Hey civilization fans, four months ago I told you I would not buy Call to Power . Two months ago I could still be found heckling the game on the Apolyton Civilization Site forums. Two weeks ago I announced I would buy the game in lieu of a review. Time has an interesting effect on everyone and everything. The same seems to be true of Call to Power II.
When Activision left us civer's with what seemed like Call to Power version 5000 last year, for all the patching effort, many gamers still felt cheated of their money. Many felt that they had bought a good game that showed promise. I made little room for ambiguity about where I stood on the issue. I hated Civilization: Call to Power, and I expected to hate Call to Power II. I was offended that they had even announced the game.
How could I be more wrong? Everything I loathed, antagonized, and downright was nasty about in Civilization: Call to Power was fixed-A Miracle! And it's not even Christmas yet...
We'll start from the top on this one... the installation. Ah, yes, there's nothing quite like the smell of a freshly unpacked game that has arrived from the scalpers at Electronic's Boutique. I sat down at my "ghetto machine" and let the install process work its little heart out. I was flattered when it asked me if I wanted to run CtP2 in a high or a low system requirement situation, not something I expected. I said high, seeing as the "requirement" for the game was a Pentium 166. (Hindsight being what it is, I would call this reasonable as long as you have a tremendous amount of memory to back it up). The installation screen was fairly reminiscent of Civilization: Call to Power, with artist sketches and music (not the insane bongo solo of the original though). The similarities did not stop there... it managed to crash my ghetto PC after it had finished.
A reboot and a harsh word later, I was running Call to Power II. The intro movie is nice, but in no way eye-popping. The first thing I did once the game was up and running was look for the scenarios... for the sake of my sanity I found them... Call to Power II had passed the first test. I'll discuss more on the scenarios later. I figured it was time to start my first game of Call to Power II.
Actually... no, being the control freak I am I couldn't help but click on the ever tempting button labeled "controls." I can exercise my Machiavellian power trip even outside the game... Muahahahahaahahaha! Excuse me... uh, the button gave me options to re-map the controls were very nice, though I decided to opt with the default.
I set it up, which was a fairly simple procedure. Huge map, four civilizations (though I could have done eight, but I dare not overextend my ghetto machine), beginner mode, me as the great Stalin of the Russians, and a partridge in a pear tree. Well, maybe not the tree...
I got into the game and I said (in a Neo-esque way from a certain movie) "woah." The interface is so smooth and so slick I wanted to have kittens... er, maybe not. But I certainly was impressed! It took me a scant minute or two to get the hang of it and I was off and running. All the menus flow so nicely together and the drag and drop units... hohoho Merry Christmas... it's very exciting! The best was yet to come... I could cancel unit orders! Party!
When I had finished partying (yes, "sweet sorrow" as Bill Shakes once said... or was that parting... oh well), I realized I still had a game to play. This game is a ravishing success where it's predecessor fell flat on its face-The Curse of the One More Click. Yes, that sinking feeling you get when you realize that the pizza delivery has been standing at the front porch for an hour, that the sun has come up ten times while you sat in front of your computer, or that your offspring have been taken by Child Services because you could not manage to drag yourself away from the game. This is called "fun."
Even when I was bored to tears from the lack of action a huge map with just three civs (the Americans had fallen prey to the Barbarians) from the years 800 BC to around 1200 AD, I just kept clicking away. Moscow needed that new fishery and I had almost finished building the Hagia Sophia, which would solve my unhappiness problems... (ok, I was on beginner, there basically was no such thing as unhappiness on that difficulty).
With all this great power at my finger tips and the game seeming to be so clean, there couldn't be anything wrong with it, right? Wrong. For one, you can't name cities when you settle them, nothing major, but what if I want to name St. Petersburg "Pollution Lackey of the World"? (note from MarkG: there is a "AutoRenameCities" setting in userprofile.txt) That brings up and interesting point: Pollution. If you are a perfectionist that has any inkling to build a super-industrial city, turn it off, or you will pay through your nose in Public Works cleaning up pollution. I should also mention that the art is around 85% similar with the first installation of Call to Power. Another beef I had was that some "wonders" proved to be a monumental punishment to build (namely the Eden Project, the Nanite Defuser, and the Globesat). Also, it's hard to determine just how much a tile improvement will cost the player. Thankfully, none of these in any way impede gameplay if the right options are selected.
