Civilization: Call to Power

Reviewed by: Doug Reed, send e-mail
Published by: Activision, go to the web site
Requires: Win 95/98, P-133, 32 MB RAM, 320 MB hard drive space (+80 MB for swap space), 16-bit high color video card, 4x CDROM, sound card
MSRP: US$34.99

If you read the box for Civilization: Call to Power (CCTP) you will seen the proclamation that this is the newest version of Civilization, the popular all-time classic strategy game originally designed by Sid Meier. Don't let appearances fool you however, CCTP is related to the original Civilization (and its sequel, Civ II) primarily by name only. CCTP is almost an entirely new beast and the brainchild of Activision, which gained access to the name after a court battle which saw Microprose (publisher of Civ and Civ II) and Avalon Hill (publisher of board games using the Civ name) each claiming that one or the other of the three parties was infringing on the copyright. The lawsuits were settled with the agreement that Microprose has the rights to the name but would license it to Activision. I wanted to get that out in the open because if you are expecting a "new" version of the original Civ or Civ II, you will be in for quite a surprise. CCTP borrows several elements from Civ/Civ II, but adds new ones and mixes the whole thing up to produce an entirely new experience.

CCTP is a hog of hard drive real estate, eating up some 320 MB of hard drive space. With that all that real estate comes some pretty looking graphics, easily the best of this genre of turn-based strategy games (also called 4 X games, for eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, and eXterminate). If you have sufficient hardware, the game defaults to a 1024x768 mode, although I found the resulting units to be pretty tiny on my 15-inch monitor and reset it to 800x600 instead. Unfortunately, the game requires that you exit the game and restart it in order for the new mode to work (which is a little odd - most games allow you to switching graphics modes "on-the-fly").

Playing the tutorial is highly recommended, especially for veteran Civ/Civ II players. Why? Because CCTP employs some very different concepts in comparison, and simply jumping right in will quickly put you over your head. Strategies I have employed in Civ/Civ II don't appear to work very well in this game, which came as quite a shock to me.

Some of the more interesting innovations include more control over trade routes and caravans, including the visual display of trade routes. You can even set units to raid trade routes, which adds an entirely new dimension to combat with an adversary. Another new dimension is the use of production units for "public works" instead of delegating settler units to building farms, mines, & roads. This is a nice touch, since the terrain does not end up littered with units trying to improve your empire. There are a slew of previously unheard-of units, including (but not limited too) the lawyer, cleric, ecoterrorist, bioterrorist, the corporate branch, and televangelist - all of which offer new options for bringing opposing empires to their knees.

One bug did crop up however - when one of my cities was "converted" by a cleric (which means that it gives 20% of its gold/turn to an enemy player) I was unable to convert it back. Another bug came in the way the game displays information on the map - roads had an odd way of "disappearing" from the map if not in site by one of your units. Once a unit came into site of the particular map point, the road "reappears". What makes this a pain is when you are trying to build a road between two distant cities - I was designating projects to build roads but no roads were appearing, so then I would try again, and again, and suddenly I had networks of roads running everywhere! I also noticed an unusual bug where sometimes the graphics in the game seemed to waver - kind of like looking through the heat coming off the asphalt roads in the summer, if you know what I mean. An odd & disconcerting effect, however the game did not crash during all of my testing.

The interface does take a little getting used too, mainly because although well conceived it can be hard to locate the appropriate command some times. It takes about an hour to get used too, then you actually get to where you can appreciate some of the new elements the designers have added.

Selection of race is an area where things could have gotten interesting - you can choose from any one of dozens of ancient civilization, including my beloved Scots. Unfortunately, these race names are cosmetic only - there are no benefits (or detractions) for choosing one over another. Sadly, the enemy opponents are also bland, lacking much of the charisma of previous versions of Civ/Civ II and none of the distinctive, unique qualities that made each of the factions in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (SMAC) different. Many elements have been grafted onto the game from the original Civ/Civ II - including the Wonders of the World. Most of the units and technologies are the same, although the technology tree is much broader than in Civ/Civ II (but not as much fun - gain a new technology and there is very little in the way of celebration). City micromanagement in the game is similar to that of Civ II, but does not even approach the degree of automation that can be achieved with SMAC. That is not necessarily a bad thing (it didn't bother me when playing Civ II), but once you've played SMAC you get a little spoiled! Combat has been totally redone, allowing stacked units and de-emphasizing technology, thereby allowing (for example) a group of pikemen to defeat a single tank by virtue of their numbers.

CCTP is difficult to win even on the easier levels; this seems to be primarily achieved by giving advantages to computer opponents as well as placement. In the first game I played, I found that I was placed on a small oasis between the ocean and a huge desert - while my opponents were all located in the grasslands! Needless to say, the growth of my cities lagged seriously behind that of my opponents, and it made the game much tougher to win. The design of the random maps does seem more 'realistic' than Civ or Civ II - while I didn't really appreciate being stuck in the desert, I liked the fact that it was such a prominent feature on the world I was playing on. The only really detractions to CCTP are the inability to design your own units, the lack of distinction between the various races, and the awful soundtrack that comes with the game - while interesting at first, it rapidly becomes very annoying.

I'd like to say that CCTP is a wonderful game deserving of everyone's attention. However, while the game adds a lot of new units, new Wonders, and an expanded technology tree it ultimately comes off seeming shallow and lacking in depth. The new units and visual trade routes do add some interesting innovations to warfare in 4x games, an innovation that I can only hope future 4x games will incorporate. The game is hampered by the fact that computer opponents are bland and lacking in character, not just in comparison to opponents in SMAC but even to those in the original Civ & Civ II. This is an egregious sin, because the interaction with the computer opponents and their different personalities is what makes Civ, Civ II and SMAC something special.

The graphics in CCTP are gorgeous, that is to be certain - but 4x games are about gameplay, not graphics. If conquering Earth sounds like more fun than conquering Alpha Centauri, this is the game for you. I am not totally against buying CCTP as there are some strong points and strategy twists that I liked and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone new to the genre of turn-based strategy games. But as for me, well I'm still a SMACer (and my wife is beginning to think I always will be).

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to:




© Copyright 2000-2006 All rights reserved. legal notice
home | previous reviews | forums | about us | search | store | subscribe


Forums Home Previous Reviews About Us Store Subscribe Search