You say you want a revolution... Well if that means dumbing down my all-time favourite strategy game to please console fanboys, you can count me out!
But my knee-jerk angry rhetoric, it seems, is somewhat misplaced. Instead of the expected cross-breeding of Civ IV with a cookie-cutter real-time strategy game to produce a bastardized and over-simplified mess that is only barely controllable without a mouse anyway, Civilization Revolution in fact represents a genuine effort to bring the Civilization concept to consoles. Now, I'll be the first to point out that it isn't an unqualified success. But Firaxis score points for coming at this with the right attitude – a rethink, rather than a dumbing down – and for actually making it playable. It won't please everyone, and it doesn't come close to replacing its PC parent title, but Civilization Revolution manages to stand on its own two feet. And that in itself makes it worth a look.
Obviously, the game needed to be less complicated in order to be manageable and palateable for the controller crowd. Just altering the controls for Civ IV was never a viable option. Rather than attempting to streamline that game, though, Firaxis have gone back to the drawing board completely, working from the ground up to create a new Civ game that was built to be streamlined.
While Civ Rev may look like Civ IV, it plays more like its earlier ancestors. Civ I and II were simpler games, so that's the template that has been returned to. The single number unit strength that Civ IV introduced is gone, taking with it the plethora of qualifications and bonuses for different units in different situations; it's back to Attack and Defense values – nice and simple. You can once again build caravans, creating gold for you (and a little bit for whoever's city you send it to). Armies are back as well: if you have three units of the same type they can join together into a single superunit (arse-kicking, and also easier to move from place to place). Government also reverts to the old style. And you no longer need strategic resources to build units (instead, a wide range of resources are visible across the map, and the bonuses they give to your cities are unlockable through technological advances).
However, I don't want to give the impression that this is simply an old version of Civ with a makeover. As well as the game features that have been 'wound back' to days gone by, there are further changes to make things quicker and less complex. Improvements are now no longer micromanaged at all; instead, you can pay gold to build a road between two cities (from the city menu). And, rather than speeding things up a set amount, roads are just a way of moving any unit between cities in a single turn. It's actually quite a neat approach, but it takes some getting used to, if you're a Civ veteran.
The paths to victory have also been overhauled. Domination (military victory) is achieved by capturing all the opponents' capitals (it's a little arbitrary for my liking, but I do admit it makes for a simple plan, and a quick game). You can also work for other kinds of victories, with the premise of these essentially being “rack up this much of that kind of achievement; then build the appropriate superwonder”. Economic victory, for example, is a matter of accumulating enough cash to unlock the World Bank, and then building it. These victories don't feel very realistic, but from a gameplay strategy standpoint, they are a lot easier to aim for than some of Civ IV's winning conditions.
Where Civ Rev truly shines, though, is in its transparency. You don't have to delve through lots of text to find out what a building does – the game informs you plainly in the city menu. That means that, for the uninitiated, this is a much friendlier game. And, while it comes close at times, it manages to avoid becoming irritatingly helpful, or giving the impression that you're forever stuck in tutorial mode.
The controls are, surprisingly enough, very good. Menus and decision making are handled with A (select/yes) and B (back/no). On the main map screen, the d-pad scrolls through units (up and down for units on the selected tile; left and right for different locations). Shoulder buttons bring up city and diplomacy menus, and the triggers give you vital statistics on you civ. Even unit movement – the biggest challenge of all – is handled smoothly: instead of arcade-style movement, the analog stick works as a cursor (so, as in Civ IV, you can order movement many turns in advance).
With these easy controls, and the simplified gameplay, you can get through a game in a remarkably short space of time. My first game – on the easiest difficulty rating (which should really be abandoned as soon as you actually know how to play) – took just two hours. That makes Civ Rev a good option if you don't have the time to commit to playing the real thing.
There is of course a flipside to this simplicity and speed. Sadly, Civ Rev retains very little of the rich experience of Civilization. It make sake the petty warlord's thirst for conquest, but for the true world leader, it fails to capture the true joy of building an empire. Because, to a Civ connoisseur, the details are important. Ultimately, Civilization Revolution abandons too much detail; it is too much of a compromise. Face it, though: it could never have been more than a shadow of Civilization IV.
For new players, it may be a stepping stone to true greatness. Fans of the older Civ games may enjoy it for nostalgia. It may also serve as a 'nicotine patch' for megalomaniacs; a healthier alternative to wasting whole days taking over the world. The serious Civ fans, however, should keep to their PCs: this one isn't for them.