American patriot Patrick Henry once famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization (a remake of 1994’s Sid Meier’s Colonization) takes that quote quite literally: as the leader of the English, Spanish, French, or Dutch colonial efforts, your singular victory conditions are to colonize the New World; build a thriving, self-sufficient nation; and win your independence from Europe in a revolutionary war. It may be smaller in scope than we’re accustomed to in a Civ game, but it’s still extremely addictive and complex in its own right.
As in Civ, you start by founding a single colony and exploring the map (random, or pre-made scenarios based on the Americas), but from there on out the challenge is entirely different; Col is more about trade economics than warfare or diplomacy. You must extract raw resources from the land and produce goods for sale back in Europe, and then spend the proceeds to recruit more colonists to expand your operation. While the game has some impressive automation features for those averse to micromanagement, much of the joy early on comes from setting up your colonies just right - cultivating the land, training specialized colonists and assigning them to specific tasks, and building structures to enhance production. Later in the game, automation becomes a necessity, as guiding the production of goods such as muskets on a large scale would be maddeningly complex. I particularly appreciate the wagon train automation, which allowed me to designate which supplies should be imported and exported from each colony and then sit back and watch as the wagons redistributed them accordingly.
Meanwhile, other Europeans competing for territory must be dealt with either diplomatically or militarily. Neither system is particularly well fleshed-out, though. Combat is a little simplistic - with only three military units (soldiers, dragoons, and canons) and three warships to choose from, it’s not the deepest part of the game by any means. At least upgrades earned through combat experience allow you to specialize your troops to some degree. You also have to deal with the inconvenient fact that there are already people living on the land you’re trying to colonize. Plundering Native villages for a quick buck and free territory is only one of your options - playing nice gives you a free place to train your colonists, a source of converts, allies against your enemies, and trading partners (and you don’t have to spend a bunch of resources to fight a war). It’s often much easier to kill them with kindness, as they will offer to give you their settlements when your borders expand around them.
Once you’ve built up your colonies and grown tired of your King’s constant demands for higher and higher taxes and tribute, you must declare your independence. The revolutionary battle becomes grueling, though, especially as the difficulty level increases. Wave after wave of the King’s troops land on your shores - usually in the same exact spots - and attack. It’s a test of endurance that the game up to this point has left you pretty much completely unprepared for, so, unless you know what’s coming and have spent the past 100 turns or so building up your military, you’ll probably be overwhelmed.
Some areas of questionable balancing make the late game tricky to navigate. First and foremost, the attacker seems to have a huge advantage in combat - I lost far too many battles from within heavily fortified cities, and dragoons seem to win nine out of 10 battles regardless of what unit they’re fighting and where, making a good offense your only real defense. That’s manageable against Natives and other colonies, but during the revolution with literally hundreds of enemy troops landing? Not so much. Also, once you’ve educated a few citizens in your schools, the amount of time it takes to graduate them makes it completely impractical - you’re better off just buying specialists from Europe.
Each of the four playable European powers (England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands) has a unique advantage that affects your strategies, and each has two leaders with an additional bonus. The Dutch, for instance, have a more stable economy, and depending on which leader you choose, you also get either increased production or fewer tax hikes from the King. And in place of research, Col lets you recruit founding fathers to your Continental Congress for added bonuses. With a different set of bonuses each time on random maps, there’s more than a little replayability potential here.
Civ IV’s rock-solid engine has gotten an impressive graphical update, with lush green environments and reflective water. The world looks almost too good for this kind of game, since you can’t tell just by looking at a tile exactly what kinds of resources you’ll get by building a colony there, but that’s a problem easily solved by enabling the resource display view. Recognizing that nothing kills an extended play session like bad or repetitive music, Firaxis included a wide selection of excellent-quality tunes in both American Revolutionary War–era and Native American styles for your listening pleasure.
If you and up to three friends have some serious time on your hands, you can kill it with a round of online multiplayer (Internet, LAN, or by email) or in hotseat mode - though you shouldn’t expect to finish a game unless the lot of you are extremely dedicated to the cause. If you missed Col the first time around (and most of you probably did), now is an excellent chance to pick it up and dive into the colonial era. Even with a single path to independence and the balance issues, there are so many different factors that go into achieving victory that it will take many, many replays before it becomes monotonous.
PC Gamer scores games on a percentage scale, which is rounded to the closest whole number to determine the GamesRadar score.
PCG Final Verdict: 84% (excellent)
Sep 19, 2008