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Sid Meier's Civilization 4
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
reviewed by Big Jim at IRTR Feb 11 2006
"Civilization 4" (Civ4) is the latest in the long running franchise of turn based strategy games from developer Sid Meier. The "Civilization" (Civ) games, and their spin off "Alpha Centauri," task the player with controlling the economic, technological, and cultural development of a country. The Civ series of games often have some very positive and negative aspects to them and the latest is no exception.
In many ways, Civ4 improves upon the previous games. The new 3d maps are very intuitive and informative. The health of the player's country's population is more important now and food production is of greater importance as well because besides allowing the population to grow it also influences the healthiness of a civilization.
Game play in Civ4 proceeds in the same manner as previous games. The player founds cities to expand the borders of empire, builds improvements and military units in those cities, creates worker units to build infrastructure on the map (like roads, bridges, windmills, etc), and researches technology spanning from fishing to SDI (defensive shields) style projects to things like liberalism.
In all of the Civ games, it is imperative to build up a sizable productive sector before creating an unproductive sector. If scientists don't eat, then they are not much use to the state or society as this series has often shown. Without a large productive sector there is no way to get various resources mined or food grown. One can't have a functional society full of lawyers and gas station attendants in the Civ games or in real life.
Unfortunately, Civ4 puts more emphasis on the non-productive sector than the previous Civ games did. In older Civ games, citizens could be taken away from working the land (i.e. mining or farming) and put to work as tax collectors, scientists, police or entertainers. Civ4 expands this concept by allowing players to set citizens as priests, scientists, merchants, artists, engineers or laborers. While the game is certainly correct in that there must be a large productive sector to support such "specialists," the game seems to place undue emphasis on "specialists." While in previous games one would build a city building for X benefits, in the new game most buildings increase the number of specialists of a certain type that one can have.
The "specialists" vastly improve a city's research, culture, and production output. They also make it possibly for a "Great Person" to appear. While in "Civilization 3" countries would occasionally get "Great" military leaders who could be used to build armies or speed up the construction of Wonders, Civ4 adds multiple new types of "Great Persons." In Civ4 there are "Great" Scientists, Artists, Engineers, Prophets, and Merchants. These "Great People," "whose genius sets them heads and shoulders above the rest," can be used to immediately research technology related to their field of expertise, spent to generate a "Golden Age" for the civilization, placed in a city as a permanent specialist who doesn't require food, and used for other specific tasks like hurrying production for engineers or improving a city's culture for Artists. The great persyn idea is a market concession to the popular bourgeois outlook on history, what Marx called historical idealism.
At first glance the historical idealism seems incredibly bourgeois in outlook. The specialists seem to give an edge to civilizations that can support them. However playing the game showed that a well planned economy and industrial base will still triumph over an enemy civilization with more experts. Also a few revolutionary and progressive individuals are among the Great Peoples. For instance Jiang Qing is a Great Artist in the game.
Previous Civ games portray religion as an opiate of the masses and that continues here. In this game, various real world religions are founded by civilizations that are the first to research certain technologies (Polytheism gets Hindui$m; Monotheism gets Judai$m; Code of Laws get Confuciani$m, etc). These religions then slowly spread naturally and by missionary units. Religion is used in the game to make money (the founders of a religion get money from pilgrimages to the religion's holy city), to keep the people complacent, and to create a class of priest specialists who generate profit for the country. At earlier times in the game, religious buildings assist in research, but this ends after the country discovers liberalism. Religion also leads to war often as belligerent civilizations will try to spread their "one true faith."
While the game's position with regards to religion is fairly correct, and it's nice to see how all religions from Buddhi$m to KKKhristianity are treated the same, it's unfortunate that liberalism hasn't really put an end to religious interference with science. Amerikkka is drowning in liberalism yet Amerikkkans still believe in Demons and Angels while denying the reality of, say, Global Warming.
One of the concepts that Civ4 took from its predecessor Alpha Centauri is the concept of "Social Engineering." While previous Civilization Games had very shallow politics (best summed up as Democracies generate more money, communism generates better spies), "Alpha Centauri" and Civ4 allow the players to make several choices regarding their country's society, economy, and laws.
In "Alpha Centauri," which was more ideology based than Civ games, there was a category for what kind of future society the player wanted to create (for example creating a society where everyone is free of oppression and allowed to reach their full potential versus turning everybody into cyborgs or something). This is unfortunately absent from Civ4. Civ4 just allows players to decide the country's policies with regard to religion, government system, economic system, labor laws, and legal system. Each category has five choices and any mixture of the systems is considered valid in the game.
The economic systems are interesting. Initially everything is decentralized but eventually the player can choose between mercantilism, free market capitalism, state property and environmentalism. "State Property" represents a planned economy and has a few benefits. First food production is increased, allowing greater population growth. Second, in the game cities that are farther away from the capital lose productivity because of local corruption; however, planned economies don't suffer from this penalty. All corruption based on distance from the capital is done away with. "State Property" becomes available after researching communism (which is unlocked by discovering the scientific method, showing that the game realizes that Marxism is a science rather than a faith or a fluke of nature). This is a much better depiction of a planned economy than the older Civ games had.
Environmentalism is another type of planned economy that is made available very late in the game. Environmentalism is costly but it improves the health rating of all cities in a country. It is probably a glimpse of what planned economies of the future will be like, though many socialist states won't have the luxury of such green policies while they remain encircled by capitalist powers.
The labor laws are sensible. Slavery, Caste System, and Serfdom are available as well as emancipation. Slavery allows the player to work some of a city's population to death to speed up projects. Serfdom makes worker units build infrastructure quicker, and Caste Systems increase the amount of specialists that a civilization may have. Emancipation causes unrest problems in civilizations that do not have emancipation.
