Trying to shoehorn an RTS like Command & Conquer onto a console is one thing, but Civilization? The fanciest bottle of good booze on PC strategy gaming's top shelf? It's an impossible task, some will say. Or one that even if it is possible, just shouldn't be done. Under any circumstances. Lest the ensuing offspring (see Civ II on the PS1) be such a crime of nature, such an abomination, that the good Lord himself descend from the heavens and strike down all involved in its creation.
That's what die-hard, myopic fans of the PC series will tell you, at any rate. And as one of those myself - having lost what must be thousands of hours to the series over the years – when a copy of Civilization Revolution for the PlayStation 3 turned up at my door, I greeted it with not just a signature, but a healthy dose of scepticism.
It Works: Yes. Civilization on a console works. Nearly everything about the game – from controls to tech tree progression to unit and building production has seen radical changes (more on that to come), but at its heart, this is still Civilization. It still feels like Civilization, it still plays like Civilization.
Charm: This is a charming game. Not since the full-screen portraits of the very first Civilization has the game managed to present your opponents and advisors as actual, in-game characters as opposed to AI mouthpieces. Makes for a pleasant break from all the menu-clicking and world-gazing.
Streamlining: Many aspects of the game have been trimmed to work better on console, but turn out to be beneficial to the series as a whole. The tech tree and city building options have both been shrunk to more sensible, manageable sizes, while certain technologies and rewards are offered via in-game achievements (amassing a certain amount of gold, etc) instead of having to research/build them.
Controls/Menus: Wisely, 2K decided against simply mapping keyboard commands to the control pad. Instead, the game's menu and command system have been completely overhauled, and while it'll take a few hours for Civ veterans to come to grips with it, it suits the simplified, pared-down tone of the game well.
Whoops: Some minor, yet necessary elements of the game seem to have been overlooked during the overhaul, such as the ability to auto-assign building orders in a city (meaning an endless crawl through build screens at the beginning of each turn towards the end of a game). Other parts seem downright wrong, particularly progression through the eras, which can have you entering modernity without having discovered the printing press.
Too Small: Concessions obviously had to be made considering the control scheme. One of the biggest is that the size of the world is locked. The map is tiny, and you only ever compete against five civilizations. Obviously this decision was made with the simpler control scheme (and console gaming habits) in mind, but at least some map customisation options would have been nice.
Too Fast: Because the map is so small, games are played out very quickly. Expect to play a full game in around 2-3 hours. It's great having that option, but I think a lot of people (and this goes back to "Too Small") would have preferred the option of a longer, more drawn-out experience.
Little Rough: Maybe the framerate's better on 360, but the PS3 version I played often slows to a crawl, something I would not expect of a game that looks worse than Civ IV (a game from 2005). As such, some of the most important parts of the game – like navigating the camera around the globe – are a lot slower than it should be.
Successfully porting the Civilization experience from the PC to consoles was always going to be an exercise in compromise. The entire package was never going to make the jump, so Firaxis' development has basically boiled down to the unenviable task of deciding which parts of the PC game got to stay, and which parts of the game had to either be modified or be thrown out entirely.
For the most part, they've made the right calls. Sure, the game can be too short, and too small, and in some cases a little rough, but what Firaxis needed to do if this game was to ultimately succeed was take that core Civilization experience – the discovery, the advancement, the combat, the diplomacy – and ensure that even a streamlined version of the game still had you up at 3 in the morning, telling yourself you'll just have "one more turn". Which it does.
Civilization Revolution was developed by Firaxis, published by 2K. Available on July 8 on PlayStation 3 (version played), Xbox 360, Nintendo DS. Played 5 single player games to completion (one on each difficulty). Unable to test multiplayer due to connection issues/lack of players.