Civilization: Beyond Earth (review)

BreakingModern — Shoot those aliens! Bring in the airships! Argh, the bugs have got me!

To be clear, Civilization: Beyond Earth isn’t strictly a shooter game. It’s more of a strategy game. You’re not just taking potshots at encroaching space aliens. If that’s what you want, you’ll undoubtedly be disappointed.

Beyond Earth

Before I go on, however, I want to say that this is not a bad game. Not at all. In fact, it retains many of the characteristics that made Civilization V a great game. If it has one fatal flaw, it’s this: it feels more like an expansion of Civilization V than a standalone game. Let’s take a look shall we?

I want to talk about Civilization: Beyond Earth’s new campaign because it differs significantly from other campaigns in the series. Instead of looking at a particular civilization from the Stone Age to the future age, Civilization VI is a science fiction story set 600 years from now.

In the future, a cataclysmic event known as the Great Mistake (which is never explained in the game, BTW), causes humanity to leave Earth. While this is going on, a group of nations and corporations establish a colony on a new Earth-like planet. These eight nations/corporations are your new civilizations in Beyond Earth (that’s significantly reduced from the 43 options offered in Civilization V).

Beyond Earth

In addition, there are no more awesome personalities. The leaders of the eight new civilizations are all generic — they basically respond in the same manner to all diplomatic negotiations. There’s no iteration of Washington (the reasonable one) or Gandhi (the warmongering one) in this version. More maddeningly, the leaders of Beyond Earth often remain mute. They simply wave a hand to indicate a yes or no response.

The civilizations too have almost no personality to them. Nothing is unique or interesting. Although, I have to admit, the units within each civilization are pretty diverse.

These units begin with basic templates (such as soldiers, light tanks, and missile launchers), but as you gain experience, the player can customize these accoutrements as desired.

Unlike previous games in the Civilization series, Civilization: Beyond Earth places a lot of emphasis on customization, giving the player a lot more freedom to customize his or her units within the tech tree. For this game, the tech tree has been greatly expanded, including a web instead of a tree as in previous games. The web gives a lot of options for the player, but at the same time, it’s very daunting and confusing. Plus, there’s no scientific advisor to guide you.

Gameplay in Civilization: Beyond Earth differs slightly too. There are three different affinities central to the outcome: purity, supremacy and harmony. And these affinities relate to three different types of victory in past games: cultural, domination and diplomatic. These three affinities put the player in more specific routes to victory, and give unique units to the player depending on which one he or she chooses. In this way, Firaxis (the game maker) has done a good job reinventing old concepts and making them compatible with the new timeframe and environment.

This brings me to the topic of aliens, something that any sci-fi game on a new planet will have to deal with sooner or later. Aliens are like barbarians in previous games, but not exactly. Aliens aren’t always hostile and they can be befriended should one decide to pursue the harmony affinity.

However, just like in the movie Avatar, they can also be attacked, and will attack should a player get too close to their nests. Aliens have their biases, and if one civilization manages to anger the aliens, they turn hostile to all civilizations. This allows you to screw over your potential opponents by manipulating the aliens in your favor.

Don’t fret if you manage to piss off the aliens. They aren’t very powerful. They are numerous, though. So I wouldn’t engage them in early- to mid-level gameplay. Firaxis did do a good job with the alien mechanic, making them friendly or hostile based on the players’ actions, instead of some other games that make the natives automatically friendly or automatically hostile. This gives an extra element of strategy to either help you win against your human opponents, or can be free land to be run over to be exploited to build your empire.

Beyond EarthTwo final comments: Firstly, the A.I. in Civilization: Beyond Earth is fairly easy to walk over because it’s not very aggressive. Keep in mind, however, that if you threaten a rival city, the A.I. will react. And secondly the graphics and the mechanics of the game are pretty stellar. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone; Beyond Earth borrows the same engine from Civilization V.

Overall, I would give this game a 7/10. It’s a good game, a lot of fun, addicting and a fresh new start for the franchise. But like I said earlier, it just doesn’t feel like a standalone game. Plus, I feel like the game makers stripped away many of the features that could have prevented the game from being repetitive. I don’t think Firaxis tanked its customers like Creative Assembly did with Rome II: Total War, but I think a lot more could’ve been done with this game. The game is available from a variety of vendors, including Amazon.

For BMod, I’m Puching Zhang.

All Screenshots: Puching Zhang

Puching Zhang

Author: Puching Zhang

Based in Chicago, Puching Zhang covers the gaming beat for BreakingModern.

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