In the future the word is dying. For the human race to survive the best and the brightest are sent to the stars to start a new civilisation beyond Earth. Or so it goes in the rather poignant intro video to Civilization: Beyond Earth, the latest turn-based strategy game from Firaxis.
Sid Meier's Civilization games are legendary and pretty much genre defining. Intelligent and engrossing, with each new iteration the series gets even more refined.
Using a simple hexagonal tiled map players are tasked with the management of a civilisation, making every decision from what technologies to research, what to build and who to fight. Up until now the core series has remained Earth-bound, there being more than enough conflict and political skulduggery on Terra Firma to keep players occupied.
In Civilization: Beyond Earth the classic Civilization gameplay has been relocated to an alien world. But first we have to get there.
There are a number of sponsors to choose from, each with their own unique advantage. The type of colonist, chosen from five vocations, adds their own unique perk into the mix. The type of colony ship chosen grants an early advantage from highlighting the coastline to identifying the locations of resources or alien life-forms. The type of cargo grants the colony with a starting bonus like a technology or unit.
With the ship ready, the final decision is the destination planet. It could be a water planet, a desert world, a lush alien forest, ice or a combination of the lot. There’s quite a choice.
All this choice means that no game is going to be the same. On top of the colony choices, gameplay options such as difficulty, pace and map size all add up to an experience that’s pretty much unique to each player.
As is the norm with the Civilization games, gameplay is based around harvesting resources, building settlements, researching tech and expanding your domain.
The game starts slow, gently easing players into what is a rather complex affair. But the game is never overwhelming thanks to a well-designed tutorial and help system. If you have any questions, usually the game will walk you through, if not all the information you need is right there in the help system.
In order to advance the colony, it needs to start researching technology. For this players must negotiate the game’s rather unique tech tree. Now, I found this the weakest part of the game. Not because it’s poorly done, it’s comprehensive enough to offer players an almost endless choice of direction. I just found it a rather incomprehensible beast of nonsensical technologies.
In Civilization proper, I knew what technology lead to the next, as it was grounded in reality. Making the decision of whether to research synergetics or alien ethics, isn’t quite as intuitive. But that’s sci-fi for you.
With the research underway, the cities must start production. As this is a city-based activity, the more cities, the more production can be carried out.
Around each city are a number of highlighted tiles representing the extent of the settlement’s domain. Using a worker unit, and with the right research, things like quarries, farms and power stations can be constructed.
When it’s time to expand, a colonist unit can be sent out into the world to set up a new outpost that’ll become a city itself in time. Trade routes can also be set up between player’s cities and outposts, as well as those of neighbouring colonies.
Yes, despite all those planets in the universe, a number of other colonies are also likely to call the planet home. The relationship with the planet’s other nations is very much up to the player. They can be helped, traded with, allied with or attacked.
This is a massive game, totally engrossing and offering almost limitless playability.
A game with such astounding depth of gameplay doesn’t really need to assault the eyeballs. This is a good thing as there's not much that you can do with a world mapped from a hexagonal tessellated tiles.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is not a game for the feint-hearted, nor is it the sort of game that you can have a quick go on. It is, however, a fantastic game and, if you give it a chance, it will absorb you. Expect to be entrenched in front of your PC until the early hours. You have been warned.