Following a legend is a near impossible task and failure is not uncommon, however there is no shortage on attempts. Civilization Call To Power is doing just that, following the legends that are Civilization and Civilization 2, facing a near impossible task to even match the depth and playability of the previous titles. Alpha Centauri (AC) has already presented gamers with a sequel, be it unofficial, to the Civilization series, but its new setting (space and the future) failed to draw me in the same way the original two games did. I was not very excited about playing AC and when it finally came out it simply failed to perform in my eyes, despite the many over-zealous reviews it received from many large magazines, namely PcGamer. Following this disappointment I was left with only one last hope, Call To Power, and fortunately it presented me with an entirely fresh look at human history and an impression echoing that of Civilization and Civilization 2. Instead of being a mere sequel, Call To Power insists on creating an entirely different type of gameplay while still staying faithful to human history and turn based strategy.
As many others may have already experienced, my first impressions of Call To Power were in fact, negative due to the apparent similarity with Civilization 2 in graphic style and gameplay. Wrought with feelings of despair as yet another failure crossed my path I persisted in an attempt to reverse this seemingly endless cycle. For all those times I just ignored my school's motto I never expected that it would actually be valid, but in this case labor omnia vincit (for those of you who don't speak Latin, "work conquers all") is actually true! As gameplay progressed from the first cities into the first empires Call To Power's wealth of uniqueness began to display itself for my longing eyes to see. The primary difference between Call To Power and Civilization 2 is that Call To Power has a much greater focus on non-combat options ranging from the slaver and the cleric to the eco-terrorist and the lawyer. Other notable major differences include the introduction of all new wonders (that's not just a few, but every single one) and the extension of gameplay time by 1000 years into the future meaning you now have 7000 years to create the greatest empire known to man (4000BC - 3000AD). I implore anyone who started up Call To Power and dismissed it as a mere copy of civ2 after just a couple hours of play, go back and play some more, you will be rewarded with one of the best turn based strategy games ever made.
To more clearly differentiate between Civ2 and Call To Power gameplay I will go through a mock turn adding in comments on each specific action and explaining the improvement or novelty in gameplay that they offer. All of our opponents have moved and now it is our turn to begin carefully planning and executing our diabolical strategies. Firstly, any important events are displayed via small icons that appear on the left-hand side of the screen. You can left click on the icon for more details or right click to make it disappear. This seemingly meaningless innovation is actually a huge time saver as it eliminates having to click on endless windows for every event that happens in your civilization (for those of you who have played civ2 you know how bloody annoying that is in late game).
According to the message the city of Ur has completed its construction of the printing press (a new city improvement that increases science in the city). Rather than having to access a separate window for the city status, the tabs at the bottom allow for very quick and efficient manipulation of practically everything crucial to gameplay. At first this seems annoying but you quickly find out that it makes managing a large empire infinitely more fun. It seems that there are no new improvements to build in Ur so we will take some of the workers off the land and make them busy as scientists, greatly increasing our civilization's science output. Unlike civ2, the occupations that you can give your farmers are very useful and are not only used once each resource tile has been taken up. Additionally science is paid for with gold, which is generated through trade, certain types of resource tiles and increased by wonders and city improvements. Food is essentially the same as in civ2 except that your entire civilization takes its excess food and saves it in case of famine later on. Production however is considerably different, as there are more strategic subtleties to allocating it. The most noticeable difference is that tile improvements such as roads and farms are no longer created by settlers but are considered public works which can be placed depending on how much production you have allocated to public works. This production is taken equally from each city, until you get certain advances that allow more specification. Now that we have allocated our farmers in Ur as scientists we will queue up two musketeers for defense that will likely be needed during our current war with the Spanish.
Before we can begin our combat for this round we will place our public works improvements, which have increased in variety and quantity dramatically. Instead of just farms, roads, railroads, mines, and super farms there are now 27 different tile improvements including nets (for increased food production in sea squares), advanced mines, maglevs, assembly bays and radar stations. You are allowed to place as many as you have the public works production for but they take varying amounts of time to complete depending on what is being built and where. For example, building a road through a mountain takes far longer than building a road over a plain. Another thing to keep in mind, and in my opinion and ingenious addition, is that certain tile improvements can't be placed on certain tiles until specific advances are discovered, such as not allowing the construction of railways through mountains until explosives are developed.
