Game Over Online ~ Call to Power 2

GameOver Game Reviews - Call to Power 2 (c) Activision, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Call to Power 2 (c) Activision
System Requirements Windows, Pentium 166, 64MB Ram, 320MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 76%
Date Published Thursday, January 25th, 2001 at 08:00 AM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

When Sid Meier left to create Firaxis, a long shadow of doubt was cast on the entire Civilization franchise singly crafted by his team at Microprose. These doubts were put aside when two supposedly unrelated titles were released; Alpha Centauri and Civilization: Call to Power. Brian Reynolds crafted the former with direction from Sid Meier while Activision developed the latter drawing inspiration from Avalon Hill's board game, Advanced Civilization. Alpha Centauri was critically acclaimed, although it was not the smash hit that everyone had hoped it would turn out to be and it definitely did not soar to the heights that the original Civilization game went to. Many criticisms aimed at this futuristic Civ title stated it was just plain too futuristic, especially with the technological advancement trees. So one would think that Call to Power would be an instant hit since it mirrored the original scope of Civilization and beyond. Sadly, many condemned Activision's more sophisticated brand of Civilization for having a needlessly complicated interface. Call to Power II (CTP2) picks up where the original Call to Power leaves off.

This is not to say that the Call to Power franchise does not deserve any respect. There is a cult following for this franchise and the release of a Linux version of the original Call to Power is a testament to its cult status. CTP2 aims to break beyond this cult mould however, by vastly improving the interface. This time around, the layout and menus are logical without bogging the user down in too much micromanaging details. Details abound throughout but it is fortunately not like the ill-fated Star Wars Rebellion, where "gameplay" turned out to be as interesting as working an Excel spreadsheet. One of the notable features I appreciated was the radial style menu on the screen. It was small, unobtrusive and whenever a crisis arrived, the area of your civilization that needs fixing automatically flashes. This is but one of many smart cues Activision manages to insert into the game to help beginners but also Civilization know-it-alls because underneath the guise of Civilization, CTP2 is really a slightly different game.

One notable distinction CTP2 gives is the fact that you don't need to micromanage each city's growth (albeit you could). There is an option to delegate mayors to each city. Mayors can in turn be set to correspond to a specific profile such as: production, growth, offence, and so on. This essentially imbues the game with a friendly AI assistant to help you out, much like what Alpha Centauri aimed to do. Unlike the traditional Civilization game, you don't need to use your settlers to irrigate or enhance the nearby lands for consumption. These are done automatically as part of a 'public works' feature but actually if you use the mayor AI, these are done automatically. Another feature I particularly liked about the mayoral AI is the fact that I could inject items I wanted to be built into specific cities without the AI overriding my selections because of its inflexible adherence to the profile I selected for it. CTP2's AI, in this area, seems to be much more agreeable than the more obstinate automation in Alpha Centauri. One of the trademarks of the Call to Power franchise that carries over into CTP2 is the unique set of units that the game lets you build. These include units like the lawyer, abolitionist and televangelist. If we think of these units in an offensive sense then we'll immediately know what they are used for (there is also a great library that can tell you just in case you don't). Abolitionists are able to free slaves if the opposing civilization is reliant on slavery. Some of these units can incite riots or stop production. These are more economical and in some cases, subversive ways to attack another nation instead of the usual warrior, hoplite (read: phalanx), or knight. This is unique to this franchise alone as arguably, no one before ever thought of integrating a lawyer into a Civilization game.

There is a more traditional AI help through advice buttons but I found they usually clamoured for war, often suggesting I build more armies to go on the offensive. CTP2 carries a more comprehendible technology tree than Alpha Centauri did. For one, it includes the usual advancements in writing, law, or political ideologies. CTP2 also lets you select a specific technology ahead of time as a goal. Throughout your research advancements during the game, you will be notified as to which technologies are essential to achieving your specified goal. For example, you might want to gain communism as one of your ultimate goals whereby you can easily gear your research towards achieving it (but then again who really wants to achieve total communism). The advancements are fairly standard and you will be able to identify with them just as people could easily deduce the technology trees of Age of Empires. CTP2 offers a variety of wonders that one can make and these are different from the original ten ancient wonders. You can still build the Great Pyramid of course but CTP2 also lets you build things like the Gutenberg Bible, London Stock Exchange, Hagia Sophia. Thus, they aren't like the usual Civ-type wonders like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. One thing that would amuse trivia buffs or classicists is the wonder, Aristotle's Lyceum; a rather odd choice since I thought Plato's Academy is much more popular and pervasive (for those who don't know, Aristotle only opened the Lyceum because when Plato died he decided to give the head post at the Academy to his nephew instead of Aristotle). Overall, CTP2 shapes up to be a great game if not for a few serious flaws that ultimately reveal themselves because of its strong ties to the original Call to Power.

