It's been a while since I played a CIV game, it last had me addicted back in the days of CIV 2. Now with the birth of CIV 4 have things changed or is the winning formula still there?
Lets start with one important note about compatibility, at the time of writing this there is a known compatibility issue with CIV 4 and the ATI graphics cards we use. The game will not run for us. There have been a lot of complex workarounds to get the game working, however many people are holding out for a patch or updated ATI driver to solve all the issues. So if you have an ATI graphics card, check the latest patches and drivers for compatibility info.
One of the most noticeable things is the small novel like manual, at least you don't have to trawl through a PDF like many of the modern games. This is a definite bonus point for the game.
Form the offset you can see that things have improved in the graphics department over the previous incarnations of CIV. Though graphics for this type of game aren't important it is nice to look at something appealing when playing. Everything in this department has been given a complete overhaul, and now you even get a 3D Sid to show you around the game. I'm pretty sure the 3D Sid is a little to disturbing, as his lips don't move while talking.
Even though the graphics engine has been rebuilt, the tiles and areas are still distinct and easy to spot. They have gone for a good level of clarity over the fussy graphics you get in other games.
The basics of the CIV series are still the same, nothing has changed to much here so the old fans should be able to get to grips with the game quickly. However Sid and his crew have added a number of new features to speed things up and make game play more interesting.
The first thing you will notice is that you cities have every expanding borders, which show the areas of influence for each city. This serves to let you know which resources are within the range of your city. Also it can be used to stop units idly wandering across your land and causing grief. The you can open and close your borders as you wish, however if your at war with a nation then you cannot close your borders to them. This is where a new level of diplomacy comes in as you can surround yourself with allies, and try to persuade them to close their borders, so you cannot be attack by your enemies. It's all a bit to complex to explain in this review.
Another new feature is Religion, which offers cultural advantages to a city, and can be spread to neighbouring cities to ease relations. Though this does not affect the game as a whole, it's a nice touch which could be useful in a future expansions.
One last feature which stands out from the previous games is the addition of 'Great People.' These can be used to produce lots of culture for a city. For example a Great Artist can produce a masterpiece and then you will receive vast quantities of culture. This is especially handy if you're aiming for a cultural victory. You can get a number of Great People that offer benefits to other areas; this expands the types of victory attainable by the average player.
Most of the core gameplay has been tweaked but generally works the same as the previous games. So for established players there is hardly any learning curve. For those new to CIV there is a handy, if short, tutorial mode which the slightly disturbing 3D Sid will guide you through.
In a game like this sound can often be neglected, and music is just something which normally annoys the crap out of you. However CIV 4 has not slacked in this department, most of the in game sounds are good and easy on the ear. However the place where CIV stands out is the music, it's one of the most noticeable things while playing; it offers a feel to the game which many of the previous versions were lacking. Even though the music loops a lot it's nice and relaxing.
Another noticeable feature is the voice of Leonard Nimoy (of Star Trek fame), he narrates little pieces when new technologies are built or you start a new game. Yay for Spock!
I would say one of the areas where this game falls down is the new player angle, if you have never played a CIV game in your life you might find things a little tough at first, as there is a lot of game concepts to wrap your head around. But once you have learned them then you're off to a new world of exploration and development.
Overall CIV 4 is an enjoyable experience, which fans of the series will love; even the die-hards love it, which can sometimes be a problem when an established and successful title gets a revamp. It seems Sid and his team hit all the right nails on their respective heads.
I think CIV 4 will become a firm favourite for many people, and remain a game that will be played for along time, or until CIV 5 comes out.