The RPS Verdict – Civilization: Beyond Earth

There’s a Meerman, waiting over there, he’d like to come and talk to Adam about Civilization: Beyond Earth but he thinks it’ll take some time.

Adam: And here I am.

Alec: on the other side of the galaxy. Well, in a different chatroom. Same difference. So then. How’ve you got on with Beyond Earth, now the lunar dust has settled somewhat?

Adam: I don’t dislike it. Which isn’t even a back-handed compliment, is it? But it’s the truth. There’s very little about it that I don’t like but there’s not a lot that sets my world alight either.

Alec: No, come on, that’s not how it works. You either LOVE it or HATE it. No middleground in game criticism, we all know that.
But yes, I feel similarly. Forever on the verge of really taking to it, forever on the verge of drifting away from it.

Adam: There is nothing about it that inspires either love or hate in me. It has made me into a transcendental being that knows not how to love or hate. Sadly, I’m already becoming a bit indifferent to it.

It’s very hard not to define it, at least in part, using its relationship to both Civ V and Alpha Centuari isn’t it? Two touchstones, neither of which it compares all that well to.

Alec: As we said when we were playing it together the other week, we seemed to get a bit of a false impression from playing earlier builds. Whether that was just unfamiliarity or the balance was different in those builds, it seemed like much more of a fight for survival than the finished thing wound up being.

Adam: It’s not trying to be Alpha Centauri, which I think some people see as a weakness, but it’s not doing enough to differentiate itself from Civ V, I don’t think.

Alec: Yeah, I really expected more final frontier pioneering. I suspect modders will bring that back, but whether I’ll be going back I don’t know.

Adam: The aliens seemed like such an important feature in the preview build I played. The whole ‘aha, they’re not barbarians wearing prosphetic mandibles’ moment possibly created a sort of mental domino effect. “If the aliens are different to barbarians then the cities must be different to….etc etc. Whereas there are differences, sure enough, but they’re such gradual deviations that they haven’t grabbed my imagination.

Alec: Aye, I figured the other civs would be much more invested in their own survival, but they wind up being pretty traditional Civ-Dicks. ‘Oh, so now you’re going to fight me because you’re bored, got it.’

Adam: I think part of the problem is that it doesn’t hang together thematically. I guess traditional Civ doesn’t either if you pick at it, but we’ve become trained to think that’s how a rapid strategic overview of history works.

Alec: I will get to the stuff I liked shortly, but while we’re twisting the knife I’ll give it another turn. ‘One more turn.’

Adam: ho ho.

Alec: Yeah, exactly, thematically It’s not wild enough. In terms of big sci-fi ideas, there are what, four different alien types, and they all behave essentially the same way. There is miasma, which is a sort of poison gas that makes walking through certain hexes a bit annoying. And then there are a bunch of, essentially, renamed Civ V resources.

Adam: With added mucus.

Alec: Much later on you get mechasoldiers and alien hybrids, but the meat of the game is spent being not terribly science fictional. It’s very safe. Which may reflect a very deliberate desire to not to be w-w-w-w-wacky, but leaves the game struggling for a clear personality.

Adam: Even where there are neat concepts in the text, they tend to resolve into +1 of this or +2 of the other, which led to me clicking through them. I didn’t care about the character of my colonial power, I just cared about which bonuses were most important *at that time.* The biggest disappointment for me was that in the preview build, I felt that the game was far more reactive than Civ. As in, I was reacting to my environment and the aliens rather than dominating it. But every time I play, I fall into similar pattern.

Alec: Yeah, the presentation of the quests and the flavour text is a massive failing, I think. A little block of little words appears, and there’s no zing to it or sense of greater consequence, so you default to just checking which option has the most useful bonus for you. It really feels like a feature loosely ladeled on top of a Civ game, rather than building up a new concept from the start. As you say, I quickly started repeating familiar Civ behaviours. When I was up against the wall by the indefatigable alien hordes in that preview build, I didn’t do that. I make did and mended.

