At first, it doesn't look so bad. Two and a half stars out of five isn't terrible. That average score, given by nearly 500 iTunes users to the two-week-old Civilization Revolution 2, isn't glorious, of course. But maybe Civilization Revolution 2 is at least mediocre? That's partly right.
It also costs $US15, and it might be inferior to its predecessor. Uh-oh.
It's hard to mess up a Civ game. It's also hard to say that Civ Rev 2 is permanently messed up. It's just an iPhone and iPad game that, in its current form, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Let's be positive first. The new game plays like many a Civilization game before it, meaning that it's still a turn-based strategy game about moving settlers and warriors around a map. It's still about founding cities, developing technologies and competing with rival civilizations for supremacy in war, wealth, or scientific or cultural expertise as time marches from 4000 BC to the future. Civilization Revolution 2 has got the fundamentals of one of the most lauded video game series of all time, making it no worse than a game of chess played with chipped pieces or a game of poker played with faded cards.
What we might have here is an argument against sequels to a certain kind of major mobile game. The old game was updated a lot and is simply more of a game than this skimpier begging-to-be-updated "sequel".
The series may have been built for PC, but the faster-paced Revolution games have worked well on portable gaming systems before, both those with and without buttons. Civ on an iPad screen works fine. That's not the problem.
Second, what is wrong with it is mostly fixable. Fixing and improving games is what happens in the world of mobile gaming, where you somehow get the car before it's done on the assembly line, put it in your garage and wake up a couple of weeks later to discover that, thanks to an automatically-downloaded update, the thing's finally got its doors and its wheels no longer squeak.
But there are two major problems, problems cited in so many of the excoriating reviews of the game on iTunes. It's a $19 game in a land of free and $2.50 games. Worse, it's a successor to 2010's Civilization Revolution that now goes for $9 on iPad and $3.79 for iPhone and, thanks to four years of updates, has way more stuff to do with it than its sequel does. Multiplayer was added to the original game in 2013. Civ Rev 2 launches without multiplayer.
The iTunes readers have sniffed out the new game's failings.
Here's a vicious but telling user review:
And the rough reviews go on..
- "OK but lacking" (two stars)
- "Good but needs more" (two stars)
- "Terrible disappointment" (one star)
- "Not much different than the first" (three stars)
- "A tiny downgrade from civ rev 1" (one star)
- "Stumbling out of the gates" (one star)
- "Sorry I bought it, should have waited for first or second bug fixes" (one star)
- "Pitiful, shameful and insulting" (one star)
- "Stick with the old" (three stars)
- "Rushed to market. Unpolished (two stars)
The positive reviews focus on the strong core Civ gameplay. To wit:
- "It is a much prettier, slightly buggier, slightly clunkier and slightly less featured fame than Civ Revolution 1. But don't let the haters fool you — it is still a good game." (four stars)
- "Like it, even with bugs" (four stars)
- "Good game, some needed fixes" (three stars)
Here's the breakdown of the 485 user reviews of the iPhone and iPad game on iTunes right now. A decent helping of five-star reviews and a whole slop of slams.
"If you've ever played the original Civilization Revolution on iOS, this game will feel very familiar. Maybe too familiar," explains one person in their review. "With the exception of a handful of new units, the gameplay of Civ Rev 2 is practically identical to the original." That's one of the four-star reviews, which explains that the game is a $15 "fresh coat of paint", good for people who didn't own the predecessor but not essential for those who did.
With "good" reviews like that one, who needs slams?
What we might have here is an argument against sequels to a certain kind of major mobile game. The users don't compare Civ Rev 2 to the launch version of Civ Rev 1, and why should they? They compare the well-polished to the barely-polished and they only find one of them to be too dull. It's that simple. The players on iTunes seem to know this. They should have waited, because surely the game will be updated. They should have waited, because surely the game's creators will add more modes, more units and more civilisations, or so they could assume.
Instead, at launch they get something that some of the people behind these games must have thought was an ample reason for a consumer to buy this new game early: more beautiful graphics. There, too, however, this game is begging for a term paper on the priorities of game design. Civ was never a game about wonderful graphics, no more than, to go back to a prior metaphor, poker was about playing with a deck of ornately-drawn cards.
This is Civ Rev 1 on iPad with all of its upgrades:
This is Civ Rev 2:
If only prettier graphics always mattered. Right now, it appears that they're the least of Civ gamers' priorities. They don't make the game run better — in fact they seem to slightly slow things down. They don't make the game more fun. They don't affect the gameplay in any positive way, so who needs them?
And thus we have a game that's solid and not great, a game with so-so unit control, so-so options for advancing one's civilisation, and graphics no one really needed. It's still Civ, so it's an enjoyable time-suck. It's also a thing that doesn't make sense to pay $19 for yet. It's best to wait. The game is in its own dark ages for now and the people are right to be grumbling.