The first great flaw I found in the game was the immense difficulty needed in order to win the game especially at a late age. This game ends at AD 2300, which arguably is pretty long but not many of us like to kill all our opponents with cavemen in 4000 BC. However, when you do get along in the game, conflict eventually denigrates into an attempt to "out-attrition" the opposing side. The problem being with the huge defences one can erect and the colossal economic leverage one has late in the game. For example, in one game, the Americans had harnessed two continents full of cities with populace ranging from 20-30. Every inch of this landscape was well developed and what's more, they were slowly gobbling up another empire spread out on a chain of islands. So after I traded for a few maps, I began to wonder how am I ever going to defeat this massive empire without taking a whole millennium to do it. One would immediately think of using the lawyer or abolitionist or televangelist characters as a sort of secret atomic weapon to bring down the behemoth. Unfortunately these work more like the weapons in papers, rock and scissors. Once you use abolitionists to start freeing up slave labor, the other player will simply stop using slaved labor altogether. Conversely, you may be able to protect yourself from slave labor but that doesn't make it impossible for the other player to land slave drivers near your city and steal your citizens away. Thus, these special units really just reduce the conflict into a tit for tat contest. With the huge technology tree in this game, you'll ultimately think it's just wiser to wait for a technological edge hoping you can do something like the atomic bomb did for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sadly, the more you wait, the less likely one single attack will make the other civilizations reel and even if you did harness such a technology, the special units will negate this advantage since you will have to spend your time worrying about them instead.

Compounded to this frustration is the fact that army movement is slow. Many times, your units will not execute smart pathfinding to get to their desired locations and in large games, you'll often find that some units you neglected before just sit dumb in an area until you realize you have them again. CTP2 lets you group military units together to form a cohesive army. This works like the board game Risk, in that it lets you double up your offensive capabilities. Even with this grouping however, I found it was much more useful to spread an army apart and move them around separately so as not to leave the broad side of my empire undefended. The main feature missing from CTP2 that Alpha Centauri possessed was the function to automate certain units. In Alpha Centauri, these units pick the best path to a destination going through a certain number of cities (for a more efficient march) so they can reach their destination. Such a feature is sorely missed in CTP2.

One reason this is important is simply because some units are just plain too slow. Since you cannot manually control where roads are going to be built, a lot of times your units will only move one square at a time; especially units built with a low-tech civilization. Thus, it makes it tedious to move ten units that move one square each simultaneously throughout the whole map. This is extremely irritating especially for the long haul trips naval units have to make. I'm not compelled to use the slaver unit if it takes me thirty odd turns to just get to the vicinity of an enemy city. For the computer AI, these tedious tasks are no great feat but for the human players, it is a little more difficult to swallow. The slowness of some units is connected to another feature missing from CTP2. Technology renders wonders obsolete but in AD 1800 with submarine power, I still had access to build and use hoplite infantry (cluttering up the menus no less). The other CTP2 computer AI players had no qualms in using archers as their scouting units (mainly because they don't tire of the fact that the archer moves one square at a time) even though they were driving tanks around my backyard. However, I wish I had the option to automatically upgrade my knights to British imperial style cavalry or 19th century infantry to 20th century machine gunners. If they couldn't do that, I wish they would just force me to disband these useless units, instead of making me look through a list of my armies and manually disbanding them. Again, this is another option where Alpha Centauri was a success par excellence.

Finally, CTP2 features an impressive amount of diplomatic stances and approaches that make diplomacy a formidable force in the game itself. There is one quirk about the system though. If you tell a computer player to withdraw troops or vice versa, it must be done manually. Human players may be lawful enough to abide by these requests but AI players, whether they agree or not, act as if such a request was never made. Thus, you'll often have many foreign troops wandering around within the frontiers of your civilization (and let me reassure you, they are not trade or diplomatic units) with impunity almost. It also makes a frontier border defence strategy totally unworkable.

Ultimately these flaws are really rooted in the concept of CTP2 itself. It was drawn up from the original Call to Power and when the game is put to stress, the uglier elements of the predecessor show up in CTP2: inadequate control for army units, lack of automation for army units, special units not really having a real impact in the game, etc. I guess many readers of this review will forgive these problems and will ask, whether this game has that "just one more turn before I sleep" feeling that all Civ gamers have experienced. I have to say, yes, but provide the caveat emptor that this feeling stops after your empire has grown sufficient in size. Once all the civilizations settle down, similar to actual history, you'll stagnate into petty wars over little islands with no hope of dislodging any great power in your game from the landscape; at least not within any reasonable timeframe. That is precisely the moment when you'll start clicking end turn endlessly (no pun intended), hoping research will bring you something like an atomic bomb so you can fell your opponents in one giant swoop. Therefore, CTP2 is a good Civ game, not revolutionary but more evolutionary, although even at that it seems to pale against the more refined Alpha Centauri. CTP2 has its charms and if Alpha Centauri alienated you, CTP2 is worthy of any Civ gamer' s time. It doesn't capitalize on the uniqueness of its franchise and ultimately, the ugly parts of it rear its head usually after AD 1700. All in all, Activision's progress from the original Call to Power to CTP2 is promising. It will definitely be interesting to see how this franchise will stack up to the official sequel, Civilization III. Hopefully CTP3 will prove the old adage that the third time's the charm.


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