Published on November 20th, 2014 | by Meirion Jordan3
Civilization Revolution 2 Review
It must suck to be the brother of a famous rock star. There’s the family resemblance, the one that makes strangers hurry obsequiously across the street towards you, so that you think you’ve made a new friend until you see the disappointment rise over their faces. There’s the surname confusion, where people on the phone ask excitedly ‘Mr. Jagger…’ until you have to politely but firmly say that you’re not that Mr. Jagger. Life continually reminds you of how great it could have been, until in desperation you turn to your Android tablet and seek solace in 2K Games’ new 4X strategy title, Civilization Revolution 2 (Civ Rev 2 for short). Surely a bit of empire-building, city-founding, war-mongering, wonder-constructing strategy will make you forget your troubles?
Well, no. It seems that the world sucks just the same all over, because damned if Civ Rev 2 doesn’t suffer from the same phenomenon. In so many ways it looks and feels like Civilization 4 (by far the greatest game of the Civilization series): it has the classic ‘square tiles’ look, the same visual aesthetic of brightly-colored realism (here taking on a more cartoonish feel), and it takes a similar approach to combat by allowing units to stack up on a single tile. This last feature is particularly welcome after Civilization 5’s one-unit-per-tile shenanigans: narrow isthmuses and peninsulas are no longer the staging-grounds for epic unit traffic jams. And indeed many of the design decisions in Civ Rev 2 seem to have taken at least a healthy dose of inspiration from the way that Civ 4 did things.
Take the tech tree, for example. It’s less a tree, of course, than a sort of multi-lane tech-road leading from pointy sticks through to stealth bombers, but its progression has the same feel as Civ 4. It has the same military-technological bottlenecks that its bigger PC brother had, and I found that rushing through the tree to get fast access to catapults, cannon, or artillery could have the same devastating effect, allowing you to overwhelm defenders with a sudden rush of superior units. Civ Rev 2 does offset this by making it more difficult to upgrade older units (so you can’t use gold to quickly bring an army of older units up to date), but I still felt rather at home trying to push for important techs before the AI.
This doesn’t mean that Civ Rev 2 hasn’t tried to steer the gameplay in a different direction, though. The combat system has been revamped to give units both attack, defense, and health stats, replacing the single ‘unit strength’ score of Civ 4. You can also group together any three units of the same type to create an ‘army’ unit that has three times its attack and defense power; it’s clear that the developers were trying to add some interest to the ‘stack of doom’ mechanic (that is, piling all your units together into one big stack and rolling inexorably over your enemies) that dominated many casual players’ experiences of combat in Civ 4. But I’m not sure it really works: army units very quickly become almost the only effective units available, and the triple-strength effect simply makes discrepancies in unit veterancy and technology all the more glaring, especially in defense. Cavalry has likewise taken a big hit to its usefulness, with the only early- and mid game unit with two moves per turn becoming obsolete far too quickly; this simple fact, combined with the player’s inability to build roads in specific places to speed up an army’s movement, seriously reduced the depth of combat by forcing armies to stumble one tile at a time towards the enemy defences. Add to this the fact that Civ Rev 2 makes it very difficult to chip away at strong units with slightly weaker ones (even a slightly stronger unit will often simply win outright, without taking damage) and wars can slow down to a stalemate all too quickly.
Part of this problem is that the ‘stack of doom’ wasn’t a problem that needed fixing. Both Civ 5 and Civ Rev 2 have ended up defining their approach to units, tactics and combat by preventing it, yet they both have failed to appreciate that it was actually a problem caused not by the combat system itself but by the way the AI handled combat (the stack of doom was not a viable tactic in competitive multiplayer games of Civ 4). And I have to say that though Civ Rev 2 has made a far better job of it than Civ 5 did, its combat system is neither more streamlined nor more nuanced than that of its big brother and predecessor. Even on Deity difficulty (the hardest one, non-Civ fans!), if I found myself in a difficult position and facing down the immense production bonuses the game hands to the AI, I could keep wars at a stalemate for far longer than felt sensible. The lack of ways to deal damage to emplaced or fortified defenders makes wars boil down to either a stalemate or a technology advantage.
But this also brings me back to the central problem of the rock star brother phenomenon: it’s incredibly difficult to talk about Civ Rev 2 without talking about its better-known PC stablemates. This might have been easier had the game not been heading quite so clearly in the ‘Civilisation 4 Lite’ direction, but nonetheless it makes discussing Civ Rev 2 purely on its own merits a difficult enterprise. And there are real merits here, because at its best I found Civ Rev 2 to have rather fluid pacing, with games being for the most part quick and action-packed. During my time with the game I realized I wanted to learn more about the game’s deeper mechanics, and found myself scribbling suggested optimal tech paths down in my notebook halfway through my first few games. Streamlined as it is (though not always in helpful ways), Civ Rev 2 clearly also harbors some of the hidden depths of its Civilization extended family. Provided you can overlook the frustratingly war-crazy AI (another downgrade from Civ 4) there’s an enjoyable time-sink here for those who like to play something a bit more cerebral than Angry Birds while on the move. This is Hardcore Droid, after all, so I’m guessing that’s what you’re after.
And this brings me to my defining moment with Civ Rev 2. I’d started a test game as India on Deity difficulty, to see if I could exploit some of the potential synergies I’d noted in my previous playthroughs. It turns out that I couldn’t, mostly down to the hefty advantages the Deity AIs get, and I ended up locked in a war with an American AI that could out-build and out-tech me despite having fewer cities. I had to defend with fewer units, ambushing and blowing up the AI armies from the woods as they tried to push towards my territory. I scratched my head, I puzzled over my next moves, and only realised about half an hour in that I was, in fact, having fun. And that’s what Civ Rev 2 is. It’s a fun diversion for those who want to remind themselves of why they liked Civilization games in the first place. It lacks many of the more interesting empire specialization options and tactics of Civ 4, but it still doesn’t compare all too badly with other games in its mighty lineage. This is no bad thing on the whole: for all its console origins, Civ Rev 2 feels like a tablet game at heart, and an above-average one at least.
I should finish up by adding two caveats to this endorsement. The first is that, like a large number of other people on the Google Play store, I had some serious problems getting this game to run at first. Maybe it was my old Samsung tab, but this game at first refused to either work on my tablet or on Bluestacks, my go-to Android emulator. I did eventually find a workaround for my problems, but I’d recommend that buyers check the game will run properly on their devices within the two hour Google Play refund window: start a game, play for an hour, see if it runs properly and get your money back if it doesn’t. The second caveat is that the conversion to tablet has made the interface feel cramped and often too simplistic, with interesting options often either difficult to find or culled from the game altogether. Worse, I found that my smaller tablet forced some of these icons closer and closer together, resulting in irritatingly-regular mis-taps. Perversely, this game seemed happiest for me on an Android emulator, and it will likely be those with newer, more powerful tablets to hand that will be best placed to sound out the intricacies of this game.
Summary: A streamlined, cartoony version of a great game, Civilization Revolution 2 keeps the fun of the series intact whilst shedding some of its depth. Some frustrating design decisions and the odd technical wobble stop it short of tablet greatness, but there’s still enough here to let hardcore players get their 4X fix.