Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Colonization: Old and New

I recently purchased (deep breath) Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization, Firaxis' remake of the original Sid Meier classic. I was a huge fan of the original Colonization, I think I enjoyed it more than I did Civilization, I liked the more intimate scope of the game.

The good news is that the remake is just as enjoyable as the original game was. The interesting thing, however, is that it's not really any better. Yes, the graphics are in a far higher resolution, but they don't really convey any information that the original's didn't, and the original's chunky pixel colonists had a certain charm to them. Gameplay-wise, it's fundamentally the same, pretty much everything you do in the new version you could do in the original. There are slightly more options for automation, and the diplomacy has marginally more complexity to it, but these are not major aspects of the game, and I didn't really need to use them.

This is particularly notable when you consider the length of time between the two games - Wikipedia informs me that the original was released in 1994. That's the same year the first Warcraft came out, and I'll bet if you compared that to a more modern RTS it would suffer horribly.

If this sounds like an indictment of the new game, it isn't meant to. Truth be told, I'm pleased that Firaxis adopted this approach, rather than adding additional unneeded complexities to a game which didn't need them. If anything, it should be high praise for the old game, a game which was so well done when it came out that essentially the same game dressed up in the Civ IV engine is still something that I'd still want to play today.

Seeing the screens side by side, I do notice that the new game is much browner than the old one. Despite them both using the same wooden background motif, the old version still manages to have bright, vibrant colours, while the new version has a more muted palette, in an attempt to give it more of an air of historical authenticity.

I suppose that the move towards more realistic graphics has resulted in modern games in general being browner and greyer than their predecessors, but perhaps that is a topic for another post.


  1. Okay I'll bite. Unfortunlately I never played the original Colonisation, but it seems to have a greater focus on economics as opposed to Civilization's focus on conquest. That really appeals to me.

  2. I think the focus on economics over conquest is exactly what I liked about the game. In Civilization you spent a large amount of time trying to build better units and fight other civilizations, which you don't really need to do in Colonization. You will probably have a few conflicts with the natives, and you have to win a war of independence against your mother country in the endgame, but for the most part it is actually possible to get along with the other sides while you work on your economy. And for some reason, it can be more exciting to have a master distiller arrive from Europe to bolster your rum-making operations than it is to discover the wheel in Civ.

  3. I remember playing Civ while the rest of the country was voting for democracy =) so the date is accurate. I recently got the new version released for pc, consoles and handhelds. I went with the DS version, having mobile Civ makes commuting more fun. Nice side-by-side review, I sometimes think back to how games designers back in the day couldn't rest on explosive graphics and had to put some entertainment in the mix. Nice article!