a far deeper and more useful aspect of the game than they were in the original.
Not Broke, Don't Fix - Aside from the natives, above, and the war of independence, below, most aspects of the game remain unchanged. Settlements, economy, war, diplomacy, it's all pretty much as you remember it. You choose a European power, you settle the New World, you deal with the locals, you fight a war of independence. Seeing as the original got all those things right, it was a smart move not to attempt wholesale changes to the mechanics.
Civilization IV: Colonization - For the most part, the game's resemblance to a regular game of Civ IV is a bad thing. But there's two aspects that benefit. First is the national borders. The original game had no borders, so rival settlements would pop up throughout "your" lands. Very annoying. Now that it's got Civ IV's border system (generated by your liberty bell production rate), you can more easily stake out a patch of dirt, removing perhaps my only major criticism of the original. Second is multiplayer. First one had no multiplayer, so that's a big plus right there.
Civilization IV: Colonization - We were told this would be a standalone title. A "total conversion" of Civilization IV. Its not. It's not just based on the Civ IV engine, it's built entirely on top of it, even down to the fact it reuses most of the interface, as well as some leaders, units and even sound effects from Civ IV. Bit of a cop-out, when there are enthusiastic mod-makers out there who do this kind of thing for free. Would have been nice to see a bit more of an effort put into making the game stand apart.
Brown Brown Brown - The biggest departure from the Civ IV engine is that, while Civ IV lets you game full-screen, menu buttons reduced to the periphery, for some reason ¼ of the screen in this game is occupied by an ugly brown menu system that could easily have been half the size, since it consists mostly of brown canvas and not, as you'd expect, buttons. An amateur mod wouldn't have had something so awful in there, not quite sure why a retail product does.
Cold As Ice - The original was full of charm, the result of a passion for the history of the period and countless little touches. Your Continental Congress, for example, was represented as a literal congress, members seated within. The European management screen was literally a ship at the docks, your immigrants lined up on the jetty. This version has nothing but bland menu screens. It's cold and lifeless, with these constantly-used menu screens looking more like a 1995 CD-ROM copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
War Of Inde-Oh We Lost Again - This new version seems a bit harder. Not the initial stages of the game, they're just fine, but the revolutionary war aspect is a more daunting prospect, as your home monarch scales his army a little unfairly to keep ahead of your own. So for every soldier you build, the king will put 2-3 to stay ahead, resulting in a war where you're unfairly outnumbered. Not only that, but in the original, upon declaring you were granted veteran units, which at least stood some chance against the European forces. You don't get those here, and your rubbish militia stand little chance. It makes what should be the most enjoyable aspect of the game a chore, and is - perhaps damningly - a lot less fun than the war of independence scenario that comes free with Civ IV.
Look, don't get me wrong, there's little that's glaringly wrong with this version of Colonization. You've probably noticed most of the points above are fairly minor. If you've never played the original game, this is, new coat of paint aside, the same thing. Same goal, same mechanics. You'll probably love it. But for me, a Colonization veteran, just replicating the nuts and bolts isn't enough, and in choosing to remake the 1994 original they're leaving this game wide open to comparison.
And, like most remakes, this is little but a facsimile of the original. It lacks the clarity of purpose, it lacks the little touches that made the original - and not this Civ IV-branded exercise - a truly unique, standalone product. If you've never played the original Colonization, try and track down a copy of it instead, because this feels more like a Civ IV mod than the standalone game a Colonization remake deserved.
Civilization IV: Colonization was developed by Firaxis, and published by 2K. Released on September 23 on PC. Priced at $30. Played to completion of war of independence on three difficulty settings.
Confused by our reviews? Read our review FAQ.