[an error occurred while processing this directive] Review by Christoph Nahr

So far I've won one game on Medium with a high score victory, and lost a second game on Hard to my ally's high score victory (I came in 2nd place). Grifman was annoyed that I didn't mention any good things in my last post so I'll start out with the positive aspects. :-)

GOOD THINGS

Graphics -- yes, they *are* gorgeous. You don't get the realistic scale and all the animation details of Age of Kings but otherwise it's pretty close. Easily the best-looking turn-based game ever.

Stability -- to my utter amazement, the game only crashed once in 20 hours or so (on my Windows 2000 system). For a computer game these days (and by Activision of all companies) that's actually pretty good. I easily recovered from that one crash using the autosave function, which is now so fast as to be unnoticeable.

AI Diplomacy -- sure, cutting some of the many options wouldn't have been a loss, and immediate feedback is usually poor (just "yes" or "no", basically). But the AI is remarkably sane and reliable in its negotiations, and even makes reasonable proposals at times. None of the lunatic peace/war/peace/war switching as in other games. Sympathy and trust are tracked separately, where the first reflects their basic attitude as well as the amount of your bribery, and the second quite accurately reflects the human player's action (breaking treaties makes even sympathetic nations wary of you).

Combat System -- the first posts about "phalanx vs battleship" issues seem to have been based on a misunderstanding of the bombardment function (which is awkwardly implemented; artillery/bomber units by default try a close assault rather than shelling/bombing a target!) Stacks are now not only a convenience but a necessity: you must use combined arms to stand a chance at conquering a city. There are artillery & ranged units, flanking units (cavalry to tanks), and line units, all working as expected. Advance of military technology seems well-paced -- *not* realistic (that would be inappropriate for such a game) but just significant enough so that you *want* to upgrade your units but don't immediately *have* to, or be annihilated. CtP's trademark "special" units (lawyers etc.) are now properly delegated to a supporting role and no longer dominate the game -- they confer an advantage on those who use them but you can get by without ever building them, or even building special defenses against them.

Cities & Empires -- cities now harvest on an ever-wider tile radius as their population grows, and empires have a visible border as in SMAC. You can demand withdrawal of trespassers, and you can't build outside of your own national borders. Tile improvements use the same "public works" system as in CtP1 but harvesting is completely automated, too, which nicely streamlines the entire terrain management. You can still manually assign specialists if you need a boost in a certain production area. Trade is likewise managed from a central screen -- instead of manually sending caravans you just build them, then select from the available trade routes on this screen. On the whole I rather like this system, it keeps the decisionmaking of Civ1/2/SMAC while cutting out the tedious parts.

MIDDLING THINGS

Sound & Music -- I've grown used to the nondescript background music, and the sound effects are quite good. Nothing groundbreaking here. Then again, this isn't exactly what we play strategy games for...

Manual -- includes a tech tree poster and a helpful hotkey list. Rather comprehensive but skimpy on details, and the print is *way* too small (probably to keep the manual below 100 pages... grrr). It's also too wordy and not properly layed out for a reference manual. I prefer using the online "Great Library" rather than the manual.

Tech Tree -- the "wonders" of the original Civ were selected for a reason: they were the most widely known and admired manifestation of human productivity. CtP2's replacements still don't quite cut it, unfortunately. Still the extreme silliness of CtP1's overly futuristic tech tree has been cut back, and for the most part I find myself researching interesting things and building plausible units. Some reviewers claimed that they were frequently presented with only one choice; this barely ever happened to me, though I have to add that I didn't pursue an optimised research strategy yet.

Interface -- the programmers seem unfamiliar with a device called "keyboard" (maybe they are programming with touch pads?). Too many simple actions require mouse clicks, e.g. closing a message window. The map doesn't properly auto-center on the active unit, menu buttons mysteriously stay depressed after they have been released, there can be extreme delays before an input is recognised. On the upside, you can right-click anywhere to get a context menu that usually contains just the action(s) you wanted; there are convenient, comprehensive control screens for everything and anything; a searchable Great Library gives descriptions of most game concepts; the overview map is great if you're running on a hi-res screen; and despite the programmers' apparent dislike of keyboards, they did manage to put in some useful hotkeys. Once the interface is fixed it will be great!

BAD THINGS

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs -- there are some graphics glitches, the interface glitches mentioned above, and worst of all, some important numbers seem to be reported incorrectly late in the game. The empire screen should report total input & output of food, production & gold but this only seems to work early in the game. Later, improvements or actions that should cause significant changes in these figures don't seem to have any effect -- but they still affect the actual gameplay as they should, so I guess the problem is only with this report. Also, the research window show grossly incorrect research times late in the game; and I'm not talking about the Anarchy period where all such reports are way off. Maybe I'm actually reading some of these figures incorrectly but they sure seem fishy to me.

AI Attitude -- the AI seems generally competent at building its empire (though I can't say how much of this is cheating?), fighting other players, and conducting negotiations. However, even the "aggressive imperialistic" leaders in CtP2 seem to be devout pacifists -- it was nearly impossible to get them to attack me! They fought among themselves just fine, they also guarded their cities properly, but they wouldn't ever send an attack stack against me. Obviously this makes for a fairly dull game and for an easy highscore victory, if you just focus on expansion and research and avoid all combat. The changes suggested on the Apolyton site to give the AI more thinking time didn't have any effect; I suspect the problem is not with competence but with attitude.

In the genre classics, the AI would usually have a paranoid hatred for the human players, whereas CtP2's AI players are reasonable fellows (see AI Diplomacy above). It's funny because a non-psychotic AI is what we strategy gamers always wanted, and now we see it isn't really all that great... the AI is too predictable and reasonable, in a way it's *too intelligent* now! Maybe there's some undocumented switch to give it a negative attitude adjustment against human players?

CONCLUSION

This is what Call to Power should have been, rather than the unfinished mess that it was. Too many flaws for a classic but a good game still, and could be great if it's properly patched. The only real and potentially game-killing problem is the peacenik AI -- I'll keep upping the difficulty level and see if it makes a difference.

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