However, I can't let go of the fact that I could get size 20+ cities on but a single farm. In fact, farming didn't seem to do anything really useful in the game. I surrounded a size 50 city with Hydroponic Farms and a similar sized city with little farming still managed to match its rate of growth. All farming seems to do is keep the city's growth from stalling or allow players to have a city in the desert. The expanding city radius only seems to make ICS (Infinite City Sleaze), a tactic where the player only produces settlers in an expansion explosion, a whole lot easier (though I did not take advantage of it at the time).
OK, but enough with the nastiness and on with the game. The trade system was slicker than the first and I for once was actually encouraged to trade on a massive scale. I haven't traded like that since, oh I'd say the days of Colonization. Which, for those who do not know, was the game that introduced me to the Civilization series. The trade system could use some more breadth and depth to it, but it's the best I've seen yet.
This brings me to my next topic, the ever-enigmatic tech tree. This was obviously something that Activision did not spend a lot of time improving from Civilization: Call to Power. Why, even two thirds of the advances are the same. I was not impressed in the least with the tech tree and the lack of improvement or advancement in this area of the game.
I should give the AI some high marks, because even on beginner it was giving me a fair run for my money... (although by late in the game it was clear I was the alpha and the omega). For those of you who don't speak h4x0r (or is that Greek?), that means I was really powerful. The AI I went to war with (out of sheer boredom) had an annoying tendency to beef up their cities with really awful units backed up by some artillery that terrorized my panzer armies. They did manage to almost out-do me and capture a colony city on a continent I hadn't realize was so close to the front. I managed to win the game through a science victory because I didn't much feel like taking on AI players that had massive navies including (and I almost wet myself when I saw them build one because its unheard of in civ-type games) carriers!
With the game won, I instinctively moved onto the scenarios. Scenarios... the final frontier. Sometimes clichés just hurt. Anyway I spent a little time with each one and managed to lose rather quickly in the Japanese Feudal RPG scenario. Just looking at what some of these scenarios have to offer my creative brain made me repeat the phrase "wondrous potential" like a maniacal scientist from an Alien™ movie. Now the engine may have a lot to offer in terms of potential, but actually making something of its scenario editor is something else entirely. I guess it is a skill I shall have to work on in the coming months.
Now that I've gone and given a great review of Call to Power II, you readers may be asking yourself, "why such the low Value score?" For all it's glamour and glory, Call to Power II still stinks of its predecessor. For all it's goodness I can't help but think like the whole game is a sham, something the original, what I had spent my hard-earned dollars on, should have been. I felt like all I had in my hands was a big, gigantic, expensive, patch when I opened the box, and the feeling has not left me since. The game shares so much in common with the original, but is so much better, I just can't help but ask, "so why didn't they just delay the first till they got it right." Some blame marketing, I blame the almighty dollar. Call to Power II is without any doubt, merely the correction of the glaring mistakes of the first and put in new packaging.
So in final, Call to Power II manages to be a great game. I don't doubt that I may very well finally put my copy of Civ2 to rest (once I finish my last scenario)(Note from MarkG: hihihihihihi, you have been converted! ). Is it better than Civ2 in all respects? Sort of. Does it raise the bar for all other civilization-type games? Hardly; the game barely rates better than par. Like a Ford Pinto with $50,000 worth of modification effort put in, you just have to ask: "why?" Why on Earth would Activision put so much work into a game that was so hated, so despised, by so many civilization fans that it almost made the FBI's Most Wanted list?
The almighty dollar prevails once again. The first time around they managed to steal a good deal of money with a half-baked game. The second time they took their mutant and made a real game. I might as well end this discussion with a simple and easy to understand statement:
Call to Power II: Good
Any Questions? (Muahahahahaha! Suffer the wrath of my clichés one last time!)