Guest Author - James Shea
The fourth entry in Sid Meier's globe-and-history-spanning empire-building simulation game, Civilization IV is the latest refinement of the Civilization formula. Rather than introducing a lot of new features, Civilization IV tends to stick with the tried-and-true aspects of the series.
Those familiar with the series will recognize the gameplay. The player takes the role of a civilization - one of many real-world empires, such as the English, the Greeks, or the Japanese. The game is turn-based, with each unit moving a certain distance - and getting a certain amount done - each day. The focus is on infrastructure as much as warfare, with most of the units having to do with building cities or maintaining the land around them. Settlers build cities, which serve as a hub for a local network of farms, villages, and mines. Cities can build specific structures or units, and each has its own happiness meters to take care of.
Outside of cities, the major area is research - various technologies (with descriptions narrated by Leonard Nimoy) in fields like architecture, agriculture, literature, and religion that boost your civilization's power. Of course, if you can't resort to peaceful measures with the other civilizations, there is always war, conducted in a fairly simple tactical manner (mostly just consisting of unit strength and any bonuses).
New to Civ IV is the expansion of governments. There are now several key parts to the government of your civilization - the leadership, the distribution of labor, the enforcement of religion, and so on. Religion, also, is new to the game. Different religions have different effects on your empire. Furthermore, there can be a difference between what your "state" religion is and what individual cities' religions are. Generally, you have better relations with people of the same religion, so you should try to use missionaries to expand your chosen religion. Another new feature is the concept of "Great People" - individuals who are summoned by researching certain advances in the fine arts or whatever field they may specialize in. These people can give several sorts of one-time bonuses and are fairly rare, so their usage is very important.
The graphics are decent, but kind of minimal in usage. There aren't a lot of visual indicators, so really it's just more like a board game with little pieces. It serves mostly a utilitarian purpose, just to show where stuff is and not really have any sort of epic scale or embellishment. One part that is pretty neat is the option to zoom out and see the entire map as a globe, dotted by the various cities and empires. But, other than that, there's not much to the graphics. The music is nice, with different songs for each leader and each civilization. Music increases as you are over empires depending on their point in the timeline - a medieval civilization has the proper music, for example. This is a nice ambient touch and the music is well-executed in general.
As a whole, this game is more of the same. For some people, that's a good thing, but I personally felt like there wasn't enough depth in the game as a whole. It concentrated too much on the entirety of history and lost the enjoyment of being in certain periods. It is a good game, yes, but it just didn't really feel as deep as it could or should have.