Adam: I’ve forgotten the name of the minor nation replacement things – are they just stations?

Alec: Stations, yeah. Silent hubs to send a trade convoy to, basically.

Adam: Yes! They’re rubbish! I was so pleased when I saw that they had weird names – mad temples of futurist religions and capitalist mining corps. But they’re just another bonus. Everything is a bonus. Maybe that’s the way it’ll be. This Rosetta mission will finish later today and we’ll get a +1 iron bonus.

Alec: On the other hand, it’s a very careful and precise game, which I want to praise it for. There’s some fine balance in there, especially once it does get into the wilder units in the late game. Which brings me to the research web, the Civilopedia. Now that’s a piece of work. I’d miss that if I went back to Civ V – that freedom to really plan out a long term strategy from the off, as opposed to picking and choosing from a much more fixed path, and trying to remember what eventually leads to what. It’s as though the game offers itself to you – do with me as you will. Missus.

Adam: When I spoke to the devs a few months ago, that was the thing that made me excited. Everything they’d shown in the initial videos made me think – where’s the ‘not-Earth’ bit. Where’s the thing that doesn’t have a direct analogue. And that was it. A tech web. And it’s such a brilliant thematic leap as well as a clever piece of design. Known history is a linear chart of progression. The future is a web. I’m going to invoke the possible benefit of expansions here, which I hadn’t intended to do just yet, but that web feels like the beginning of an idea rather than the end of one to me. A sort of scaffolding for possibilities.

Alec: Yes. It represents where humanity is now, oddly – we’re planning the future, as opposed to haphazardly stumbling into one. You’re deciding what you want your civilization to be, rather than simply levelling it up, as it were. Expansions and whatever tech they introduce can just plug into that web without having to interrupt anything else. So they can add a sort of pustule of crazy stuff onto the side somewhere.

Adam: In principle, at least. It’s the part of the game that’s closest to hitting just the right spot, but because most of the early to mid-game tech feels like it’s basically Earth tech with some tinfoil wrapped around it, it doesn’t have the sense of the unknown.

Alec: Again, I’m curious as to what the modders can do with this. With Civ, mods either had to be total conversions or were tweaks that the game didn’t necessarily need. Here someone enterprising can just throw something totally weird in, it’s much more anything goes. One of the sadnesses of Beyond Earth in its current form is that you’re essentially on the same planet every time, so the simple concept of infinite other worlds is an open invitation to third-party ingenuity.

Adam: I want some spiders on that web. Some nasty surprises. Actually, there’s a thought – despite ditching the more or less linear tech progress, from 4000 BC to the not-so-distant future, Beyond Earth is still very much a game about progress. The affinities offer different end-points for that progress but would it be bonkers to want the possibility of conflicting tech, or some sense of failure in pursuit of knowledge. Pros and cons rather than accumulation. Was Alpha Centauri? My interpretation is that it was a game about taming the world, which is different. Or at least it could be that game.

Alec: Beyond Earth is still a game about ruling the world.

Adam: But, yes, it’s very much about domination, whatever some of the affinities might suggest. And I suppose it was always going to be. It’s still Civ after all.

Alec: Your idea of future-tech going terribly wrong is appealing. Right now, when you make alien hybrid soldiers, they just work, whereas it would be lovely for that to have terrible consequences to other parts of your civ.

Adam: They should occasionally wander off and set up their own Civs. Rebel if you bodge up the planet too much. And then you could trade with them for a +1 bonus.

Alec: But hell, we’re designing a different game, lamenting what’s not there rather than exploring what is. We are very naughty!

Adam: I know I know. This does speak to the problem though – Beyond Earth feels a bit blank, waiting to be filled with ideas. It’s very vanilla. Green and purple vanilla, granted. Also, we’re terrible backseat drivers.

