Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Note: This review will also appear on Gamer Theory when it launches later this year.

When intsalling a game like Sid Meier’s Civilization V (Civ V) to your PC, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. There are games that come by once in a while that will grab you, fascinate you, and then refuse to let you go. After days worth of game time logged, I can safely say that Civ V is definitely one of those games. Firaxis Games has enjoyed a loyal following and huge success with the Civilization series, but they’ve never been averse to allowing the series to evolve with each release. Civ V makes some rather significant leaps forward in regards to presentation, pacing, and unit management among others. The result is a game that’s more approachable yet more challenging and nuanced at the same time.

For newcomers to the series, Civ V is easily the best place to get started. While there is a massive amount od depth to the strategy in the game, Firaxis Games has done a very effective job at implementing a great tutorial and a very helpful tips system to keep players from feeling overwhelmed. Also, at the easier levels the AI aggressiveness is toned down to the point where novice mistakes aren’t punished too harshly. While earlier Civilization titles are available on the cheap these days, Civ V really is the best place for a newcomer to get into the series.

For the experts out there, Civ V introduces a few new features that will make the game feel familiar, yet fresh at the same time. One of the biggest changes made to the game include the transition from square to hex tiles for the world map. This change seems minor at first thought, but it really makes movement around the world a more fluid and natural undetraking for units. Cities also expand in a much more organic way as well with the hexes breaking up the tiles in a more complex pattern. You can see clearly how the hexes work below.

Another big change is that units are no longer able to stack up on tiles with the exception of a single military unit sharing space with a worker. In the past players could stack multiple military units on a single tile, which often lead to nasty bottlenecks where a player or AI had decided to stack units for defensive purposes. This change is a welcome one as it forces you to manage your military units more carefully and always be concious of where you’ve left each unit.

All the changes made make Civ V a more tactical experience in all aspects of the game. Winning via science, military, diplomatic, or culture will take a very deliberate approach that demands that the player adapts to ever changing conditions. Quite often I would start the game with the idea to win under one condition, only to have to aim for a different one due to the AI’s agenda not jiving well with my own. This makes the game very replayable, even if multiplayer isn’t something that interests you.

The game isn’t without its flaws, but Firaxis Games and 2K has been working to improve the game via updates and patches. As of now, however, the AI could use some additional tweaking and improvement. The AI is tuned to constantly exploit advantages, but often times it flies in the face of logical behavior. If you get too powerful or too large, at times the AI will just flat out refuse to cooperate with you, even if it would benefit their civilization greatly. At other times the AI will engage in trade agreements that are quite obviously skewed in your favor. These inconsistencies should be addressed over time, but as of the time I wrote tihs review it was an issue.

AI oddness aside, Civ V is a fantastic PC gaming experience that is engrossing, addictive, and different each time you approach it. Between this, StarCraft 2, and the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, it has been a strong year for PC releases.

5 Stars out of 5

Help send Panic to the IGF

Panic is an independent game developed by Blake Leftwich of Salute Games that takes the classic brick breaker gameplay and introduces some cool and innovative twists. Unlike many brick breakers, Panic introduces some simple physics into the mix aside that affects ball speed and travel distance. Additionally, Panic has some really interesting bonus rounds in between sets of stages that are wildly addictive. As a nice feature, you can also play the bonus levels by jumping into the options menu from the main startup screen.

A couple of gameplay notes:

  • As the ball rebounds off of blocks it builds up a score multiplier. You have to click the left mouse button to “bank” those scores. Allowing more hits to pass between banks yields a higher score, but it also increases the risk of losing the points if you don’t bank them before losing the ball.
  • The bonus games can be found under the Options menu, as well as a traditional non-physics based brick breaker.

Give Panic a try and feel free to donate to the cause, right here: http://salutegames.com/panicdonate

Gaming 9 to 5 and still working full time

Uh oh…I have a serious problem. It seems that I have two nine to five occupations. I work at a web design firm, called i4 Solutions where I do search engine optimization and manage pay per click marketing campaigns for a variety of clients. I’m happy there and I put in my 40 hours a week. Well, I guess one occupation wasn’t enough, because I’ve taken up a second nine to five activity.

