The revolution will be playable on your television

There’s something inherently sad and a little pathetic about being addicted to a videogame. Worse by several orders of magnitude — measured in units that I will from now on call dorkstroms — is being addicted to a videogame that’s not even out yet.

The demo for Civilization Revolution came out last week, and I’ve already played through it 5 times now. The map never changes, and you can only pick from two leaders, and the demo cuts off at 1250 AD, right before you can reasonably win. And still, it’s somehow taken hold and convinced me I want to keep playing.

There’s no doubt it’s going to be criticized, repeatedly, for being Civilization IV “dumbed down” for consoles. But I really do think they’ve achieved their goal: making a version of Civilization IV that’s streamlined for consoles. It’s got just about everything that I like from the game, and it leaves out almost everything that makes the game a tedious drag. You can really tell that they went over the entire game and examined each feature — tech tree, unit selection, city buildings, wonders, terrain improvements, leader bonuses, roads, resources, espionage, etc. And instead of just deciding to leave it or cut it, they looked at what each feature gives the player, and thought of a way to give you the same level of control without the same level of micro-management.

One thing that I never see mentioned about the Civ games is that they’re clever, and they sometimes have a dry sense of humor. (But Civ IV takes itself a little bit too seriously). I really like the tone of this one; it stays pleasantly goofy without falling completely into ridiculousness. The Spy has a little song that plays when she runs, the advisors get annoyed when they get interrupted, and the advisor text has clever bits of real character. It was nice to see, because one of my favorite lines in any videogame is from one of the advisors in Civ III: “Maybe we could ride the horses!” Also, it’s neat how they name the unit upgrades, so you can end up with a “Ninja Tank Army” or “Stealth Archer”, with correspondingly different art.

It’s not perfect. My biggest gripe is that the map size is too small, making everything feel cramped and losing that feeling of global scale. It’s not Advance Wars, but it doesn’t feel quite like a planet, either. I still haven’t gotten the hang of combat; it seems to favor pre-assigned attack & defense numbers above anything else. And I wish you could set boats to auto-explore, although with the maps as tiny as they are, that’s probably not an issue.

I hated the advisors and world leaders at first, but they quickly grew on me. It was unexpected, because most games of this type just don’t devote that much screen space to characters. But in the end, it pays off, because it gives more personality to the proceedings than you get from little portraits tastefully sequestered into a small section of the UI. Best of all, you can turn off the volume for leaders and advisors independently, which makes them tolerable — at least in the demo, they all speak Simlish (some of the sound clips I’d swear are taken directly from The Sims), and it’s a whole new kind of annoying.

But overall, it’s exactly what I’d hope for in a game like this. I must have started hundreds of games in Civ IV and Civ III in my lifetime, but have only ever finished about a dozen. I’ve always loved the idea of Civilization more than the reality of it; at some point around the industrial revolution in every game of Civ IV, the fun gets sucked out of the game like oxygen out of an airlock. With Revolution, I feel like I’m getting exactly the level of challenge I want, but with games that I’ll actually finish.

Now I just have to see how many more times I can play the demo until the game comes out in July.