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GOL Cast: Bringing Humanity To New Worlds In Civilization: Beyond Earth

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After a bit of a wait it's finally possible for you to bring your penguins to space and colonize new worlds in the name of Torvalds. But how does Civilization: Beyond Earth fare, what are its strengths and weaknesses? Let's find out.

Civilization: Beyond Earth is the newest installation in the long standind series of Civilization games and, as you all are probably aware, instead of allowing you to become the most powerful nation on Earth it brings you onto an unexplored planet far away as humanity's last resort to save itself from an overpopulated home.

On this new world it's your task to overcome the hostile environment and rivals, be it local wild life or competing coalitions, corporations and alliances and create a new home for yourself and also find your own place in the galaxy.

When we first heard of the game and its setting, some of us probably thought that this game will be the modern equivalent of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and there are lots of similarities between Civ: BE and SMAC. Both are set on a distant world that the humanity is trying to colonize a new world to escape the polluted and overcrowded Earth. On the planet you have to face the destructive powers of the local alien species and the mysterious miasma clouds that blanket the planet's surface.

However, Civilization: Beyond Earth is more similar to the previous Civ game, Civilization V than SMAC. In fact, you could say that Beyond Earth is nearly identical to Civilization V in many ways though of course there are a couple of interesting and in my opinion very welcome changes. But for the sake of avoiding unnecessary redundance I assume you know how Civilization V and Civilization games in general work and I'll cut straight to the good stuff.

First of all, instead of having various typical Civilizations to choose from you have a set of sponsors that work in the same way. They each specialize in different aspects, for example ARC is more effective with covert operations and Kavithan Protectorate has increased population growth. When starting a game you also get to choose other things, such as which types of colonists you are bringing in, which determines your initial research, production and energy output. The amount of different sorts of starts is actually quite remarkable because you can tweak your beginning to get the right focus you want. Want to become a technological super power? Bring in scientists, retroboosters for your landing module and pioneering technology. Super economy? Engineers and a reactor with an instant worker unit. Even before the game has fully started you get to make decisions that will change the course of your colony.

Civilization V's social policy system has been replaced with a Virtue system, which mostly works the same way. Each virtue category focuses on a different aspect of your colony. You have one for military, economy, growth and research and naturally picking up virtues in a certain category will enhance that area of your colony. You also get extra bonuses for picking up enough virtues in a certain category and in a certain tier. If you don't want to limit yourself to one category, just pick up enough virtues from each of the three tiers and you'll get rewarded with other bonuses.

The Virtue system is complemented by another social structure system called Affinities. You unlock affinity points by researching certain types of technology and these affinity points determine the direction of your society. There are three types of affinities, Purity, Supremacy and Harmony. Purity seems to focus on various kinds of military tech and the general idea with Purity is to turn the planet into another Earth. Supremacy focuses more on harnessing the planet's resources to do your bidding while maintaining humanity's status on the top of the food chain. Harmony is in my opinion the most interesting one. Harmony points are gained by researching tech which is related to the local environment and wild life and the focus is on integrating humanity into the planet through genetic enhancement. When you have enough affinity points you unlock new abilities for your colonists and military. And even though normal research plays an important part in unlocking units, you really only upgrade them by gaining enough affinity points and naturally your affinity of choice also determines the type of these upgrades. With Harmony I created an extremely powerful guerrilla army of units that worked best alone and healed from the miasma clouds. The affinities also affect your relations to the AI players. Colonies that have the same dominant affinities tend to work better with each other while having different affinities causes fear, prejudices and hostilities.

We've talked a lot about researching technologies so it's also important to mention how the technology system works out. So far Civilization games have had a tech tree where you select a technology from a relatively small set of techs to be researched and that tech, along with other techs, is used to unlock more techs and so on. In Civilization: Beyond Earth you don't have a tech tree, but a tech web. The web consists of multiple tech trees of technologies and sub-technologies and each branch usually has an unique focus to it. Unlocking technologies still requires you to unlock some base techs but the web form allows you to pick the technologies most useful to you a lot easier than a tech tree. You can also unlock techs through a multitude of ways so you are not always restricted to the certain requirement techs that you need to have in place before you can continue on your research path to glory.

