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Yesterday, I reviewed Civilization 3 and was quite open concerning the fact that its successor was even better. Today I am reviewing Civ 4 in all of it's legendary glory. Some might say this is a half-release rather than a full one. A Civ 3.5, if you will. For my money (and very nice money it is too), it does merit a release of its very own. If you have a PC and you enjoy strategy, there is no reason at all why you should not own this game.
Civ 4 continues the turn based strategy, where you alternate between your turn and that of the computer, which controls a number of competing civilisations. A new feature is multiplayer, allowing you to compete directly with your friends. Your aim remains the same. Start your empire from a single unit and take it into the future, surpassing every other nation on the globe. No pressure then.
You do get to choose your starting map. You can choose a predesigned scenario, or like 99% of everyone that has it, generate a randomised world map within set parameters. These include prevailing climate, land mass size and disposition. There is a choice of 18 Civs taken from History, or you can make one of your own up. A chance to show the world what The Muppet Show is really capable of! Difficulties range from the easy to the Christ, how did they get cannon so quickly?
Different victories remain available, conquering all others, dominating all others, landing a space ship in the Alpha Centauri system, culturally controlling the planet or being declared world leader through a diplomatic victory. If you remain unable to do any of these by the year 2050, the civilisation with the highest score wins. So technically, six possible means of victory.
The map will be mostly blacked out at the start of the game. While you can map out the terrain, units beyond the sight of yours will not be seen. The game world is made up of tiles. Plains, woods, hills, mountains, tundra, desert, river, sea. And each terrain type affects what can be gotten from it, or how easy it is to move through it.
As you start with a single military unit (Zog, chop!) and a settler, you will want to found your first city in the best place possible. But you won't want to waste precious turns finding a good site. The sooner you dig, the sooner you grow. The sooner you grow, the sooner you can build more military units and settlers. The early game consists of expanding as rapidly as you safely can. Most of the improvements you will need to support and grow large cities won't be immediately available. Do you create another settler only when you have a military unit to support it, or take a chance at a fledgling city being torched by wandering barbarians or taken by an opposing civ?
As the game starts to build, you will discover technologies and be able to build better units or improve your cities. Right here is where you start to decide your long term strategy. You are not the only civ expanding as rapidly as possible. Should you now decide to produce offensive military units and look to invade opposing civs, or should you build defensive units in order to protect your cities in case your closest enemies have decided on that first strategy. If you invade opposing cities, will you have the strength to keep them. If you do, will other civs ally together in an attempt to destroy you. Should you trust that ally that you made, and leave a lightly defended flank that he might take advantage of?
That right there gives you some idea as to the game scope, and what is yet to come. At the same time, it just scratches the surface because the bulk of the game now begins. The building of larger cities, the cultivation of land, the advancement of technologies and the innumerable problems and delights that come with them.
The chance for a civ to create a "Great person" exists at random, and a number will pop up through the scope of an average game. No longer limited to generals, they can be Scientists, Artists, Prophets or Merchants. For instance, you can be greeted with the message that Leonardo Di Vinci has just been born in Florence. A General boosts military units he is grouped with. A Scientist can be sacrificed to gain an immediate technology discovery or construct a scientific building immediately.
Military units can still be stacked, fortify themselves, go on patrol or automatically explore by themselves until you take direct control again. Work boats exist as worker type units, improving sea tiles as their land based cousins do with more solid ground. The cold war is here, with spies capable of stealing or sabotaging. Missionaries can be send to spread your religion in an enemy city.
Direct city management through workers and specialists remains almost unchanged. Happiness or the lack of it remains the force it has ever been, as does growth, science and tax. Regardless of the city size, it can only produce one unit or building a turn. The amount of turns taken to produce something does depend on a city's specific resources and what it is that you are making. Production queues can be assembled, or a city can be set to just generate money, culture, growth etc.
Wonders both great (world) and small (now called national) are available according to technological level and who has already built them. The movies for wonders have returned after a one-game absence. As you climb the technology tree, new resources will suddenly ping into being on the map. These range from Pearls to Uranium, and can boost happiness or wealth or allow you to build tanks or nuclear weapons. Trade networks can be setup within your own empire and from yours to others.
Culture remains a useful weapon, and the only one that doesn't cause collateral damage in terms of city improvements, population loss or unhappiness. Religion plays a much larger part this time around, some would argue that it plays too large a part. You can set a state religion, but it is possible and indeed, inevitable as the game develops that many cities will have more than one religion within it. This can be positive for you, if your religion is paramount in one of your cities, but if another religion is, it causes unhappiness. And it's nothing you can root out without destroying the city. And so, religion becomes another weapon. Given the historical use to which religious bigotry has been used throughout history, perhaps that's accurate enough.
Diplomacy is further developed, allowing two friendly nations to grow into inseparable allies. Resources can be shared from world maps to free passage across each other's lands, technologies to recurring trade in luxury resources for other resources, or simply for cash. Non-aggression pacts can form. At its closest ties, you can ask your ally to go to war against a third party or force a third party to stop attacking you.
Civ 4 is arguably the best in the entire series, and unlike it's lower scoring successor Civ 5, doesn't force you, even if buy the game from a retailer, to authenticate it through the execrable steam client. To pay for a game, than be unable to play it because Steam has yet another problem is an incredibly infuriating experience. Quite why Valve have not been referred to the monopolies commission is beyond me. Steam is the reason why I find myself buying fewer games on PC.
The game is quick to install and easy to play on full settings. The graphics are clear and have just the right level of detail. Background sounds and music add further class to an already classy game. There's so much replay value in here, I find myself playing it years later. I have gotten my moneys worth from this product time and time again, and cannot speak highly enough of it.
If I were rating Steam, it would get no stars. As I am rating Civ 4, it gets the full five.