Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution
(2K Games; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS)
GAMER Reviewing games means reviewing a lot of sequels. Mainstays like Final Fantasy (Square Enix) remind us that game publishers are the only people besides porn makers willing to append "XIII" to anything, and this fall's Madden '09 (Electronic Arts) proves that gamers are willing to buy the same product once a year, 20 times. Still, repeat installments allow game designers to refine their original creation, often on a much bigger budget. A game's best elements can be emphasized and streamlined, its worst overhauled or jettisoned, its complexity more fully realized.
There is no series in which retooling is more apparent than Sid Meier's Civilization (Microprose), which first appeared for the PC in 16 colors in 1991. Bearing the tagline "Build an empire to stand the test of time," the game did just that, allowing Meier an opportunity to refine his creation in four official sequels and numerous spin-offs. Each game has expanded on Civilization's timeless turn-based gameplay, which kicks off in 4000 BC with a band of nomadic settlers and spans the breadth of human history. Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution is the franchise's first foray into the lucrative console market, foreign territory to most strategy titles due to the difficulty of micromanaging a global empire with a cumbersome gamepad. As an adaptation, the game performs impeccably, tackling a complicated interface with aplomb and introducing subtle changes that make the gameplay more action-packed and less time-consuming without altering its totemic core mechanics.
A cartoony, isometrically viewed 3-D makeover and brief in-game battle animations nod to the graphical prowess of modern consoles, and the game introduces a robust online multiplayer component that seeks to solve Civ's perennial quandary: how to make a game that lasts three hours on the short end a viable player vs. player enterprise. Though finding a game using the built-in system was quick and painless, waiting for my opponents to finish their turns was not, and it seemed that the inclusion of a chess-style timer in the early stages would become a curse when managing a far-flung empire in the end.
Credit is due to Meier for pushing himself as a designer transutf8g a beloved, epic computer franchise into a digestible, fast-paced console title is no easy task. One hopes his efforts will win Civ new fans, but in striving to make an accessible game, Meier has elided one of Civilization's cornerstone enjoyments: the correlation between the scale of the experience and the time it takes to play a game. There is simply no other franchise that allows you to launch a SCUD missile at Tenochtitlan because Montezuma made the mistake of destroying your iron mine, 5,000 years ago.