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Sid Meier's Civilization III PC CD

Published by Infogrames
Designed by Firaxis Games

Voted by many as the game of the twentieth century, Sid Meier's Civilization and its sequel are arguably the greatest games of all time. The basic aim of the game was to take a civilisation from its cradle and lead it to greatness. As huge as the first two games were, a third game looked very unlikely with the eventual demise of Microprose (the games' publisher) and the creation of Firaxis Games by Sid & co. Nevertheless gamers' prayers have been answered and Firaxis teamed up with Infogrames to bring us the most anticipated strategy game ever. Let's take a look at whether Mr. Meier still has the Midas touch.

On setting up a game for the first time you'll notice how the world setup menus have been greatly improved. All the options for setting up the world can now be selected from one screen. The next screen on from here will simply amaze you. Here's where you select the civilisation that you want to be. Like Firaxis' other game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, each civilisation is represented with a figure head. This is Queen Elizabeth I in the case of England, Montezuma for the Aztecs and Abraham Lincoln for the Americans to name but three of the sixteen. Unlike in Alpha Centauri though, where pictures were used, the figure heads are moveable and are expressive. This looks absolutely stunning and can be quite hilarious when you see these characters as they progress through the ages.

On starting a game you still find the lone settler standing on the blackened terrain awaiting your orders. However what you will not be used to is the worker unit that you also have. In Civ II your settlers used to perform all the tile improvements such as irrigation and build the roads but in Civ III all the settlers do is create a new city. The tile improvements and so on are now done by the worker. You will also find a scout unit with most civilisations so you can set these to discover new territory. When you create a new city you are taken to the city view and Civ II veterans will notice a far nicer appearance this time. Everything is tooltipped and relevant items linked to the Civilopedia (the superb in game manual/glossary on all the games unit/concepts/civilisations etc.).

Much to my surprise the game didn't come with a technology tree poster. However after playing the game for a while and seeing how it lays out the available research on screen I can see that it wasn't necessary for a poster to be included, even if I would have liked one. To progress from one age to another a certain amount of advances have to be researched. The science advisor screen shows perfectly which advances need to be researched in order to progress into the next age.

Wonders have now been separated into two categories. There are Small Wonders, which can be built by every civilisation and Wonders of the World, which can only be built by one civilisation. Civ II gamers will have to be careful as several of the wonders, although the name has not changed, have different effects to the ones that they have in Civ II. The Great Wall for instance, used to provide a wall in every one of your cities and make it difficult for a civilisation to goto war with you. However in Civ III it only doubles the effect of walls in your cities that have them and doubles your units attacks against barbarians.

There is no council in Civ III as there was in Civ II. Instead you have collection of advisors. There is a science advisor, a trade advisor, a military advisor, a domestic advisor, a cultural advisor and a foreign advisor. These can be accessed at any time and the information they provide is invaluable if you are to triumph at this game. Speaking of triumphing there are five methods of winning. There is the domination victory, in which you have to control two thirds of the world's territory, the diplomatic victory, in which you have to be voted Secretary-general, the cultural victory, in which you have to culturally dominate the map, the space victory, in which you have to build and launch a spaceship to Alpha Centauri and finally the military victory, in which you have to destroy all other civilisations. You can enable or disable as many of these victory conditions as possible. This can change the nature of the game in many ways. If you only allowed the diplomatic victory then you would find the other civilisations less likely to goto war. Always bear in mind the victory conditions you want when selecting your civilisation. Picking the Zulus would be no good in going for a diplomatic victory but would be great for a military victory. By default all victory conditions are enabled.

There is a brand new concept in Civ III and this is called culture. When a city is created its borders, another new inclusion, are not very far apart (about the same as the city radius in Civ II). However as you develop your city's culture (by wonders, libraries, cathedrals etc.) these borders expand. Your cities culture can influence other civilisation's cities to want to be ruled by you and you have the option as to whether or not to accept them. This adds a refreshing dimension to the gameplay and is a tremendous alternative to taking cities by force.