Alec: I suppose Civ is very much an elder statesman now. There were probably concerns about going too far off the reservation, because certain things are expected of it, space or no. Civ can’t be Starcraft, y’know? Bbut the conservatism got out of hand, I think.

Adam: That reminds me of something Dennis Shirk said to me while I was at Firaxis’ place, hanging out and drinking all the coffee. “With the Civ series, we work to Sid’s 33% rule. Each new version should be 33% new, 33% improvements and 33% retained from the previous game. With Civ V, we used almost the entire 33% new on one-unit stacks and hexes.” Then he goes on to talk about how the expansions made room for them to add the ideas they’d left behind during that three-way split.

Alec: The question, really, is whether Beyond Earth was a) meant to be and b) should be treated as primarily a Civ game. It’s possible we’re being unfair because we’re playing a Civ game then complaining that it’s a Civ game.

Adam: I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Alec: As you say, the spectre of Alpha Centauri looms large, as System Shock 2 did with BioShock.

Adam: But I think some of the complaining is justified, because it doesn’t feel radically different to Civ V and without some of the gubbins from the expansions, it feels more like base Civ V than current Civ V. I guess the 33% of new in Beyond Earth is the tech tree, the affinities, the aliens… the quests? The theme? Does the theme count? I’m thinking not. The tech tree is a big thing and I reckon it’ll be something that sticks. That’s a lovely thought.

I don’t think Beyond Earth is a bad Civ game but I think, for me, it isn’t a necessary Civ game. I like V and I still play IV from time to time. Beyond Earth isn’t going to displace either.

Alec: That’s the thing – it’s not like Civ V has expired. Thanks to the expansions it still seems pretty fresh and contemporary. And BE suffers for that. This many years on it perhaps the thinking was we were all ready for a new Civ, but maybe we just weren’t. What I should say at this point is that I’ve spent dozens of hours with Beyond Earth – which isn’t a common feat now I’m a dad – so clearly it’s doing something right. At the very least, it hasn’t thrown the old Civ magic out with the bathwater.

Adam: I’ve spent a fair bit of time with it as well, but I’ll be going back to Earth. Maybe I will miss the tech web – it’s entirely possible – but Civ V feels bigger. The scale seems bigger.

Alec: There’s a lot more to do, as well. BE has a disproportionate focus on trade routes, for instance. But then Civ V has two expansions, so perhaps not a fair comparison.

Adam: That’s a point actually – with my head firmly planted in the toxic gas clouds of alien planet #5645483, I’ve failed to notice the timespan of Beyond Earth. how long does it take to go from planetfall to victory? In the game’s fiction?

Alec: I do not know this. Quickly referring to screenshots, it doesn’t say the year on the main UI – just the turn number.

Adam: For some reason, I feel like my little peeps land and are ready to jet off to a new adventure at the centre of the universe about six weeks later. I know it doesn’t matter how many days, weeks or years a turn represents, but I feel like I’m on vacation rather than colonising a planet.

Adam: I think each turn is four seconds of in-game time because of entropy. Ha ha. The joke is that I don’t precisely understand the future AT ALL.

Did you like Civ V before the expansions? I feel like nobody did but then I remember that I did so…Do you think there’s any doubt that expansions will come for Beyond Earth?

Alec: I didn’t love it. It seemed… plain. Pretty sure I enjoyed BE more than I did vanilla Civ V. But that may be because, as conservative as the sci-fi was, I still had to learn a bunch of stuff, whereas everything in Civ V(anilla) was at least recognisable on first glance. The affinities system, the miasma, the tech web – it was new stuff to discover in the first play. The trouble is the plays beyond that.

Adam: There’s an expectation that a new Civ game will reliably last until the NEXT Civ game. For all my griping, I’ve still had a good twenty hours of tinkering with C:BE over a couple of weeks.

Alec: It’s vaguely alarming that what we keep saying is “an expansion’s what’s needed”. We’re looking beyond Beyond Earth already, but that’s probably a year away. Will Beyond Earth last long enough for that, even?

