|Whooooa. I'm an alien. I'm a legal alien. I'm an a-lien ea-ting planes.
It's finally here. Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is a sci-fi take on Civ V, obviously inspired by the likes of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri aka SMAC. Just like in SMAC, you're responsible for a colony ship that has landed on a distant, alien world, and it's up to you to either embrace the planet's xenobiology or exterminate it, paving the way for a New Terra. Alternatively you can take another route and just evolve humanity by cybernetic means. Anyway, I've managed to clock almost 2.5 hours with Beyond Earth so far and here are my initial thoughts.
What I like
- Quests: I'm really loving the quests system. It reminds me a bit of the ethical dilemmas you'd face in Galactic Civilization or indeed the random events you would encounter in Civ IV: Beyond the Sword. You usually get a choice of what you want to do which will give you different benefits for your faction. It definitely keeps the game interesting and helps immerse you into the role of colony administrator.
- Ability to customise civ on the fly: Following on from the quests I was mentioning before, these (along with a more flexible civ creation system) means you're not only able to have more say in what your civ's abilities are from the start, but also during the game. This means your civ/faction can adapt to how the game plays out instead of you, for example, being locked in as Venice or the Mongols on a map with hardly any city states in Civ V. Your civ is no longer doomed from the start.
- Raging Barb Aliens making the game more CvE than CvC: The aliens remind me of the Raging Barbarians mode in Civ V or the Native American tribes in Colonization: they're not to be taken lightly. Consequently this makes the game as much a Civilization vs Environment (CvE, to mangle an MMORPG term) game as the usual Civilization vs Civilization (CvC) game.
- Radial tech tree instead of a linear one: In Civilization you have a linear tech tree. Sure you can pick different paths along this tree but you'd eventually reach the same endpoint: "Future Tech". So far, it seems that Beyond Earth is quite different. With a radial tech tree there's the opportunity to take quite different research paths in each playthrough of a game. I'm not sure if that will actually be the reality (I haven't played enough of the game yet) but I'm curious to find out!
- Affinities: Yes, these may at first glance look like Civ V ideologies in different clothes, but there is a bit more to them than that. Picking a certain affinity path will not only alter how your units look but offer them different kind of promotions. For example, if you pick the Harmony affinity, your units can eventually benefit from the miasma that normally injures your units at the start of the game. Neat.
- Music: Geoff Knorr returns to score the music for Beyond Earth and I think this is his best effort yet. He really knows how to make an epic science-fiction soundtrack and that's exactly what we have here. Too bad that on release fans weren't able to actually access the soundtrack as Firaxis claimed.
What I dislike
- A lot of similarities to Brave New World: While Brave New World, the last expansion to be released for Civ V, is a good baseline to work from, it's obvious that many things have just been exported over and simply renamed or given a new coat of paint. For example, it didn't take me long to realise that this new thing called "health" is just another word for "happiness" from Civ V. I'm also disappointed that they've retained a very similar interface with respect to the notification pop-ups on the right-hand side. I still end up accidentally moving units whenever I right-click to close them!
- Blandness of improvements/wonders: Yes, I know they've adopted a similar aesthetic to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri with respect to the improvement and wonder icons, but again they come off as a bit bland
- Differences are minor between sponsors: Sure you can tell which sponsor is better for particular play styles but the bonuses are potentially minor in the grand scheme of things and when you take into account all the other customisation options you have for the expedition to the new planet, you might miss the clear cut differences between civilizations in previous Civ games, or even the factions in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. In that you knew Sister Miriam Godwinson was the religious fanatic and Lady Deidre Skye was the one to pick if you wanted to co-exist with Planet. Not really the case in this one.
- This is no Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri: Since I came in without any expectation this was going to be another Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, this one isn't such a downer for me. For those of you expecting to be able to terraform to the extent you did in SMAC, you're going to be disappointed. Likewise if you expect to have more customisation options with your units.
VerdictThis is definitely no SMAC but it's a pretty good game in its own right so far and there's enough going on in the background here to keep me busy for awhile. Think of it as a standalone, sci-fi expansion to Civilization V if you will with a revamped tech tree, raging barb aliens, a quest system and limited unit customisation thanks to affinities. If that sounds like fun to you, you're likely to be happy with Beyond Earth.
[ LINK: Official Civilization: Beyond Earth website ]