Each of the sixteen civilisations has now been personalised and comes with it's own attitudes and specialised unit. The Zulus have the Impi, the Greeks have the Hoplite and the English have the Man-O-War. These special units, to some degree, are enhance version of a standard unit. The Impi is an enhanced spearman and as a result the Zulu do not have a spearman. These special units are only available when the relevant requirements (such as advances etc.) have been met. The special units give each civilisation a temporary advantage and add a twist to the gameplay. Your military units now have a chance of becoming a leader if they are successful in battle. Leaders can either be used to rush wonders or to form an army. An army is basically a group of upto three military units. These units don't fight at the same time, rather their collective hit points are merged and they take it in turn fighting. There is no stacked unit option in Civ III as there was in the Call To Power series which is a shame as it gave extra purpose to producing an assortment of military units.

Diplomacy has been much improved and now you can make any kind of deal you, or the rival leader, wants. You can swap luxuries for cities or gold if you wish. The bargaining screen has again been well implemented and features the animated civilisation leaders that were mentioned earlier. This element of the game is far more satisfying than in Civ II. You can also conduct your foreign trade from this screen as there isn't a caravan unit to march over the map anymore.

Resources now play a much more important role in the game. It is not simply enough to have a certain resource within your city's borders. Workers must build roads to the resource and mines, if needed. Units such as the horseman require a supply of horses. This means that either one of your cities should have access to horses or you will have to make a trade to get some. Of course materials such as iron and coal, a key resource in the latter part of the game, may even persuade you to goto war with the nation who has the resource if they refuse to trade. Do you remember in Civ II when you built a city only to find that a key resource was only a few tiles away from your borders? Well in Civ III you could either improve your city's culture, which would increase your city radius, or if you can't wait then you could order a worker to construct a colony. Colonies enable a resource that is outside of the city radius to be brought into the city. This is a wonderful idea but be warned. I have built several of these only to find that they have been attacked. If you are going to build a colony, then make sure you use some military units to protect it.

Deaf gamers will be pleased by the superb text feedback within the game. Every piece of information is provided in text. In fact no information is given verbally. The layout of the interface is superb. The font used within the game is clearly legible. All the information is provided in click-off dialogue boxes so you can read the information in your own time. It is fair to say that Firaxis has given the deaf gamer full access to all Civ III's delights which is brilliant.

The gameplay seems to have greater depth but yet retains the addictive nature of the previous games. Firaxis have definitely succeeded in bringing Civilization upto date. Graphically the game is the finest looking turn based game ever. The games interface has been streamlined and has done away with the multitude of windows that Civ II had. One thing I should mention is that Firaxis have made Civ III far easier to get into than Civ II ever was. The interface is far more user friendly. Help for everything can be found in the Civilopedia and the manual is superb although you probably won't need the manual until you are familiar with the basic concepts of the game and you want to learn more advanced techniques. Civ III is exactly what a reworked classic should be. It appeals to newbies and old hands alike. Sid has definitely got it right again and proved he is the premier games designer.

Overall Game Rating: 9.6/10 Sid Meier has done it again. Firaxis have created what must be considered to be the PC game of the year. They could have simply taken Civ II and updated the graphics and added a build queue. To veterans this would have been enough. However they have taken the bold step of changing key aspects of the gameplay and I am pleased to say that in my opinion these changes have enhanced the 'Civ' experience. Whether you've played the first two games in this most illustrious of series or not, Civilization III is a must buy.

Deaf Gamers comment: The most important PC game of the year does not disappoint in its provision of text feedback. Indeed the whole game has been beautifully set out and is very visually appealing. There is no speech in the game and even the introduction video has only music to accompany it. All in all, Civ III is one of the greatest pieces of software that you could put on your PC.

Special thanks to Simon Callaghan for providing the review code for this game.