Tag Archives: firaxis

Civilization Through The Ages: Civilization 3

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Civilization 3 was the first Civilization I actually bought with money. It was released in 2001, and by that point I wasn’t having to rely on bootleg copies or swiping my brother’s Civilization 2 CD when he wasn’t looking; I was still in sixth form1 but had a small amount of disposable income thanks to a rather unpleasant summer job, and so I wandered down to Dixons2 the lunchtime of release day and bought what might actually have been my very last big-box3 PC game ever.

It was a big disappointment.

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  1. Note for any non-British people reading: the sixth form covers studying for your A-Levels between ages 16-18. At the time it was the thing you did if you wanted to go to university, but these days the government keeps people in education until they’re 18 to keep the unemployment figures down.
  2. Note for any non-British people reading: modern British high streets are derelict wastelands thanks to the rise of online retail, but twenty years ago they were in rather ruder health and you could find shops that sold things outside of clothing and food. Still, even back then Electronics Boutique and HMV wouldn’t venture outside of the cities, and so if you wanted to buy a PC game in a smaller town you had to fall back to Dixons, a seemingly-omnipresent electronics retailer who would at least carry the biggest releases for a few weeks as part of their PC section.
  3. Note for any non-European people reading: big-box PC games died earlier in Europe than they did elsewhere (I understand they held out in the US for a few more years before eventually succumbing there too), and by 2001 most new games were being shipped in smaller DVD-style keep cases.
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Replay: XCOM 2 – Long War 2

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I’ve not dabbled with mods for many years. That might sound a little strange considering the high volume of PC games that I get through, but it’s partly because of the high volume of PC games that I get through: I usually play games with an eye to reviewing them, you can’t review them fairly if they’re plastered in mods, and over the last few years I’ve had little time to revisit games I’ve already played to see how they change. With the slightly more relaxed (or less obsessive, anyway) attitude I’m taking this year, though, I have the opportunity to do ridiculous, time-expensive things like reinstalling XCOM 2 along with the recently-released Long War mod for it to see what all the fuss is about.

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Thoughts: Civilization VI

civ6_scythia

God help me, but I was actually looking forward to Civilization VI. After experiencing both Civilization V and Beyond Earth at launch I really shouldn’t have been; both were eventually patched into a decent state and after two expansions Civ V even went on to surpass its predecessors, but at launch they were flawed, buggy messes with plenty of basic functionality missing. Given Firaxis’s previous track record here it seems foolish to have expected great things from Civilization VI on launch, but after peeking at the development videos I just couldn’t help myself. The lead designer is the guy who pulled Civ V out of the muck. As a headline idea I can’t exactly call unpacking city management onto the world map inspired since Endless Legend got there first, but it’s potentially completely game-changing and Civ VI looked like it was going to explore the concept in far more depth. And in a departure from previous Civs they weren’t going to leave trade, espionage and religion for the expansion packs and instead integrated them into Civ VI as core features, essentially making it a Greatest Hits version of Civ V post-expansions. How could this possibly go wrong?

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Thoughts: XCOM 2

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About six months after my glowing review of the original XCOM reboot I wrote a followup piece that comprehensively laid into the game for flaws that had become apparent on subsequent playthroughs. The aliens’ completely passive presence on the geoscape. The introduction of new, tougher enemy types being linked to your completing plot missions that had no time factor involved, allowing you to game the system by researching endgame weapons and armour before tackling any of them. An inverse difficulty curve where the first three months of the game were by far the hardest as you desperately tried to keep your rookies alive with only basic weapons and equipment. A whole host of paper tiger systems (such as panic), where the various NPCs screamed at you to play the game in a certain way in an attempt to mask the fact that playing slowly and cautiously — and liberally vomiting explosives anywhere in direct contravention of Vahlen’s instructions — would result in flawless completion of 95% of missions. The Enemy Within expansion pack alleviated some of these flaws, but it couldn’t fix the worst of them as they were baked into the very structure of the game itself. Any trulycomprehensive cure would require a complete restructure of XCOM’s systems that only a sequel could provide.

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Thoughts: Beyond Earth – Rising Tide

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Firaxis are a developer with a reputation for releasing expansion packs that dramatically improve their base game. Yes, you can say that this is partly because the base games tend to be broken, unbalanced or otherwise underwhelming in some way, but there’s no arguing that Civilization V was a much better game after Gods and Kings, and while Enemy Within added some flab in the form of Exalt it did wonders for the pacing and balancing of the XCOM campaign as a whole. They’re commendably committed to improving and expanding on their games post-launch; even so, the existence of the Rising Tide expansion pack for Civ-V-In-Space ‘em up Beyond Earth surprises me more than a little. There was so much wrong with Beyond Earth that I was convinced that this time around Firaxis would just tie a rock to it and let it sink rather than send good development money after bad.

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Thoughts: Sid Meier’s Starships

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Sid Meier’s Starships. It’s not a name that sounds particularly promising, is it? Sid’s a fan of pithy one- or two- word titles, and he’s used them to great effect in the past. What else would you call a game about the progress of human society through the ages except Civilization? They are usually appropriately descriptive; in Railroad Tycoon you play the part of an 1830-era railroad tycoon. Even the simplest ones were jazzed up by the addition of an exclamation mark: Pirates! is a little muddy as a descriptor, but you can at least tell Sid is very excited about it and thinks you’re going to have a lot of fun playing it. (And he was right.) Even the worst of his games, Railroads!, was saved by the exclamation mark and by the fact it did somewhat signal the transition from meaty business sim to playing with a virtual toy railway set.

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Thoughts: Beyond Earth

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Beyond Earth is a doomed-from-the-start attempt to shift the familiar Civilization empire-building action into the future. It’s doomed because no matter how good Firaxis made this game, by setting it around the colonisation of an alien world it draws inevitable comparison with one of Firaxis’ very first products: Alpha Centauri, a game that’s rightfully regarded as one of the genre’s absolute classics. Beyond Earth was never going to live up to Alpha Centauri’s better qualities, both real and imagined, and I’ve tried to take this into account when playing the thing; Beyond Earth should be judged on its own merits, not the nostalgia-fuelled remembrance of a sixteen year-old predecessor. What surprises me, however — and especially so for a Firaxis title — is that even if you take SMAC out of the equation, even when you compare Beyond Earth to the modern Civilization franchise that spawned it, I think it fundamentally still isn’t a very good game.

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