CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH, BUT NOT FAR
Civilization, the 4x heavyweight champ, is a standard bearer for the genre, but to me, it is that and more. Many moons ago, when I was a wee lad, I came across Sid Meier’s Civilization (SMC) on my elementary school’s computers. I can’t be sure how I happened upon it, nor do I care to ruin the memory with facts. All I know is that AC / BC to me means After Civilization / Before Civilization. School lunches and recesses were spent inside, frantically trying to finish a couple more turns. This game franchise, more than any other, I credit with really sparking my love of gaming. How fitting it is to be my first review. How serendipitous, the timing couldn’t have been better. So then, it is with a heavy heart that I say this, Civilization: Beyond Earth (C:BE) could have been better.
Civilization is a franchise owned and developed by Firaxis Games. The company is best known for its Civilization series of games, though it has had notable success with other titles as well, such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
First and foremost, this plays like a Civilization game. There can be no doubt about this fact. As a spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (SMAC), C:BE tasks you with guiding a sponsored coalition away from the “great mistake” on Earth, heralding the Space Age. This is a turn based, empire building strategy game that takes place on an alien world.
Victory can be achieved through multiple avenues: domination, science or culture. The formula is unchanged. In fact, many of the game’s mechanics are iterations of previous Civilization entries. To the surprise of no one, Civilization V is especially cribbed here, due in good part to the fact they share the same engine. The hexagonal tiled map, one unit per tile, city management screen, city progression, as well as unit and building production are all pulled from previous entries. The role of wonders, combat, trade, diplomacy, virtues (a stand in for the political ideology tree), science, energy (the games currency), production in general, and the turned-based action, stay relatively untouched in function. The AI is still as dumb as a sack of potatoes, which if you are not aware, is very very dumb. This is criminal as the original SMC had some of the most advance AI of its time.
To be fair, there are a few additional features making their first appearance in C:BE. For instance, a more robust starting load out that divorces factions and starting bonuses, which allows any faction a competitive chance at all paths to victory. A welcome edition. Also new is the orbital map, essentially a graphical overlay identical to the world map where only orbital units lurk. Quests are thrown into mix, which I like, despite the fact that the quests are bland and the narrative forgettable. In fact, I never actively set out to finish any of them, yet ended up finishing 90 percent of the quests made available to me in-game.
The game’s developer Firaxis did streamline many of the revolving processes and decisions via pop ups on the right hand side of the screen. This makes it almost impossible to miss an action you have initiated. Being a very forgetful person, I found this feature very helpful in managing many of the mundane aspects of the game. But honestly, these new features are ticks and not tocks. They are more of an add on than a reworking or reimagining of the genres mechanics. I suppose that is a good thing to some extent. I do really like Civilization as a franchise. I can’t help but expect more. Why no moons to branch off to? What about a solar system to colonize? How about a galaxy to conquer via single player missions? I mean SMAC, although not a Civilization title, was inspired and made by the same core individuals and it advanced the genre of 4x to the point where Sid Meier’s Civilization III adopted many of its game mechanics. Yet for C:BE to claim to be a spiritual successor to SMAC is to claim in some respects that this is a genre changing game, it is not. The point here is that the gameplay is relatively unchanged as most of the major mechanics associated with the Civilization franchise are unabashedly the same. While the new features are only subtle in implementation and effect. The good in this is that Civilization has some pretty awesome ideas in terms of game mechanics, the bad is, obviously as veteran of the franchise, these mechanics are old hat.
The story and narrative of the game is in pretty bad shape. Earth has gone through an event couched as “the great mistake”, culturally relevant groups have banded together in a new space age space race. That’s about all you will ever get from the story without really digging. Compound this with the fact that factions have very little discernible personality, you end up with a story not worth the effort of emotional investment. There are no cut scenes, other than the starting cinematic, not even when you win. Actually, the end of this game is the worst in franchise history and I can’t believe they released it the way they did. No matter how you win, all you get is a window that says you’ve won and asks if you would like to continue playing this game or go back to the main menu. No graphs, no charts, no score and no stats. I have no doubt that this will be patched and stats, spreadsheets, and graphs will be available. Still, poor show Firaxis, poor show indeed.
The graphical fidelity is only slightly improved from Civilization V. One notable change would be the inclusion of AMD’s Mantle API: my AMD card appreciates it. Having said that, I did notice screen tearing with vsync disabled, to be expected. Not to be expected is being locked at 24 fps when vsync is enabled. I am sure there is a work around for this but due to time constraints I suffered through it.
Musically, I found the game to be deceptive. Seemingly non-existent for large stretches that wax and wane with the soothing sounds of soft wind and lapping water. Creating an ambient atmosphere. At some point the orchestra kicks in, and when it does it is wondrous. I suppose I would say the music is sparse with moments of brilliance. I quite enjoyed it.
The Verdict: 7.5 out of 10
Overall, this game is an enjoyable romp. Despite small improvements to a solid core game experience, I can’t help but feel like Firaxis is riding the coat tails of Civilization V and SMAC whilst not really making any significant leaps forward in terms of game mechanics or fidelity. There are plenty of new forms in this game, but very little is new in terms of function. It’s not so much a lack of features as it is a lack of unique and clever new mechanics. If you are new to the series, this might just be the right one to jump into. The streamlining of game features will make it easier to take control of your civilization, and the core gameplay that is ubiquitous to Civilization series is here, even if only slightly refined. If you are veteran like myself, you may want to wait for a steam sale and some DLC as you may find yourself wholly bored after the novelty of its new paint wears off.
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Matthew Keates is an Associate Writer for MONG, he spends his time doing stuff that is none of your concern, you may not follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Twitch as you are not worthy.