Colonization, Sid Meier’s classic 1994 game about exploration, development, and revolution in the New World, served as the perfect follow-up to Civilization and showed what that gameplay concept could do when focused on a specific part of the world and era of history. It also managed to get itself so thoroughly bogged down in late-game micromanagement that many players never got to reach the point of declaring independence, instead giving up in frustration after dealing with an empire that had grown too big for the tools available to keep it under control. The underlying feeling in the end was that the game was a very good premise executed not quite perfectly and was really for die-hard fans of turn-based 4X games only.
Fast-forward fourteen years, and we get a “re-imagining” of that 1994 effort with the lofty title of Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization. It’s titled like an expansion pack, it’s priced like an expansion pack ($29.99 in the US), and considering it uses the same engine and most of the same art assets from Civ4, it plays like an expansion pack. More to the point, it plays like a conversion mod rather than a full new game.
That’s not to say that a total conversion mod is a bad thing. When the conversion manages to nail down the zeitgeist of the game it’s seeking to remake (sorry, “re-imagine”, since someone at 2K loves to throw that word into press releases), that is an accomplishment worthy of praise. All the core elements are there: You start with a ship, a settler, a soldier, and the virgin territory of the New World in front of you. From there you build more cities, train more troops, stoke the fires of rebellion, and ultimately win your independence from the mother country in a glorious Revolutionary War. As the victory movie plays, you thump your chest like an ape while your wife considers whether she should put the psychiatrist on speed dial, though your post-victory experience may (and should) vary.
The four nations from the original return with their bonuses from the original game retained and a new twist added. Instead of simply playing as a nameless viceroy of England, Holland, France, or Spain, you are now given two choices of leader for each nation, each with their national bonus (England gets more immigration from religious unrest, for example) and a leader-specific bonus (George Washington allows you to more easily train soldiers, Simon Bolivar makes your revolutionaries fight more effectively – the bonuses are tied to the leader’s historical attributes). This allows the player to choose a style that fits the way he plays and therefore carries over one of Civ4’s greatest strengths. Although you will have to win a war in this one since there is only one victory condition, how you get there is entirely up to you.
You’ll be given some help in the beginning; as the name implies you are acting in the name of your king. The economy is set up in such a way that at first you’ll be shipping raw materials back from the New World for an unimpressive sum but as your colony grows and you begin to crank up your economy, you’ll be turning those raw materials into finished goods that fetch a pretty penny back in the mother country. As your colony grows you’ll be able to buy more and better ships, recruit the blacksmiths and armorers that will make your colony self-sufficient, and finally do a lot more trade in the New World than the Old. The buildup is an absolute blast because you have the level of total control you’ll need to truly make your fledgling nation your own. The random terrain generation helps ensure that no two games are the same since in one game you’ll find yourself in a tropical sugar-producing paradise to crank up a rum industry while in another you’ll be in a polar region trapping furs and making coats. There are plenty of different goods to keep the sense of variety high.
The whole game is done very well and very faithfully to the original, but therein lies the problem. The later into the game you get, the more your loathing of micromanagement will return if you’ve played the first game or be born fresh if you haven’t. The more specialized your needs become and the more cities you have, the harder it is to keep track of your goals. The game makes a yeoman’s effort to help out, providing a dozen screens of information tied to the F keys and giving a densely packed Civilopedia full of everything you’d care to know. It does not, however, change the fact that late-game turns are longer than James Michener novels and about as fast-paced as the Los Angeles freeway system at six in the evening.
It also becomes impossible to escape the nagging feeling that you’ve paid thirty bucks for something that the modding community probably could’ve done for free. Sure, the interface is different and the tech tree has been replaced by the Founding Fathers system and direct trade with Europe is a hell of a lot different from an abstracted economic model based on research and culture percentages, but this still feels like Civilization IV with a New World coat of paint. The graphics haven’t changed since 2005, the art assets on the naval vessels are the same, and despite an excellent soundtrack of Native American chants and light classical music, the whole thing is more Civilization IV expansion than “Colonization 2”. If you loved Civ4 that’s not a problem, but this game is purely for the fans – if you didn’t care much for Civ4 the first time around, Colonization isn’t going to change your mind.
Bottom Line: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization is a game for hardcore Civilization fans only.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the series and the genre and can get over the fact that you are, in essence, paying for a very well polished, Civ4 mod, this will be the best thirty bucks you will spend this holiday season. Otherwise, give it a miss.
–by Dennis “Fox” Doucette (SimuLord)