A review of just about any title from Civilization franchise could start by pointing out the cultural relevance of the whole series. With each new iteration, the series strived and successfully managed to find the best expression of three main forces that shaped our civilization – science, art, and war. And although the game offers your free hand to reach your particular ambition and lead your civilization in any direction you please, from meager militaristic drive for world domination to realization of noblest dreams of humankind by sending your crew to Alpha Centauri (or Mars, in this case), it was always obvious where the sympathies of Sid Meier, its virtuoso creator, played. But, although it might not seem like that on the first glance, equally important for actual development of our civilization which this franchise so industriously strived to depict and re-create, is the fact that this game – which was always considered as one of the shining examples of gaming design – was now successfully ported for mobile phones losing almost nothing of its content or its legendary complexity.
The Civilization 6 first appeared for iPads last year. Now, the time has finally come for iPhone to receive its own version. Another milestone for the franchise, no doubt, but also for mobile technology in general, since this is the very first time that a game from Civilization series appeared on mobile phones completely unscathed, surviving this conversion with all of its features intact. The original Civilization 6 was, of course, developed by Firaxis Games, but credits for this excellent port goes to Texas-based Aspyr Media, veterans in the field of video game conversions.
I think that there’s no special need to dwell too much on the concept and gameplay of Civilization 6 because it’s by now pretty familiar to most gamers interested in this type of games. However, for the sake of gaming rookies, here’s an ultra-short crash course. Basically, Civilization 6 (as well as all other titles from this franchise) is a turn-based strategy game which belongs to the so-called 4X genre. You’ll start by choosing your civilization, each with its own historic leader and unique starting advantages. The ingenious concept of Civilization games can be easily summarized in that famous Latin phrase “from thorns to stars”. You’ll literarily start with a pair of basic units such as Settlers and Warriors on some random starting location and have to build your capital, choosing the best location based on a number of factors. From that point, you’ll find out the true meaning of that famous 4X – explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Of course, this barely scratches the wonderful intricacy of Civilization 6. Your civilization isn’t a static thing: it adapts, evolves and progresses, using the tracks established by the historical development of the human civilization, but always leaving ample room for some surprising development you won’t find in the history books. You’ll start in the Ancient Era, pass through Classic and Middle Ages all the way up to Information era. Each of these stages in the development of your civilization will allow you to discover some technology which will then enable you to train specific units, build various structures and explore wonders all of which will grant you specific benefits.
Civilization is a complex game in more ways than one. Technically speaking, there are a bunch of actions you have to perform during the single move, especially when the game advances a bit and when you reach the higher stadiums of progress. You have to zoom into your cities, micromanage their needs, deal with civil unrests, solve issues you have with your neighbors using diplomacy or wage wars across the global map, issue orders for each one of your units which might be scattered across the world – in short, track everything that happens on the map down the smallest, most insignificant detail. Of course, all this naturally begs the question how all this system which was created specifically for mouse keyboard combo in mind will work on the small screens of iPhone?
In case you aren’t so familiar with the Aspyr Media and their work, they are basically specialized to bring ports of successful PC titles to iOS. They also already did a conversion of Civilization 6 for iPad, so it’s safe to say that they had considerable experience in streamlining the lavish and bulky world of Civilization to a more compact frame. However, now they surpassed their earlier works by successfully condensing everything even more so that it can easily be played on iPhone without sacrificing anything. The game interface is very functional, even comfortable. As can be expected, the biggest part of the screen is reserved for the world map itself, while the rest of the icons, buttons and collapsible menus, are intuitively arranged around the borders, so that virtually everything is at the tips of your fingers. You’ll scroll, zoom and perform the rest of the necessary actions pretty much as in any mobile game, and while the city view is now divided into several full-screen sections due to the obvious size limitations, all other aspects are pretty much as we’ve used to. Perhaps the only thing that’s noticeably lacking in this version of Civilization 6 is an online multiplayer mode, which is a pity because pretty much everything else is here. Of course, Rise and Fall expansion also isn’t included, but that’s something we can hope for in the near future.
A port of this quality which doesn’t significantly lag behind PC version is a great victory for iPhone, but also for all other mobile platforms. It showed once and for all that mobile devices had matured into serious gaming stations, capable of providing us complex games which were up to recently a monopoly of PC and consoles. The road was long, hard and winding, taking us from thorns to stars. We’re finally there.