That wasn’t rhetorical. It sounded like it, all knowing and bullish, but it was actually a question.

Adam: I promised myself I wouldn’t say “an expansion’s what’s needed”. And then I find myself sucking on my teeth like a builder giving an estimate to put some gravel down on a driveway. “Tfffffffffffftt…it’ll cost you…parts, labour….an expansion’s needed.”

Alec: “Need to order the miasma in special.”

Adam: I’m not sure if it’ll last. I wonder if it’s found and will retain its audience. It needs some magical Venn-space containing the sci-fi crowd and the Civ crowd, I’d guess, because I doubt the majority of the latter crowd are keen to move on. But I say that – and I know full well that if an expansion comes along and looks even half-promising, I’ll give it a whirl. I do like me some Civ.

Alec: All of this said, of everything currently on my hard drive, Beyond Earth is what I’m most likely to turn to in the rare event of a free weekend.

Adam: I made the mistake of starting a CK II: Charlemagne campaign so it’s that and Isaac for me. Sometimes simultaneously. Oh godineedhelp.

Alec: The Binding of Adam (to some videogames, forever).

Adam: Hey! The thing just sent a signal back from the comet! BEYOND EARTH.

Alec: Watch out for the big angry green beetles, Mr Philae!

Adam: +1 research

Alec: Aw, man, I’m genuinely disappointed that the odd, brutal Beyond Earth we played 200 turns of a couple of months ago isn’t what we got. I’m going to go and light a candle for it.

(I don’t have any candles).

(might just have a cup of tea and sigh).

Sid Meier’s Civilization V: Beyond Earth is out now.

53 Comments

  1. Tyrmot says:

    Yes, disappointing. Feels like just a reskin of Civ V really. I mean, what are the differences between the factions? Basically zero. Just a slight bonus to food/labs etc here or there.

    I’m finding Endless Legend is much more satisfying and interesting. Would really recommend that to scratch the 4X itch at the moment.

    • Gothnak says:

      I got it on Monday for my birthday, yay… 41 and still get games for my birthday.. ;)

      Anyway.. I’m enjoying it BECAUSE it is a reskin. My problem with all the Civ’s after Civ 1 (Which obviously didn’t have the 1) is that it’s the same tech tree with the same units presented in a different way. I get bored of researching Pottery, quick, get Knights, now Riflemen and Tanks no matter if it is top down squares or pretty isometric hexagons. Now i’m on another planet with a different tech tree makes it WAY more interesting than Civ 5.

      However, you are the second person to recommend Endless Legend in 1 day, so maybe i should look at that next.

      • airmikee says:

        That’s what excites me about the game, too. I play a game of Civ on Earth, and then I continue the Space Victory on to Civ:BE. Endless Legend does look interesting though.

    • DThor says:

      I think back to the first time I played, say, civ 4,and the “just one more turn” addictive behaviour, and it’s just not here. I was hoping for that sense of excitement when confronted with a new tech tree, where the mechanics pulled you deeper with every turn, and all I feel is “oh they remapped this to this”. I can’t seem to work up any empathy for my people, I think that’s because really, playing a certain race always was sort of shallow (+1 to sea movement), but we had a real culture with history to back up the stats boost – I want Polynesians to go against England and see who really rules the sea! That’s enticing. Of course all of this is missing with lightly detailed scifi tropes like power mad corporations with endless pockets vs religious zealots embracing biological experimentation. It’s not bad, it’s well made, it just doesn’t grab me.
      Endless Legend, OTOH, yes – it’s really pulling me in with incredibly detailed races with their own tech trees that so far are richly detailed and unique. Also happens to look awesome with a wonderful, clean interface. Big fan.