The victory types have also been revamped and winning the game is achieved through different ways. You can no longer be voted as the World Leader or create a rocket to escape to yet another planet. You can still conquer every other capital on the planet but that's where the similarities end. The victory conditions follow your original mission to find a new world for the humanity. One of the most obvious victory types is the Promised Land victory, where you must establish communications with Earth and bring new colonists onto the new planet. You can also do the reverse with the Emancipation victory in which you send troops to Earth and conquer your old home thus making your version of the humanity the dominant one. There are also two quite alien victory conditions called Transcendence and Contact. Transcendence is the Harmony victory, where you contact the hive mind of the planet itself and integrate yourself into it through a device called “mind flower”. The final victory condition, Contact, requires you to intercept and decrypt a mysterious alien signal and then respond to that signal.

Each victory condition once again focuses on one of the main areas of the game. Players who focus heavily on military will most likely go for Domination, while a research oriented player might go for Transcendence. My first game was a Harmony/Transcendence run, which I enjoyed a lot. The technology and units I unlocked would have allowed me to try Domination but my heavy focus on research instead of production lead me to have a powerful but small army which was then countered by my more production and military focused opponents, though with heavy losses.

Finally, let's talk a bit about the Linux port. The game was ported by Aspyr Media, one of our favourite porting houses and once again the port is a quality one. I haven't had any game breaking bugs or crashes and the game feels truly native to the platform. Some people have noted performance issues with the port but I can't say I've had any. For me the game has performed nicely and even if it ran at a lower framerate like some websites claim I don't think it really matters with a game like this. Turn-based strategy games are hardly action packed and the gameplay isn't really affected by a lower framerate. I have everything pretty much maxed out on my i5-2500k/GTX 760 rig and nothing seems out of place when I play it. Granted I haven't actually run any Civ: BE benchmarks to figure out how well it runs for me but based on 10 hours of looking at the game I'd say it performs well enough.
There is one issue though which was also present in Civilization V. Sometimes the audio comes out crackly on systems using PulseAudio and that can really ruin the fun of listening to the bits of monologue and the soundtrack. There is a fix for some of these issues though. Setting the launch options for the game on Steam to “env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=60 %command%” seems to eliminate the crackling. Some people have also reported crackling on ALSA systems but I cannot verify that as I only use Pulse. If you find any fixes for these problems spread them around in the comments and on the Steam forums for Civ: BE. Also make sure to tell Aspyr about these issues and potential fixes to them so that they can possibly eliminate this issue completely.

Overall I enjoy what Firaxis has done with the newest entry to the Civilization series and the changes they made to the base game are in my opinion extremely welcome. Staying close to Civilization V was in my opinion a wise decision as there really is no reason to fix something that's not broken. Apart from the audio issue the port has been excellent and definitely “Aspyr quality”. It's definitely just as addicting as Civilization V and I'm actually scared to start a new game for the fear of screwing my sleep cycle even more. Of course if you aren't really into games like Civilization V then this game is not for you. But the rest of us who enjoy Civilization games will definitely appreciate this one.

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I'm a Linux gamer from Finland. I like reading, long walks on the beach, dying repeatedly in roguelikes and ripping and tearing in FPS games. I also sometimes write code and sometimes that includes hobbyist game development.
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oldrocker99 31 Dec, 2014
I've been playing Pandora:First Contact, and it's a lot more like SMAC than CIV:BE, with factions, diplomacy, unique artifacts, and unit stacking (such a concept). I do remember Windows users playing the CIV:BE beta and comparing it unfavorably to Pandora .

This doesn't mean that CIV:BE is a bad game, but the main annoyance of CIV5 was the removal of unit stacking :><: ; the developer said he regretted that removal, as I recall. I do recommend Pandora, for what it's worth .
Segata Sanshiro 1 Jan, 2015
Civ:BE kind of annoyed me in many ways. It had all the potential to be a great game, but it just missed the mark. Its only redeeming feature was Aspyr's great porting skills.