Now on to the most important aspect of our turn, war (human nature sucks doesn't it?). Our first move is to take our 9 stacked units including 4 cannons, 3 cavalry and 2 musketeers and move them adjacent to Toledo, our next target. Stacks are a completely new item in the Civilization series and are implemented in Call To Power better than in any other turn based strategy game I have played. Each unit has a ranged attack, an assault attack, a defense and a movement score. Ranged attack units often have much stronger attack when accompanied with strong assault attack units as they get to sit behind the front lines and shoot without being hit. Ranged units also get to shoot first so if you have enough of them they can even completely wipe out an opposing force without any casualties. After the ranged attack round comes the assault round which simulates the time when the ground troops actually meet in hand to hand combat. After the assault round finishes casualties are removed and the combat sequence repeats. So as we are positioned next to Toledo we decide to soften it up before the actual invasion (which will take place next turn). Cannons are one of the special units that have the special attack type of bombard, which allows them to fire into an adjacent square without risking combat. This option however is less accurate but is great to soften up a well-fortified city or a large stack of enemy troops before actually engaging them in combat. The bombardment is a success and two enemy troops are killed (excellent, as Mr. Burns would say). As is evident from this description the combat in Call To Power is vastly altered and improved over that of Civ2 to create a much more realistic representation of combat as well as much more strategic depth as to which troops work the best with each other. We click the end turn button and eagerly await our capture of the great Spanish city Toldeo.
Unfortunately I can only give an incomplete description of the gameplay as it is far too detailed to write in a review. I can say however, that the entire system has been remade to fit the designer's own unique style and create a gaming environment able to stand on its own with great accomplishment and absolutely no hubris.
Graphically, turn based strategy and Civilization are not known to present anything exciting, but Call To Power shoves aside that overused excuse and bestows the gamer with superb 16-bit graphics and numerous animations that bring the game screen alive unlike any other turn based strategy game, except Heroes of Might and Magic. The animations are so numerous that a p-200 will experience lag in mid game and a p2-233 at end game. Notably the colour palette used is extremely large and vibrant far exceeding the bland red and green of Alpha Centauri. There is also no over dominant colour as seen in many games such as the brown of Quake2, or the red of AC. Units move smoothly when passing through squares and are great fun to watch when going into their attacking stance. Trade routes, tile squares and cities are all fully animated with great skill and variety. Even the static elements are so well done that you will never find yourself in a state of tedium due to the lack of graphical stimulation. Not only does the main game screen have great graphics but also the great library (the help section) includes animation for every advance, military unit, city improvement and wonder available in the game. Each wonder also has a custom movie, which surpass Civ2's in both quality and originality.
The soundscapes of civilization are vast and diverse and using them to their greatest effect is exactly what Call To Power does. To compliment the excellent graphics, Call To Power offers a great selection of music ranging from African chants, to Celtic arrangements to Baroque concertos. Accompanying the music are the sound effects, which were also created with great consideration to ambience and pleasing the human ear. Each unit has a very distinctive sound effect for marching and another for attacking. The crack of the musket sounds great alongside the great boom of the cannon. Ships gliding through water actually sound like ships gliding through water and not some poorly sampled sound clip. Call To Power raises the expectations for sound in turn based strategy and should be commended for being bold enough to do so.
Playing Call To Power multiplayer is admittedly somewhat slow (waiting for your turn) but the improvements to the interface make each turn much faster, and you can put a time limit on the turn anyway. Lag is non-existent on a 28.8 and anything above it, although if you still have an old 14.4 modem you shouldn't even be on the internet let alone be playing this game multiplayer. There is a large variety of options in multiplayer including the ability to deactivate certain advances and wonders or to change victory conditions. IPX and TCP/IP are supported so almost everyone should have no problem finding someone else to play with. Overall an excellent effort in implementing the multiplayer, although no massive innovations were made.
Call To Power is everything the sequel to Civilization 2 should be while not being repetitive. The entirely new style of gameplay along with the amazingly fresh graphics and sound create, in my opinion, the best turn based strategy game to come along since Civ2 and definitely the best game this year.