Religious laws are a bit of a let down. Players can have a choice among a theocracy that prohibits religious worship other than the official state one, "organized religion," religious pacifism with regards to non-state religions, and complete freedom of religion (which increases happiness of all religious peoples and improves scientific output). There is, sadly, no option to be harsh on all religions. Instead the player has to mollycoddle them in one way or another. It's unfortunate, because some sort of atheism civic would be a nice addition.
Government types are also straightforward ranging from monarchies, to bourgeois democracies, to representative governments, to police states. Its unfortunate that the game lacks a future society civic choice like "Alpha Centauri" had. Because a Communist "police state" is little different in game terms from some rightist police state that could also have a planned economy.
The weakest civic option is the legal laws section because it is the most vague. How Free Speech rights, a vassalage system, and a system based off of nationalism are mutually exclusive is beyond the reviewer. This category could have been easily replaced with a more meaningful category.
In addition to Civics, the game adds the United Nations at the end of the game. At the UN there are multiple resolutions that countries can vote on: everything from banning Nuclear Weapons, to forcing Kyoto-style treaties on everyone. It adds some interesting Politics to the end game.
Unfortunately politics aren't the main point of Civ4. Sometimes the player will get into wars over ideology in Civ4, but it is rare compared with what happens in "Alpha Centauri." Often in Civ4, one will have to have relations with countries with totally different Civics than one's country's so as to deal with a mutual threat: think Mao and Nixon's meeting.
In the Civ games every country has a leader who represents it for all time. While these leaders are usually considered to be more representative of a national spirit than an undying Caesar, Civ4 has increased their importance somewhat. Each civilization has one or more leaders to choose to represent the nation at the start of the game. The leaders all have different preferred civics that they will promote as well as two one word traits assigned to them. The traits grant the civilization various bonuses.
Mao is one of the two available leaders for China. His preferred Civic is State Property and his traits are philosophical and organized. Philosophical grants the civilization a higher birthrate for Great Persons and makes Universities cheaper to build while Organized makes social engineering cheaper to enact and governments cheaper to maintain and makes courthouses cheaper to build. Those traits may be fair to Mao, but his depiction in the game isn't quite so even- handed.
The civilopedia, an in game manual which can be accessed at any time, includes historical information and game mechanics about just about anything that appears in the game. This includes biographies for the leaders of the civilizations. Mao's entry is unfortunately biased and in parts untrue. While the biography correctly details the anti-Japanese war and the war against Chiang Kai-shek (the entry even puts quotation marks around the nationalist in "Nationalist" China while discussing this period), it does a disservice to Mao when discussing post- 1949 China.
The entry correctly states that "Mao sought to keep his people imbued with revolutionary vigor;" however, it goes on to attack the Great Leap Forward as a disaster that lead to the deaths of almost 20 million people while dismissing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as an "adventure in social engineering." However, the entry does admit that Mao was "beloved by his people." The entry concludes: "To Summarize him as a man, it could be said that Mao was a great war leader, an exceptional political infighter, and an unbelievably brutal dictator." If Mao was so "unbelievably brutal," how come Rightists like Deng didn't get bullets in their heads?
There were times in the game while having diplomatic relations with Maoist China that Mao made comments about how the player should read his Red Book. Unfortunately, he did not offer anything more about that subject and it seems to be a comment along the lines of Rome's Caesar offering the player some of his nice salads. However, some people at a major fan site (www.civfanatics.com) are modifying the game so that the leaders will occasionally say some of their most famous quotes so hopefully Artificial Intelligence Mao will have more to say on these subjects in the future.
While on the topic of leaders, there is one noticeably absent leader, Stalin. While Stalin was the leader for the Russian Civilization in the first game of the series, Russia now is stuck with the choice of Catherine or Peter "the Great." This is unfortunate considering there isn't much difference between two autocratic tsarist regimes. It is also odd considering that Stalin is mentioned several times in the game's civilopedia. The entry for the Kremlin mentions that Stalin directed World War Two from there, calling that "the best thing a Russian ruler ever did for the Russian people." The civilopedia also adds that Stalin made decisions there that lead to the deaths of "millions of his own people" to try and balance the uncomfortable fact that Stalin did accomplish the most important thing any Russia ruler ever did when he lead the Great Patriotic War. Stalin is also mentioned several times in the civilopedia on articles about police state government types (where it is argued that such heavy handed measures were needed to industrialize and to win the Second World War) and various other things. Its almost as if the civilopedia were written by several different people because in some parts Mao and Stalin are given praise and in other parts they are vilified.
A recent poll on the Firaxis corporate website suggested that they were considering adding Stalin in a patch or an expansion. Perhaps in the future Stalin will return to the world of civilization.
The game is different from previous games in the series in that it has multiple ways of winning. The previous strategies of constant expansion are no longer all that valid because expansion is now more costly, rather than an automatic economic benefit as in previous Civilization games. It is now possible to win through reaching certain cultural milestones (like a city reaching a certain level of culture), being voted as UN General Secretary, or having the largest score at the end of the game (in 2020 AD or so). Additionally, happiness, population size, technological level, and culture factor into the score more so it is possible to win by score while being pacifistic. The previous victory methods of being the first to colonize space or of conquering the world remain; however, it's nice to see some less militaristic methods of "winning" the game.
There is quite a bit of bourgeois bias in Civ4. There is no sort of power struggle within the government represented in the game. In the game, it is a good strategy to oppress one's people with religion or bribe them with luxury goods. Politics play a relatively minor role in the game compared with "Alpha Centauri." Creating experts is presented as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Still it does come off better than most of what is on the market these days as it promotes planning and cunning over the mindless terrorism so often encountered in other pc games.