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Civilization: Call to Power

By: Bill Stiteler

 

Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Format: CD
Developer: Activision
Mac Port By: Westlake Interactive
Publisher: MacSoft
Minimum Requirements: 180Mhz 603e or 150 MHz 604 PowerPC, MacOS 7.6, 48MB RAM, monitor with support for thousands of colors at 640x480, 300MB hard drive space, CD-ROM, 28.8K modem for internet play
Network Feature: Yes
3Dfx Support: No
Retail Price: $44.89
Availability: Out Now

 

A simple request to the world: please stop improving things.

No, I'm not hijacking Applelinks to stump for Pat Buchanan. I'm making a plea to those of you reading this to please stop trying to better things that are inherently perfect.

I can't go into a restaurant anymore without asking them what kind of weird crap they put on their hamburgers. No, I don't want any apple chutney or spinach butter, thanks very much. Just put the jellied octopus on the side, I'll decide if I want it later.

And brownies. Brownies! Have people gone mad? I go to the buffet, and after skirting past the California rolls and leafy greens, I gratefully take a brownie and sit at my table, ready to savor the moist, rich purity of warm chocolate flavor, only to discover they've put walnuts in it. Walnuts!

And now, heaven help me, they've put walnuts in my Civilization.

Sid Meier's Civilization was and still is, without a doubt, the greatest turn-based strategy game ever devised for the home computer. I played the original Civ on my roommate's PC so much he had to use encryption to keep me out. I had to mail my Civ II disk to a friend in another city so I would get some actual work done.

What made it so great? Design. The game took an epic concept--the evolution of a small tribe into a world-spanning culture--and made it into a playable, highly enjoyable game. Sid Meier's Civilization II came out, but it was really more of an update to the original Civ. The graphics were better, a few quirks were fixed, and the game was a bit more detailed. But the essentials remained unchanged; complicated ideas and rules were presented simply, allowing you to focus on the truly elaborate task of building a civilization.

Alas, some people aren't satisfied with perfection. When Activision licensed the rights to produce a new version of Civilization, they jettisoned Sid Meier's name (good news for him), as well as the simple, elegant game interface which made Civ such fun to play (bad news for us). A lot of the press I heard about Call to Power emphasized how you could work "globally" on your cities, without the need to manage every aspect of each individual town. I found the opposite to be true.

I'll give you a glaring example which pops up early in the game. It is essential to build roads to speed the growth of your culture. They improve your trade routes, and make it easier to move units between cities. Roads are important. However, building roads is dead boring. Meier overcame this problem with a trade off; your settlers can build roads, but it takes them several turns to do so. Simple, yet effective. But the Activision team decided to "improve" upon this simple formula. Not only do you have to use a team of settlers to build a road, you have to save up (!) to do it. That's right, the streamlined process of building roads is now a multi-step, grinding process of going into your (cluttered) cities control screen, setting how much of your workforce you want to dedicate to "public works" and then waiting until you have enough public works points saved up to build a section of road. Oy!

This is a running theme of the game; things which are supposed to simplify the game turn into a convoluted mess. The new design is supposed to prevent micro-management of the game (a flaw I never really observed in Civilization), but the "ease" makes goofing up easier, and often you spend more time reversing your mistakes than accomplishing what you set out to do in the first place. You can queue the advancements you want a city to work on, for example, but you can't insert new items in the middle of the queue if an emergency comes up. You can auto-map a path for units to follow, but the auto-map is always on, and if you accidentally click when you don't intend to, your unit starts heading cross-country before you can do anything. And perhaps worst of all is a lack of continuity with the interface. Clicking on a unit selects it...sometimes. Other times, nothing happens at all.

One of the few good ideas the Activision team implemented was an obvious one; extend the timeline. The original Civ games ended at a time just beyond ours, with the "Cure for Cancer" and the colonization of other worlds. Call to Power reaches further, into a time when eco-terrorists can destroy polluters with nanotechnology, and cities can be built in orbit or on the ocean floor. But even this is as best a cruel gift, as you can't make up names for you tribe. The list of available names has been expanded to include Canadians and the like, but what if I want to enact the historical beginnings of the forgotten tribe of Morons? ("Moron scientists discover the secret of trade" was a favorite joke back in the day. Ah, youth.) How can you give me an orbiting city and not let me call my people the Hawkmen?

And yes, the graphics are better. I don't care. The simple fact is I spent so much time poring through the text, trying to figure out how to execute simple commands, that I didn't have time to admire the new look. Other good ideas, like having units be collectively supported by all your cities rather than be tied to the ones which created them, and the simplification of trade, get buried under the clunky interface which seems to exist to befuddle the user.

I don't want a football game where I have to learn the keystrokes to lace up the cleats of every player, and I don't like a world-building game where I feel like I'm on the city council of every town, trying to hammer out zoning laws. In short, Civilization: Call to Power plays like some horrific attempt to blend a strategy game with a flight simulator. I can see it now...the castle on the overlook, the scientist cackling with glee as lightning pours down to awaken his freakish creation. "Yes! Yes!" he cries. "Soon I will have the ability to elect PTA boards and manage adopt-a-highway programs! All I need to add are the walnuts!"

Truly, there are some things man was not meant to know.

 

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December 21, 2014

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