I installed Civilization V over the weekend, and I “one more turn” extended my play sessions Friday and Saturday night from 9:00 pm to past 5:00 am. Yes, I put in over 8 hours a night on this game. The game is just addictive, and I’ve got no power over myself to quit at a decent hour once I start my quest at world domination. Aside from Civilization Revolution on the DS, I hadn’t really played a proper Civ game since Civ II. I always wanted to give Civ III and Civ IV some attention, but I never found the time to do so. To be honest, I really don’t have the time for Civ V, but the allure was too strong this time around and I found myself on Friday evening downloading the game via Steam.

So what now? I guess I’m going to have to go part time on one of these occupations, because my body isn’t going to handle it. Unfortunately for me, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to cut my world domination hours down to part time status with the occasional overtime hours.

For those that haven’t really played any of the Civ games, Civ V is an excellent starting point. For you veterans of the series, I’m sure picking up Civ V is already in your plans if you don’t have it already. Just know that few games will sap away your time like Civ V will.

Check back soon for the full review.

StarCraft Arena is worth checking out

StarCraft Arena is a community-driven site dedicated to StarCraft 2 news, tournaments, discussion, and strategy sharing. The site has numerous videos that cover some really intense matches between some of the best players in the world, all commentated by either HD or Husky; a couple of great players and notable figures in the StarCraft community. Just by watching the videos you can get some ¬†great insight on how to start your StarCraft 2 multiplayer matches, how to respond to moves made by your opponents, and how to judge when it’s a proper time to attack or counterattack. The videos are very entertaining even if you just want to be the casual observer and don’t care much for competing yourself.

Aside from the videos, StarCraft Arena has organized tournaments where they invite the world’s top players to join in. These tournaments are pretty intense and they draw huge attention from the vibrant community that calls StarCraft Arena home.

Even if you’re not much of a StarCraft 2 fan, it’s worth dropping in and checking out a few commentated videos. I have to wonder if these sort of communities are the early beginnings of competitive gaming making its way into a bit of a spectator sport in the United States. It sure would beat the WNBA, huh?

Pokemon is popular

In its first two days on store shelves in Japan, Pokemon Black and White sold over 2.63 million copies. In comparison with the last Pokemon installment, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, Black and White did much better as those titles managed to sell “only” 1.4 million copies in their first two days and 3.38 million overall (Japan numbers only). Black and White seem to be ushering in more new aspects of gameplay into the Pokemon series than we’ve seen for a while, and it looks like Nintendo’s decision to mix things up a bit is really paying off.

The Stupid Gamer Podcast #48

We didn’t take last week off, it was lost due to technical issues. So to make up for it, this week’s show is twice as wasteful of your time! We discuss news, our Tokyo Games Show predictions, and tease some upcoming changes to the show that will begin with episode 49. Enjoy!

Note: We recorded this before any TGS news came out, so if we sound a little behind, it’s because we were! Early TGS stuff looks great though and there’s still time for some of our predictions to come true.

Street Fighter High: The Musical

Street Fighter High was a goofy fan-made short that appeared on YouTube a while back and got quite a bit of attention. A sequel was announced and updates have been appearing at http://streetfighterhigh.blogspot.com/ from time to time. Well, the sequel is here and it’s a musical…of sorts. Justin Wong even has an appearance (as himself) in the piece. For an idea of the awesomeness, here’s a quote from the show.

Ryu: Chun-Li, can I take you to prom?

Chun-Li: Sure you can!

Ryu (confused): Did you…say..SHORYUKEN?!

Chun-Li: Huh?

Ryu: Oh…wait…gotcha…awesome!

Yes, it’s stupid, but you can’t look away. Head over to http://streetfighterhigh.blogspot.com/ to see the whole thing, and if you haven’t caught the first episode, it’s embedded below.

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New Xbox 360 coming…packed with some stupid decisions

What is this? Everybody knows that the d-pad on the 360 has been terrible since day one, and it’s nice that they’re finally doing something about it (only took 5 years, congrats engineering team!), but why do they have to dumb up the rest of the controller? Take a look at the video and I’ll whine after.

So this thing is going to cost $65 because the morons at Microsoft feel like they’re only offering the controller packed in with the play and charge kit. Why do I need another one of those? I don’t. This is another lame cash grab by Microsoft. Why would they remove the face button colors? Sure, it looks kind of neat, but the button colors no longer line up with in game prompts. That’s stupid. Why can’t they implement the new d-pad into all of their controllers? Why not make that the default design going forward? This doesn’t make any logical sense.

Ugh, after the price increase on Xbox Live and now this, I really have to wonder what kind of monkeys they have making the decisions over at Microsoft’s Xbox division.