Having added extra memory to my Mac (1.5GB, instead of .5GB), and having finished the other games I was in the middle of, I went out and bought a copy of Civilization 4 on the Saturday of labor day weekend. I opened the box, gazed with pleasure upon the technology tree diagram, popped it in, bumped up the graphics settings, and began the tutorial.

Two turns later, the game crashed. For lack of a better idea, I bumped down the graphics settings somewhat; this time, it lasted a good twenty or so turns before crashing. So I bumped it down still more; it finally let me finish the tutorial.

This is one of the reasons why I almost exclusively play games on consoles. Computer game manufacturers are apparently perfectly happy to release crap that wouldn’t make it through even the most basic of playtesting: that’s what patches are for, right? Well, no: I buy a game because I want to play it right now, not because I want to play it in a few months when most of the bugs are ironed out. To be sure, the developer’s job is made more difficult by the various possible system configurations that people might try to run the game on.

Despite that unpleasantness, I gave the game a go. It seemed stable enough, and was quite playable at the lowest graphics settings, so I left it alone – I don’t know for sure if the graphics settings were the trigger, but I really wasn’t up for determining the stability boundaries. And the game proved to be as excellent and as addictive as its predecessors. I stayed up far too late that night with my first game, and woke up early the next morning to finish the game; I then stayed up far too late Sunday night with my second game, and spent Monday morning finishing it.

As is common in its genre, it is addictive out of proportion to its quality. The gameplay is turn-based, and there’s always something little going on to pull you to play just one more turn. Also, there are never any large events – ends of levels, reaching a rare save point, etc. – to give you a push to stop playing. Fortunately, unlike some games in the genre, the gameplay really is excellent. And pushes some of my buttons – I really do like the whole city- / world-building thing, and exploring unknown territory.

So if you’ve never played any games in the series, do yourself a favor and go out and buy a copy: you’re in for a treat. If you have played other games in the series, you know what to expect; this one has more of the same, with a few tweaks (for the better).

Having said that, after spending a weekend playing it, I had a dilemma. On the one hand, I quite enjoyed the game, and would continue doing so for a few more plays. On the other hand, I’ve seen the ideas before, there are a few ways in which it’s not my complete fave, so staying up until midnight playing it isn’t the best idea.

If I could have continued playing it in moderation, I would have done so. But it’s not clear that I’m capable of doing so. So, for better or for worse, I didn’t play it last weekend, I didn’t play it this weekend, and Okami is about to come out, so I’ve decided to go cold turkey on the game. The upshot: it’s the best game that I’ve stopped playing after three days.

One way in which it isn’t the best fit for me: I don’t really enjoy games with its sort of combat model. I’m happy to play, say, turn-based strategy games, as long as I have complete information. But once concepts like fog of war get thrown into the mix, I don’t enjoy the combat nearly as much. In Civilization, you fairly early on reach situations where, in order to expand, you need to take over at least some of your neighbors’ territory. And you don’t really know what you’re up against; also, in general, you have to worry about your neighbors invading you, where you also don’t really know what you’re up against. I can deal with this sort of thing, it’s just not my fave.

Actually, what I really like about this game has nothing at all to do with combat: I like building cities, building an empire, developing land, researching technology, and the like. So maybe the lesson here is that I should spend more time with games that focus on that sort of thing: I should give the latest Sim City another look, or recent Harvest Moon games, or something. Hmm. We’ll see how Spore works for me, when it eventually comes out.

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