Civilization Is Back And It’s Far Out… Announced to some acclaim in April 2014, Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth (CBE) promised to go where no Civilization title had gone before … At least since Alpha Centauri came out in 1999.
Successor to both that title and Civilization V, CBE was developed by Firaxis, ported to the Macintosh by Aspyr, and released in the fall of 2014 on the Mac App Store and Steam. Note that the Steam and Mac App Store versions are not interchangeable. DLC packs won’t transfer and online Multiplayer is limited to the Steam version, though the Mac App Store version does support local LAN Multiplayer.
While CBE received good reviews from the gaming press, fan reaction has been less. Much of the opinion seems to come down to whether you played Civ V or not. Fans of Civ V feel that CBE is largely the same with different graphics and a few changes, while those new to the franchise praise the game for its depth and complexity. So the question is, is this enough of a new game to justify its purchase if you’re a Civ V player? And if you aren’t, is it a good game on its own?
Enter Beyond Earth on Mac
Your reviewer falls somewhere between an experienced Civ player and someone new to the series. I haven’t played Civilization since Civ II, though I did spend some time with the demo of Civ 4, which didn’t offer enough changes for me to buy. In fact, Civs I – V all seemed to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, CBE promised something more radically different.
My feeling is that this continues the evolutionary trend and isn’t as revolutionary as the developers might have promised. Even the game seems to acknowledge that, offering two types of in-game help: for those new to the franchise and for experienced Civilization players.
After a beautiful opening video setting up the leaving earth scenario (a mysterious calamity) and seeding your colony, you’re plopped down on a planet with a map like in the other Civ games, just with alien graphics, landforms and resources. I used the experienced Civ player help, and never felt completely lost; all the gameplay mechanics were essentially the same. It’s a turn-based game played on a hexagonal grid map where you create units, build buildings, research technology, expand your territory and decide how to treat others.
That said, this is an incredibly complex game, which requires you to keep track of many things at once. This has been true of all the games in the series, but some of the additions to CBE make it even more complex and difficult to figure out if you’re doing the right thing to win. I did feel a little confused at times, and referred to the online and in-game help (the Civilopedia) more often than I’m used to doing.
About Those New Features…
One of the changes from earlier Civ games is that instead of a tech tree you have a tech web. And what a web it weaves. It’s incredibly deep and complex. This non-linear web is a fairly important change, and allows greater flexibility in moving around and developing different technologies. It’s hard to tell whether you should focus on one or two of the strands and develop them deeply, or spread yourself around, but you definitely won’t get to everything in one game.
The other major new feature in the game is Affinity, and it’s kind of hard to explain. There are three different types of affinity: Harmony, where you try and merge your old-Earth humans with the new planet; Purity, where you try and stay true to your Earthly heritage; and Supremacy where your goal is to master and control the new planet. You can focus on completing one Affinity, which can lead you to victory, although you will probably make advances in more than one.
There’s a new orbital layer for controlling items in near space, instead of picking a traditional Earth civilization you “seed” your colony with various options at the start, and there are other changes throughout the game. But this remains at its heart Civilization, just not on Earth.
When it comes to Multiplayer, you have the Mac App Store experience (limited to local LAN Multiplayer) and the Steam experience. Steam Multiplayer allows hotseat, LAN and online cross-platform play. Online is played in simultaneous turns and the instructions warn you that you should be an experienced player before trying this. When I tried to join one of the few games that showed up on my multiplayer screen, I went through the process of setting up my faction, then nothing happened. It seems that multiplayer is largely designed for you to play with a pre-arranged group of people rather than randomly looking for a game to join.
But perhaps this was an isolated issue. Let us know in the comments if you’re Multiplayer experience was any better.
The game on my mid-2009 iMac ran smoothly, without any crashing and only brief graphic glitches when I scrolled too fast. The graphics and sound are, as would be expected, top notch. At higher resolutions, I experienced slow downs and jerky animations, but that’s to be expected on a 5 year old computer.
I didn’t find the soundtrack annoying as I often do, and everything ran smoothly with no crashes. Each faction’s buildings start out looking exactly the same, which is a little disappointing, but things do change over time as the different colonies take different paths.
My late-2009 27” iMac Specs:
- OS: Mac OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite
- Processor: Intel i7 2.8 GHz
- Graphics Card: ATI Radeon HD 4850 512 MB RAM
- RAM: 8 GB
Minimum System Requirements:
- OS: 10.9.5 (Mavericks), 10.10 (Yosemite)
- Processor: Intel Core i3 (2.2 ghz)
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: ATI Radeon 4850 / nVidia 640M /Intel HD 4000
- Hard Drive: 8 GB available space
- New gameplay elements
- Updated graphics and good soundtrack
- Sticks with a successful formula
- May not be different enough from Civ V for experienced players
- Multiplayer issues (hard to join a match)
- Different versions on Steam & Mac App Store
The Final Word
Civilization: Beyond Earth continues the evolution of the Civilization franchise, moving it off Earth and adding some new elements while staying true to the franchise. One thing I remembered in coming back to this franchise is how slow it can be at the beginning, when you only have one or two units, a small city and not much happens for many turns. If you need your games to dump you right into the fast-paced action, this might not be for you. But if you’re interested in spending hours of your time building a new civilization on another planet, and working to outwit and out-build your opponents, Civilization: Beyond Earth is up to the task.
Note from Ric: This Review comes from Steven Marx, one of Mac Gamer HQ’s most loyal reviewers.