I could point out lots of small criticisms, but I think the main one for me is that it has no personality as a game. They made Civ 5 in space (I can't really call it Alpha Centauri) but they didn't really "sell" the game to the player in my opinion, it just feels like the micromanaging and statistical side of strategy games but with all the fun taken out. Basically, they took out the "role playing" (for lack of a better term, maybe storytelling is a better term) aspect of Civ and left us a pretty dull strategy game.

The main thing for me that makes Civilization games addictive and fun is that there is a sense of progress and the sense that you're really building up a civilization and expanding it (at least for me). Researching technologies and building wonders in Civ 5 gives a sense of progress and that you're creating an advanced civilization, with greater wealth, culture, etc. Civ:BE lacks that and those statistical increases just feel like numbers on a screen. Even choosing "energy" instead of money kind of does this, it just makes it seem like they re-skinned Civ 5 to make it look more futuristic and changed things like gold and culture which mean things to us to random words which are utterly meaningless - even "space dollars" would have been better than that.

Sure, in part that's the fault of the genre - with science fiction you need good storytelling to make it believable and interesting, but at the same time that's not all that hard to pull off, even in a strategy game. It's much more easy to envision the advancement of society through the invention of the wheel rather than micro nanobots or whatever, but that's where they needed to "sell" it to the player. I remember Civ 4 having nice animations when you built wonders - that's the kind of thing that was needed here to put across a sense of progress rather than a small vague drawing which you click on and 15 turns later you get a message saying "small vague drawing has been completed, which small vague drawing would you like to wait for next?". Maybe I'm being a bit flippant, but the point is valid, the whole thing just felt arbitrary and incoherent. After researching terraforming, you would expect to be able to seriously change the environment around you rather than just be able to build little gardens - again, just Civ 5 re-skinned.

Normally if I don't like a game, it's fine, I just shelve it. But this really annoyed me because it could have been far, far more than just a total conversion mod with higher production values. At first when I saw the negative reviews I thought it was like when Civ 5 came out and people moaned about there being less content than Civ 4, but after playing this I don't think it can even be fixed with some expansions. There just is no reason to play this over Civ 5.
Purple Library Guy 1 Jan, 2015
After an admittedly cursory look at CIV:BE, there's an angle that personally bugs me but probably not too many other people. The whole "Affinity" thing and some of the other clever cultural dealies should be interesting in that they are science fictional and not tied to old-earth political concepts. But it doesn't work for me. There's no guts to the approach IMO. The reason is that they all give the impression of a society/culture that is all of a piece--"Your society" is like this. All of it.
But I'm an ideologue, and I'm interested in politics. And politics is precisely about the idea that there are in fact different groups in society whose interests are not all the same. In Alpha Centauri, it was clear that the factions were run by and for different segments of society; you could infer that there were perhaps other bits of society in those factions but nobody in charge cared what they thought. There were numerous technologies and achievements and political choices which dealt directly with various approaches to social control, from bread and circuses to repressive policing by AIs to empowering Eudaimonia.
I don't immediately see that in CIV:BE. Citizens aren't even unhappy any more--they're just less healthy (and for utterly illogical reasons--you build a second city, more people get sick--WTF?), which right there pretty much sanitizes the whole notion that anyone in your faction might think differently from beloved leader. Nope, they never get upset, they just get sick and/or stop having kids (which are both apparently the same thing). And it's unclear to me what the social directions you can take your faction mean to anyone living in the society. So yeah, it feels like the political choices have been emptied of political content. Maybe this is inadvertent, but it kind of feels to me like no guts leading to no glory.

Pandora incidentally is both less and more satisfying in this regard. Basically, they don't have much of what Alpha Centauri had for political/social issues. But the factions have the basis for it, the game just hasn't done the hard work of putting those dimensions in, either in the Alpha C way or the CIV:BE way. Who knows? Maybe they'll do something in the future.
Purple Library Guy 1 Jan, 2015
All in all, what I'd really like would be Alpha Centauri with its rules pretty much intact, with some of CIV:BE's graphics and Pandora's user interface (Pandora IMO has a great UI) and a few bells and whistles from both newer games.
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