Civilization Revolution

Lost in translation.

It’s no great secret I love Civilization, and the titan of strategy can now fit in your pocket. I like the idea of the quick fix that Civilization Revolution offers, but is it more than a short term solution for a well-developed addiction? Like Civilization Revolution for the consoles, the app is a streamlined version of its PC father. Take the console’s Civ Rev formula, dial back the visuals, add in touch controls and you have it: a game of Civilization you can play on the toilet.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it is a turn-based strategy game in which you try to guide a civilization to victory. By growing your cities, constructing improvements, building world wonders, expanding your treasury, advancing technology and flexing your military might you try to best the other civilizations of the world in culture, economics, technology and domination. Each civilization is led by a familiar historical face in caricature, the likes of Cleopatra, Queen Isabella and Caesar and comes with its own strength and weaknesses. Mongols, for example, have the ability to absorb barbarian civilizations they conquer, and the Aztecs have high gold production.

You can choose to play a Scenario, or select Random Map from the menu. Scenarios are the alternate versions of the game, spicing things up with different eras, resources and objectives. Random Map is Revolution’s take on the traditional Civ formula, randomizing the world you must conquer. Choose your difficulty level from Chieftan on up and select from one of the sixteen civilizations, with the perks of each detailed on the back of their leader’s picture. The leader selection screen tries to be slick: you can thumb through all the cards rapidly, but it incorporates tilt control unnecessarily, and rather badly. Trying to skim through the leaders with the tilt function is like a different, very frustrating, game in itself.

There are four areas to develop and grow your civilization up in, and therefore four different ways to win (or lose). Cultural victories are won by collecting twenty “great people” and constructing the United Nations. If you prefer to wipe the earth clean of other cultures, just capture their capitals with a tank army or two. Technological victories require attention to your science production, and researching all available tech until you successfully complete a space program to jettison off this rock. The material minded will go after an economic victory, in which you must reach fixed treasury milestones and then construct the World Bank. As you progress from one era to another era-specific perks are triggered. The game advances at an decelerating rate, beginning with 100 years at a time to two years for every turn. Five difficulty levels make the game very scalable, but there is no multi-player to match wits against and extend gameplay.

The maps feel more cramped than even the console version of the game, and it only takes a couple turns to start bumping into other civs. They are all for peace until they get grumbly about your close borders, expansionist tendencies, advanced tech, or if you happen to wonder past with an unprotected settler unit. You can always bribe the malcontents, but they’re a little too fond of demanding exorbitant percentages of your treasury. War, peace and the occasional tech trade are pretty much the only negotiations you’ll be engaging in. Most significantly, this eliminates the resource and trade elements of the game, as well as the ability to establish open borders. If you want to pass through another civilization’s land, you have to declare war, adding a layer of difficulty to expansion and exploration.

Fans may miss the managing of workers and trade agreements, and Revolution certainly masks the nuance of the game. There isn’t a lot of explanation of, say, how an archer unit benefits from a hilltop location, or how resources really advance your society. Revolution is Civ distilled to its most potent parts. The tech tree, however, remains largely in tact, branching in such a way that it is unlikely your civilization will progress like any other. Researching technology gives you the ability to construct new buildings and wonders, and if you are the first to discover a tech it rewards you with significant bonuses.

Buildings also bring bonuses to your city like increasing the happiness of the citizenry and turning them into sophisticates. I found it tedious that when one city was constructing a wonder that wonder still appeared as an option in the build lists for other cities. When you have five or so possible wonders to build it can get very difficult to keep track of, particularly if construction is interrupted. If your civilizations’ culture is booming and you are devoted to the construction of wonders, the game will be handing you great people faster than you know what to do with them, and you may be handed a cultural victory before you are quite ready to bid farewell that particular civ.

With the console versions of the game allaying all my fears of a bizarre and unmanageable control scheme, I was disappointed to find the gesture controls such a hindrance. Dragging around the map is slow and laggy. The view does not follow your finger if you try to drag a unit to a destination off screen. You have to zoom out just enough to see both your destination and the unit, which is finicky and requires patience. The city interface is cleverly handled, however, but just a little too cozy like it was shoehorned into its space. The highlight is that most decisions require two taps, and I think I played through three full games without a single “Oh, crap” mistake from a control slip. In other moan-worthy moments, the auto save feature is a lifesaver for incoming calls (or if your game crashes), but it isn’t always current and you may return to find yourself back quite a few turns.

A traditional Civ strategy will serve you well, with minor tweaking to allow for the limited trade and diplomatic agreements. Battle scenes no longer take place there on the map but instead a window comes up with a cut scene of the units battling each other. I like the combat featurettes, especially since they show your unit taking damage, though you could always tap “X” in the lower right corner if you’d seen enough of the action. The units themselves aren’t very pretty, though I object more to the fact that they disappear when you zoom out adding another level of difficulty to the already unwieldy unit direction.

Sound and music are the familiar sounds of Civilization, and the backdrop for all the strategy is a flat world with hand-drawn sprites. The maps just don’t appear as lush as the console version, and if you zoom too far in things get ugly, fast. The cold landscape may not be inviting, but the naming of geographic features like deserts and forests is fuel for the expansion-minded, as well as big perks for discovering the ancient artifacts, like the Lost City of Atlantis.

What’s lost in translation? The intuitive gameplay of Civ. Experience with past Civilization games will help with the basic principles, but the execution takes getting used to so take advantage of the tips. I think that newcomers run the risk of being underwhelmed, and if they are unwilling to muddle through for an hour or so they will never get to the meat of the game. At $4.99, it was a steal, at $9.99 it’s a good deal for strategy lovers but I’m afraid that someone unattached to the game or the genre won’t find much to love here.