Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

"No village was ever ruined by trade"

  • Developer: Firaxis
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 23 October 2014
  • Time played: 14 hours

This game is probably one of my most anticipated games of 2014. When Firaxis mentioned they were making a sci-fi Civ V, I, along with a lot of other fans, were ecstatic since the game sounded like it drew a lot of inspiration from a 1999 classic called Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. EA still owns the rights to the Alpha Centauri name so they obviously couldn't use the name again but when fans heard you would be taking a colony ship to a strange, alien world where its inhabitants were a considerable threat to the settlers, you can understand why they started drawing parallels.

Others too young to remember Alpha Centauri probably just thought Firaxis were ripping off James Cameron's Avatar but hey, whatever works.

Plot (5/5)
Beyond Earth is set hundreds of years in the future where Humanity have sent colony ships to a habitable planet to escape "Old Earth". Apparently the Earth we know is pretty much dying thanks to global warming, wars, famine, overpopulation etc. all the stuff that's happening now pretty much but on a greater scale. In the game, they refer to this as "The Great Mistake" and as a result of this, eight factions, which roughly represent the different regions of Earth (i.e. North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Russia, India, China and Oceania) set off to another planet to start a new life.

Just as it was with Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, you can definitely tell that Firaxis went to a lot of effort in creating a believable universe here with comprehensive bios on each of the expedition sponsors, backgrounds on the factions they represent and hundreds of quotes that are based off fictional books and speeches. While I still think Alpha Centauri did better in distinguishing one leader from another, Firaxis have still done a pretty good job.

I also like how the story of your people is tailored to the way you play. Your explorers will come across many relics, ruins and downed satellites that will offer you mini-quests that result in quest decisions once certain criteria are met. These "quest decisions" usually offer you two or more choices and not only do these choices change things from a story perspective but they also give tangible benefits to your faction too. Quest decisions are also triggered when you build an improvement for the first time in your "empire", such as a pharmalab - so there's definitely no shortage of them.

Gameplay (4/5)
For the fans of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, let me say now that you're likely to be disappointed. There is no advanced terraforming such as raising mountains or creating lakes, and there's no advanced customisation of units either. Also, while the game has taken Brave New World as the baseline, which is a good idea, there are several things that are pretty much unchanged besides some renaming of terms: gold is now called energy, happiness is called health, social policies are called virtues and a good majority of gameplay is exactly the same. So the fans of Civilization V: Brave New World hoping for something completely different, are also at risk of being disappointed.

However, there are some changes to the game that seem on the surface superficial but are actually quite complex if you dig deeper. For starters, there's now a radial technology tree instead of the linear one you have in normal Civ games. It's true you're able to choose how you traverse the tech tree in Civ but you'd always end up at the same destination: "Future Tech". In Beyond Earth, the radial tech tree means there isn't any clear end-point. You have main research topics known as "branches" but if you wanted to go more in-depth with a particular research topic you can pick its "leaves" to research. The tech tree can be quite overwhelming for newcomers, even Civ veterans might struggle a bit, but thankfully there's a search box where you can type in the name of a tech, improvement, wonder, unit, etc. and it will centre the tree in the right spot. One thing I don't like however is how the icons under each research topic are in the same "blueprint" style. This means it's quite hard to tell at a glance which research topics unlock certain wonders, improvements or units.

I also like how in Beyond Earth that there's more customisation options for your faction even after the setup screen where you pick which colonists you're bringing aboard or whether your ship has a Fusion Reactor or Retrograde Thrusters. Thanks to the Quest Decisions I mentioned earlier, you'll be able to decide whether your faction will focus on production, wealth or population growth, to name a few potential areas. Through these Quest Decisions and also certain research topics, you're also able to earn points in what are known as Affinities, another new feature. Affinities work similar to the three ideologies you get in the late-game of Civilization: Brave New World but this time the three you get to pick are Harmony, Supremacy and Purity. Depending on what level you are, each of these Affinities offer different benefits, such as increased attack strength against the local alien inhabitants or the ability to plant "dirty bombs" during covert operations. Reaching Level 13 in any of these Affinities also unlocks a unique victory project meaning there are five potential ways to win a game of Beyond Earth, the other two being a Science Victory and the good ol' Domination Victory. The amount of customisation and choice you get in Beyond Earth is a far cry from Civilization V where you had certain civs that are pretty much locked in to a particular strategy from the start of the game (e.g. Mongolia, Venice, etc.).

Finally, I also like the fact the local alien inhabitants are a force to be reckoned with - a bit like Planet's lifeforms in Alpha Centauri or a more formidable pack of Raging Barbarians from Civilization V. It basically makes the game a balance between Civ versus Environment (CvE) and Civ vs Civ (CvC) instead of the usual predominantly CvC experience you have in most Civ games.


Sound (4/5)
There's the usual voice acting you'd expect from a Civ V game for the leaders and the technology quotes, which is generally of good quality (and authentic with respect to some of the languages the leaders speak in). However, I do wish the leaders had a greater variety of comments to say since if I hear Samatar Jama Barre say "No village was ever ruined by trade" one more time there's going to be hell to pay (or several ruined People's African Union villages).

Music (5/5)
Geoff Knorr does a fantastic job with this soundtrack. You can tell he's definitely borrowed elements from popular science fiction themes (one of them even sounding a bit like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and why not? It just helps amplify that sense of wonder and exploration; it makes you realise that Humanity are on an epic adventure on an alien planet, trying to not only survive, but to finally answer the question: "What defines a human being?" The fact Knorr manages to evoke these feelings just from his soundtrack is an astounding accomplishment. I would even go so far as to say that it's the best soundtrack I've heard in a Civilization game to date, although I do have a soft spot for Christopher Tin's "Baba Yetu".

Graphics (4/5)
The graphics are on par with those seen in Civilization V: Brave New World and are quite stunning, even with the purple fungal planets. I reckon they could've done slightly more with the clothes that the leaders wear depending on which affinity they've adopted. Some of them look quite bland to start off with. Speaking of which, your units (and even cities) change appearance depending on which affinity becomes your primary one and this is definitely a welcome touch. The only problem is everyone looks the same at the start, unlike in Alpha Centauri where each faction had a unique architectural style.

Replay (4/5)
Despite the game lacking some of the neat features introduced in Brave New World, I still think this is a game that I'll spend many hours playing. I've already clocked 14 hours and that's spread across a couple of single-player games and a few multiplayer. There's also the usual Steam Trading Cards and achievements to hunt down not to mention there are already Steam Workshop mods to download too.

Polish (3/5)
The game was a bit buggy on release - either that or they simply forgot to put some functionality in there such as not being able to tell what was last built in a colony. Multiplayer doesn't seem to be as stable as Civilization V either at least after the few games I've played so far.

Score – 8/10

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is no Alpha Centauri reboot or remake. It doesn't even try that hard to hide the fact it's using Civilization V: Brave New World as a baseline - but Brave New World is a damn good baseline. Couple the solid gameplay of Brave New World with new elements such as a non-linear tech tree, greater civ customisation options and an epic sci-fi soundtrack by Geoff Knorr, and you've got a game that's sure to keep you entertained for several hours if not hundreds. Sure the game is still a bit buggy and unpolished at the moment but Firaxis are already aware of some of these issues and once they're done this will be a solid entry to the Civilization series and highly recommended for those who enjoy hard science fiction or even sci-fi books on planetary ecology, like Frank Herbert's Dune. Just as it was with Alpha Centauri.

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[ LINK: Official Sid Meier's: Beyond Earth website ]