I watched the opening cinematic without sound or subtitles. It is about a military enforced dystopian earth where people have barcode tattoos on their arms. A father takes his daughter to the space port, her tattoo is scanned, so is his, she gets to leave, he does not. Multiple space ships blast off to explore and settle new alien worlds so far away that there is no coming back. No that anyone would want to. Earth is no longer a viable place to live.
The first five hours of game play is a perfect extension of this narrative. I arrive on an alien world with limited resources, one worker unit that thankfully doesn’t start digging with a spade. I spent the next few hours learning about the planet with its toxic wispy fog and aaggressive aliens as I try to figure out what resources I have or could have by doing some research at my disposal.
Civilization: Beyond Earth, despite its many similarities to its predecessors, feels new. I don’t know what to do and whilst I desperately try to find my footing, earth worms are attacking my cities and gobbling up precious units, alien swarms kill my explorers and the health of my population is diminishing with each turn. I press on and over time turn the chaos into order and I am building a civilization that will thrive in this alien environment.
The familiar flaws are still here. Play the game focused on rival nations and the AI fails to provide a meaningful experience. Combat is still clunky and decisions become a series of inconsequential choices. Automate too many things by following advice blindly and soon it is a game that plays itself and all I do is press enter and renew old trade routes each turn whilst I wait for victory to reveal itself.
Give Beyond Earth your full attention and it suddenly becomes a story about discovery, adventure; a race against time. The planet and the secrets it holds is what the game is really about. Each victory type has its own narrative and the route is not always clear. I spent a lot of time puzzling over how to unlock the next step, researching a technology in line with my chosen ideology and waiting to see what happens; completing quests in line with my ideology and waiting to see what happens.
Most of the time, nothing much happened. About to give up hope, I would suddenly get a narrative pop-up that lets me know I have unlocked something new that will take me one step closer. It gives Beyond Earth a sense of mystery that I enjoyed right up to the end and beyond. It lends itself well to at least 3 playthroughs, to follow the story of each affinity or faction to victory.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
Civilization: Beyond Earth is set in a beautiful alien world with a shiny UI (user interface) to match. In 20 hours of game play, I saw no flash or flicker or excessive motion simulation that would cause a problem for anyone with photophobia or simulation sickness.
I found it accessible with a mild visual impairment with a clear font type used against a high-contrast background (black), however text size is not adjustable and it does rely heavily on text, so if the text is not readable, the game is not playable. Interactive elements are highlighted and the user interface is well designed. The alien miasma is difficult to spot, but not unjustly so. Mouse over a tile if unsure and it tells you where it is present or not.
I did not come across any reliance on colour alone, although colour is used throughout the game, it did not present any obstacles.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is very accessible for players with a visual impairment, as well as players with multiple impairments as long as the player find the text readable.
Audio & Accessibility
Civilization: Beyond Earth is completely accessible to players with a hearing impairment and plays as well with sound as it does without it. The volume can be adjusted with four independent sliders for music, special effects, ambience and speech, allowing anyone with a hypersensitivity or tinnitus to mute negative sounds whilst still retaining atmospheric sounds like music and speech.
Civilization: Beyond Earth can be played with a keyboard and mouse combination or with just a mouse. There are extensive short cut keys available, highlighted when mousing over an item or action, but there is no option to remap keys. Timing is not a factor, quick reflexes are not required, most short cut keys are single button presses, but a few are 2-3 multipresses, like Ctrl-Shift-R to build a road or rail network.
Some precision is needed. The game is played on a hexagonal grid and being able to select a tile is the basis of all game mechanics. The mouse cursor can be positioned either by using the mouse or by leaving the mouse cursor in a static position and moving the game underneath it with the arrow keys on the keyboard.
Both autosave and manual save are available to both your local drive as well as the Steam cloud.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is accessible to play with one hand or two, requiring some control at your own speed, but if you mpake a mistake, it is easy to set the game to autosave on each turn so that mistakes come at no penalty other than a quick reload.
Ease of Use
Civilization: Beyond Earth is a fairly complicated text-heavy turn based strategy game that requires the ability to manage multiple different resources, learn new concepts quickly and multi-task on many fronts. There is an extensive tutorial that for new players that can be downgraded in increments to the point of no advice for experienced players who want as much autonomy as possible.
The language used is technical with its own vocabulary that has terms like “Protogenics” and various types of labs, generators and materials to harvest and use. Text does remain on the screen until the player clicks it off and there are many difficulty levels to choose from.
At it simplest, Beyond Earth does require a basic understanding of math as well as concepts like resource management and need to be able to follow a basic strategy that is outlined by familiar icons dotted throughout the game to help. At its hardest, it is an incredible difficult journey, particularly as I am pretty sure the AI still cheats to get ahead, but with the extra free map pack that unlocks interesting worlds with different challenges, it has been a challenge worth my time.
Civilization: Beyond Earth is an excellent turn based strategy game that plays well whether you have played previous Civ games for a lifetime or not. Early game play is mesmerizing and threw me into a world of siege worms, toxic mist that choked my workers and a hostile environment worth conquering, either through submission, dominance or an ideal attempt to recreate old earth. The flaws of the franchise, a weak AI in particular is still there, but for me it didn’t really make a difference.
I enjoy building things, making things and researching new things whilst at the same time keeping an eye on the budget and keeping progress steadily moving forward. I use combat inconsequentially, often relying on the superiority of my units to serve as a deterrence and when that fails, to conquer whoever threatens me with swift and overwhelming force. Civilization: Beyond Earth provided me with all the tools to do just that and let me play the game I love playing. It is a beautiful landscape that unlocks a rewarding challenge and I am not nearly done playing it after 20 hours.
Good to know
System Requirements: Supported OS: Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 64 2.0 GHz
RAM: 2 GB
Hard Disk: 8 GB
Video Card: 256 MB ATI HD3650 or better, 256 MB NVIDIA 8800 GT or better, or Intel HD 3000 or better integrated graphics
Additional Requirements: Initial installation requires one-time Internet connection for Steam authentication; software installations required (included with the game) include Steam Client, Microsoft Visual C++2012 Runtime Libraries and Microsoft DirectX.
Steam account required for game activation and installation
Product: Civilization: Beyond Earth | Developer: Firaxis Games | Publisher: 2K Games |Platform: PC | Genre: Turn based strategy | Players: Single and multiplayer | Version: Europe | Release Date: 24 October 2014 |Content Rating: PEGI 12+, ESRB 10+