Anyone who has played any of the Civilization series understands how very, very addictive those games can be. I myself remember playing hours upon hours of Civ II. I was never very good at it, but that didn’t stop me from attempting world domination. Still, there was room for improvement in the series, and while Civ III never quite got there, Civ IV is a huge improvement on the overall formula and is a wonderful game.
The goal is simple: Dominate the world. In previous versions of Civilization, this generally meant destroying all other civilizations on the map. However, Civ IV provides many new ways to dominate your enemies. Culture is an important concept in this game, and it is possible to win over opposing cities if your cities are culturally powerful enough. You gain culture by building certain city improvement, by producing great people and by building Wonders. Of course, you can still try to win the space race, or to dominate the world landmass or population. You can even win a diplomatic victory through the U.N.
The whole interface is much more streamlined compared to previous games. You rarely need to use the keyboard to do anything—the mouse can accomplish pretty much anything you need it to. It’s easy to see what each square of terrain produces, and the strength of your armed forces. The game is all about micromanagement, and the developers have really managed to make it simple to learn. Of course, mastery is still very difficult, but the fact that the game controls easily makes things much less frustrating than it could have been.
In terms of graphics, Civilization IV looks really nice. All of the units have their own little animations when fighting, and everything looks smooth and fluid. There are little extra things that make the game map come more alive: For example, when your units move into a jungle or forest, birds fly out. The overall style is bright and colorful, but still somehow realistic. Textures are simple, but the world map looks great. I love that you can play from a very zoomed-out position, or you can zoom in to individual units, and it still looks good.
Sound-wise, Civ IV really excels. The music is extremely catchy, particularly the opening song that plays during the menu. It’s never too intrusive or distracting. It blends into the background and provides support without overwhelming. Leonard Nimoy does much of the voice work in the game—another little perk. Sound effects are solid and realistic, if occasionally a bit repetitive.
Civ IV is one game that can be played over and over again, and each game will be somewhat different. You can try different tactics, play with different civilizations and leaders (each one has certain bonuses associated with it), or you can try playing on the higher difficulties. To date, I have yet to win a game above the third difficulty level. It gets much more challenging when you play on higher levels. In addition, the AI is much smarter in this game than in previous iterations. The computer is more tactically and politically apt, and at high difficulties, very aggressive.
For anyone who enjoys strategy games, Civilization IV is not to be missed. Seriously. If you don’t already own it and are thinking about buying it, don’t waste any more time. It’s addictive, well-made and challenging. There’s even an online option in case you get bored playing against the computer. This is one game any fan of strategy and tactics should own.