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Civilization 2
Minimum specs:  Unavailable
Developer: In-house
Publisher: Microprose
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Release Date: March 1996 No Players:  Unavailable
UK price: £45.00 PC Gamer Score: 96%

Article first published: Issue 28
Writer:  James Flynn

How do you improve on perfection? How do you take a game that almost every programmer in the world would like to put their name to... and make it better? Do you return your baby to the cradle and start all over again - revolutionary concepts, untried themes and surprising settings in an effort to experiment with everything? Or do you look at your grown-up, successful, loved and prosperous child and try to imagine the few bits of it that you could have done just that little bit better? Civ all worked fine in the end, but was by no means perfect. And there's no mistaking that for its sequel, the father of Civilization 2, Sid Meier, has chosen the latter approach.

At first it's all very disappointing. Start the game up and, if you've played the original, you'll find it's all very familiar. You can use exactly the same tactics to get your first settlement up and running. Find a city anywhere half-decent, whack the science rate up as high as it'll go, build the basic military unit (now warriors rather than militia) to go exploring, follow it up with a phalanx and then a settler, see what advances you've made, and take it from there. But it's at about this stage that the subtle differences that now permeate the game start to become apparent.

The monetary system throughout the game is much more dependent on your governmental regime than it was in Civ. You start off with Despotism, the least productive but simplest form of man management. But as a despot more interested in barbaric suppression than enlightened thinking you can only allocate a maximum of 60% of all available funds to science. Technological advances come slower from the start, but you'll be making some money as compensation. On the harder playing levels technology is everything and so the incentive to change to a more civilised form of government, which can assign more resources to science quickly, is strong. Playing as Monarchy, now a more powerful form of government, the percentage rises to 70%, and as a Democracy it hits the magic 100%. The system works well and makes building the Great Library even more vital.
Playing around with your city production options also brings a major surprise. Now when you switch between Military, Civilian and Wonder production you incur a 50% penalty. No longer can you have hordes of almost-trained librarians taking to the battlefield as legions, presumably equipped with heavy books as weapons. Long-term planning becomes more important and the game becomes harder, and it's impossible to fault the improvement.

In Civ it was never long before you were in the grip of an uncontrollable bloodlust urge that compelled you to attack your friendly neighbours. This fact of life hasn't altered one iota, but quite how you go about it has. Every unit still has Attack, Defence and Movement attributes, there are also now Hit-points and Firepower. Each unit can sustain damage equal to its Hit-points multiplied by ten, and every time a unit wins a round of combat its Firepower rating is subtracted from the loser's Hit-points. Every unit also has a coloured bar overhead representing remaining percentage Hit-points, and they slug it out until one dies. This system not only eliminates all of the one-off absurd situations of trireme splinters sinking battleships, but it leaves victorious units vulnerable to attack if the fight was tough. You can partially repair units by resting them for a turn, and of course they recover faster in cities or in special bases. It's an excellent system, balancing the game perfectly, but still not totally removing the occasional surprise, but not stupid, success stories.

But what if you can resist fighting to win? Do the new diplomatic approaches work, or are the enlightened Egyptians as stupid as they always were? Well, they're not, but they're still hardly geniuses. The continuous double-crossing that has always been possible is gone forever, and it's been replaced by what could be known as loyalty ratings. Put simply, it doesn't matter how appallingly you treat someone as long as you never promise to treat them well. Seems slightly ropy logic to me, but I'll let the philosophers sort the question out. Particularly on the higher levels there's very little forgiveness, and treaties are meant to be absolute. No matter what improvements have been made, and they are considerable, I can't imagine how you can win on a high level with peaceful expansionism by building a spaceship and without attacking anyone. (I'll try it and let you know if it's possible in the next issue.)

Civilization already had a huge number of possible military units and structures to construct, and now there are even more of both. This is one area which has been tweaked and expanded rather than overhauled radically. Paratroopers, fanatics, cruise missiles and stealth bombers all make an appearance and can now annihilate the 14 new Wonders of the World plus more common supermarkets, research labs, offshore platforms and coastal fortresses. To balance the new units, certain A/D/M ratings have been slightly altered for the military, and certain effects and prices of the city's buildings have been changed a little. Battleships have become less powerful and air attacks can be thwarted by SAM sites. The changes are welcome, and do nothing but add to the feel and depth of Civ 2 while remaining in keeping with the previously established structure.

Civ's AI was great until you discovered how much it cheated. It's cleaned up its act to a huge degree (or at least cheats less obviously) and it makes you feel better about being up against the odds. Travellers report when a leader has started to construct, or is about to complete, a wonder so you no longer have the Pyramids spring out of a size three city you'd been intent on destroying for ten turns. It also makes a much greater use of fortresses, particularly on roads three squares out from the city. It makes them a git to get to, but I suppose it's sensible and you can do it too.
But undoubtedly the most obvious and radical departure from Civilization are the new graphics. Many people thought that if Civ had a weakness, it was its looks, but when it was released in 1991 the average machine was a 286/12MHz and they appealed to everyone. Today, it is obviously time to move on, but is an isometric 3D the right direction in which to have headed? In principle, yes, but when you sit down and have to play the game with the number pad, doubts quickly form in your mind. This sounds stupid, but often you don't know which key to press to move your units in a certain direction. It's not just me developing a squint over the past few weeks - other people send their catapults merrily off into the desert when they want to attack an enemy unit. It sounds ridiculous, but it doesn't seem to get easier with time. I never thought I'd like the idea of returning to a 2D display but at times an option would have been useful.

This isn't to say that the 3D approach is worthless, because for the most part the movement problem doesn't come into play (although it's a significant failing when you try to drown your rifleman). The multi-layered zoom facility works superbly and all the units are well-drawn, and when you're up close it's strangely pleasing to see them sitting there looking vicious. The varied city depictions on the main map that change as your city grows are a massive improvement over the bland boxes with numbers, and so are the fake 3D city close-up graphics, replacing those ever faker 3D graphics of the original. Civilization was never about its graphics and it's still not. It's just about the only gripe I could find.

When I started writing this review I was determined to say that it isn't a big enough advance over the original, that it's more like Civ 1.5, that the improvements would have been better implemented in CivNet, etc. Now, 2,000 words later, I've completely changed my mind. It's been impossible to list all the major changes, let alone the little ones. Most are behind the scenes and only become apparent after weeks of playing, but you'll be able to discover and decide on all those yourself as you play it.

Final Score

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