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Updated March 10, 2005

Sid Meier’s Civilization III
One of the PC’s greatest franchises serves up more classic strategizing.

When Sid Meier and his merry band of gaming geniuses left MicroProse in 1996 and formed Firaxis Games, any chance of a proper sequel to Civilization II seemed to be nothing more than a glorious pipe dream. After all, the license was caught up in a mess of lawsuits, and Firaxis was hard at work on Alpha Centauri, a game that many folks thought would be the closest we’d ever get to a true extension of the Civilization series.

But if there’s one thing you can be sure that lawyers understand, it’s greenbacks, so an agreement was cobbled together that would let everyone involved in this classic franchise make bucket loads of ’em. And though the wait has been extremely long, the end result makes it worthwhile: Civilization III is a fantastic game that takes the core gameplay of Civ II and pushes it in new, exciting directions.

The basic premise behind Civ III remains unchanged from the previous games — pick one of 16 civilizations and build from the stone age to the modern age without being destroyed by the other civilizations. Each of the civs has different strengths and starting advantages, which lets you pick one that complements your playing style. Your ultimate goal is one of five victory conditions, including Diplomatic Victory, Space Victory, and the new Cultural Victory. If your goal is militaristic global domination, for example, then playing as the hated Germans makes good sense. [Haw-haw — take that, krauts! — Ed.]

That said, the game’s received numerous and substantial changes (see sidebar for info on some of them) that directly impact how it’s played. One of the largest tweaks is the introduction of a culture rating determined by such factors as how many wonders you’ve built and how many city improvements you’ve constructed.
For example, as your cultural influence increases, nearby towns from a civilization with a weaker culture will rebel and join your civilization. (On the flip side, if your culture is weak, your cities will rebel and leave your empire.) The strength of your culture also impacts relationships with foreign leaders.

Though culture is a cool new feature, I did find myself mildly annoyed with it occasionally, especially when occupying conquered enemy cities. Too often, especially on maps made up of islands, I would lose conquered cities — and any military units stationed there — simply because I had no cultural influence in the area. The result was wars that dragged out longer than I would’ve liked. [That’s called reality, Billy. Look it up under the history chapter titled “Vietnam.” — Ed.

Another substantial change that Civ III introduces involves securing raw materials. Forever gone are the days when you could simply research “motorized transportation” and start pumping out tanks. Now, in order to build certain units, you’ll need a supply of raw materials such as oil, rubber, or uranium. And since raw materials don’t appear on the map until the corresponding technology is researched, it’s possible to find yourself with lots of researched technologies but no way to build advanced units.

This gameplay change is a touch of genius because it means you’re forced to negotiate with other civilizations for raw materials that aren’t readily available in your own backyard. International trade matters now. And if you anger the wrong civilization, they’ll try to negotiate trade embargoes against you and cut your supply of raw materials. During a war, you can destroy any enemy roads or railroad tracks that connect a civilization to vital raw materials and slowly take them out by attrition, which adds more strategic depth to the conflicts.

As for the actual gameplay, it’s flat-out brilliant. The AI-powered civilizations do a great job of fending you off, especially on the diplomatic front. In one instance, after waging war with China for several turns, I negotiated a peace treaty so I could reinforce my positions. When I re-declared war on China a short time later, I was shocked — and amazed, to be honest — to find that China had used the lull to negotiate mutual protection agreements with several other civilizations. When I re-declared war on China, the other groups all declared war on me. Suddenly I was fighting a war against six civilizations and being invaded on all fronts. Needless to say, I didn’t last too long, but I was damn impressed with the computer’s savvy.

Unfortunately, Civ III is tripped up by a few omissions. For one, it lacks a multiplayer mode (Civ II didn’t have one, but Alpha Centauri did). It also doesn’t include much documentation to help you use the scenario editor — though this time the editor includes tweakable government forms, something that’s fun to play around with.

My only other substantial complaint has to do with unit balancing — specifically, swordsmen and pikemen destroying my tanks. Attacking tanks with swords didn’t work for the Polish during World War II, and it shouldn’t work here. I really hope this issue is addressed in a patch, because if I’m able to get ahead of the other civilizations, I want to experience the joy of my tanks thoroughly thrashing their puny pikemen. In fact, I should be able to hear my tank treads grinding their bones to dust!

Those minor complaints aside, what makes Civ III such a great game is that, just like Civ II, it blends a simple start with a vast array of options and pulls them together into a detailed, compelling, and seamless gaming experience. This is one game that you can’t afford to miss.

— William Harms


 FINAL VERDICT
HIGHS: Fabulous strategy elements; savvy AI; great new features.

LOWS: No multiplayer options; some units aren’t properly balanced (e.g., swords can destroy tanks).

BOTTOM LINE: It’s not a revolutionary leap forward, but it’s still an absolute joy to play.
PC Gamer 92%

   

100% - 90%
EDITORS' CHOICE - We're battening down the hatches and limiting our coveted Editors' Choice award to games that score a 90% or higher. It's not easy to get here, and darn near impossible to get near 100%. Games in this range come with our unqualified recommendation, an unreserved must-buy score.

89% - 80%
EXCELLENT - These are excellent games. Anything that scores in this range is well worth your purchase, and is likely a great example of its genre. This is also a scoring range where we might reward specialist/niche games that are a real breakthrough in their own way.

79% - 70%
GOOD - These are pretty good games that we recommend to fans of the particular genre, though it's a safe bet you can probably find better options.

69% - 60%
ABOVE AVERAGE - Reasonable, above-average games. They might be worth buying, but they probably have a few significant flaws that limit their appeal.

59% - 50%
MERELY OKAY - Very ordinary games. They're not completely worthless, but there are likely numerous better places to spend your gaming dollar.

49% - 40%
TOLERABLE - Poor quality. Only a few slightly redeeming features keep these games from falling into the abyss of the next category.

39% - 0%
DON'T BOTHER - Just terrible. And the lower you go, the more worthless you get. Avoid these titles like the plague, and don't say we didn't warn you!


Drakan: Order of the Flame  69%
Driver  78%
Drome Racers  59%
Ducati World Racing  28%
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project  75%
Dune  25%
Dungeon Keeper 2  89%
Dungeon Siege  91%
Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna  80%
Earth & Beyond  80%
Earth 2150: Lost Souls  80%
Echelon: Wind Warriors  79%
Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon  84%
Emergency Fire Response  70%
Emergency Rescue  24%
Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom  72%
Empire Earth  85%
Empire of Magic  68%
Empire of the Ants  56%
Empires: Dawn of the Modern World  80%