I have always enjoyed Sid Meier’s Civilization. I remember it way back when Civ I was released, I’d spend ages trying to work out what the hell was going on in game, and invariably getting wiped out by the AI. However, I can live with myself being horrible at strategy games at that point, because I’m pretty sure I was in early primary school. However the charm and guaranteed replayability of the series was present even in the early days. The sheer level of customisation of your game-play style to meet the opponents was, even back then, mind boggling. This led to the AI using every trick in the book to counteract your strategy, (and on the harder difficult levels, flat out cheating), which led to some civilisation leaders to stray slightly from their historical counterparts.
One of the strengths of the game, where it really shone was it’s multiple victory situations. You could win the game by wiping out everyone else and becoming the only Civ left, however, aside from that fairly predictable scenario, there was one other way of winning the game that is still my favourite way to play. The Space Victory. The premise is simple. You have expanded far beyond your means on Earth, the next step of development for humanity is to colonise the nearby star system of Alpha Centauri. This involves building a spacecraft in multiple parts, then launching to Alpha Centauri, thus ensuring your civilisation’s immortality.
My favourite game in the franchise is still Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, this spiritual, but unofficial sequel to Civ 2. In it, your victorious starship has reached the planet, and in a nationalistic display of unity and strength, immediately splits off into seven competing factions all vying for control of the planet under their banner through a variety of means. Which, if you have been paying attention so far, was precisely the same deal as the previous game. However, Firaxis have stated on multiple occasions that Alpha Centauri was never intended to be a sequel to Civ 2, and that all Civ franchise games are standalone in their own right. What sets Alpha Centauri apart however, and where it really captures your imagination, is through it’s storyline and setting. Fail to react in a measured way to either of these two things, and your colony will be overrun by the native ecosystem of the planet. Master the ecosystem of the planet, and win the game.
There is a certain charm from traditional Civ games that is lost when you remove the setting of Earth. No longer can you visualise what would have happened if Genghis Khan was around to fight Catherine the Great, or how exactly a war between the Aztecs and Bismark would look. What you gain though, is the limitations that these scenarios have. Alpha Centauri brought new ideas for in-game technologies and gameplay concepts. The “Barbarians” of Alpha Centauri can be tamed, domesticated, and then sent into battle for you. Terraforming is not just an option to make your life easier, you can use ‘formers as weapons of war. Change weather patterns, destroy enemy improvements, all of these are options to you.
Jumping rapidly from the old to the cutting edge, Civilization 5 once again provided a new take on gameplay that was growing slightly stagnant from Civs 2, 3 and 4. The square grid was replaced with a hex grid, the unit stacks were removed, and several game concepts were retired. Corporations? No more! Spies? Not for a long time (and available with DLC only). These key elements of change, along with a whole host more, have allowed the series to stay fresh over 20 years. Time and time again, Firaxis have proven that they are able to build on an existing concept, and take the series to the next level of gameplay.
So that’s why I think Civ:BE will be amazing. It promises to bring fresh ideas back to a new setting. This was of course written before the game launched and before I was able to experience it, but I fully expect nothing but brilliance from the team at Firaxis.
Oh, and you can play as Australia. #winning.
Pick up Beyond Earth here