  2. Joshua Northey says:

    I would say it is a big meh. It is a competent polished game, and worth beating once or twice. Personally I think the big problems are:

    The civs have little to no personality and just suck compared to the AC ones. I mean that is a high bar, but this wasn’t even close.
    The pacing and balance is very uneven. Some things are really well balanced, others (trade routes and affinity units) are not.
    Basically you spam cities and trade routes, rush up an affinity tree, and then stomp everything or win at your leisure. So the game is too samey on different playthroughs.
    The quests also needed an art budget and some more effort on flavor text.
    And the aliens really are just barbarians.

    On the plus side it looks nice, runs well, and is fun. I think it suffers badly from expectations.

    It is about as good a game as Pandora: First Contact, but people were expecting that to be a B quality game if they were expecting anything at all. People expect better things from Firaxis, and this just does not deliver. Hopefully after some big patches or an expansion they will have spruced it up some because the bones are good.

    • Granath says:

      Exactly this. A big meh that doesn’t seem to do anything particularly well.

    • wondermoth says:

      “And the aliens really are just barbarians.”

      No, this is unfair. Barbarians were predictable, whereas I’m fairly sure the aliens are not. They’re not especially interesting or diverse as a collection of units, but they behave in a pleasingly/annoyingly arbitrary manner.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        I meant more their role in the game, not their behavior. Their behavior is more random, but they are totally a non-factor by the mid game at latest.

        • wondermoth says:

          Ah, true enough, at least for the land units. The seafaring aliens stay relevant for far longer, but only in the realm of Things that Happen at Sea, which has very little influence on the game because of the incredibly limited player naval unit options.

  3. acheron says:

    I played it through a few times, and it just seems all potential without living up to it. The tech web is a pretty cool departure, but other than that, there’s not much different there.

    I mean, I still enjoyed playing it for a bit… Civilization is like sex, even if it’s bad it’s still pretty fun. (Also I did a lot of it “single-player” as a teenager.)

    Mainly though it made me want to go back to Civ V or Alpha Centauri. I went with Civ V for now and am currently embroiled in a war with Russia.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yes, the best thing the BE demo did for me was convince me to get SMAC going again on my laptop.

    • Taerdin says:

      Yeah the tech web is pretty cool, I’m glad they decided to borrow that from other 4x games.

  4. P.Funk says:

    I definitely think the 33% rule benefits the business side of things more than the design side, at least from a consumer’s perspective. Its a very conservative approach, which is very business like.

    I also have a hard time believing that SMAC adhered to the 33% rule at all.

    So, the point is that 33% ensures you’re going to keep pushing product for years to come, but ignoring it can occasionally lead to something greater, without needing an expansion pack.

    • Melody says:

      Yeah, the 33% rule is just nonsense from a design POV, in my opinion.
      Sure, it almost guarantees a solid product, and there are going to be enough similarities to appeal to old players and push them to buy the new episode, but it slows down innovation by a lot.
      It’s very much expression of a yearly sequel mentality, but CIV games don’t come out every year, or even every other year, which only makes the rule all the more conservative.

    • Xocrates says:

      I believe you’re underestimating how much 33% actually is. The problem isn’t that BE is 33% different from Civ V, the problem is that BE has 33% of the content Civ V (post expansions) actually has. Civ V + Gods and Kings still felt like a simplified Civ IV and the game didn’t actually come together until Brave New World.

      BE has problems, certainly. But as a base version I actually find it more interesting than Civ V + Gods and Kings.

      Is it fair to judge the game by AC and BNW standards? Certainly, but those may be unrealistic expectations.

      33% can be a lot, many games in different franchises in the same genre do not vary by 33%. While ignoring it CAN lead to something greater, generally it just leads to something different. Which when you’re working within a franchise can actually be a killing blow.

      If BE was more than 33% different from Civ V, people would hate it because it was too different.

      • Josh W says:

        Why I don’t understand, is if 33% is retained content, surely you can whack that up to 50% and just retain more of Civ 5 plus expansions?

        Obviously including more content takes work, but if you’re lifting tried and tested mechanics, the only limitation is that it might tie up too much of the new game’s learn-able design space, but people are frequently saying that the games are too simple, so perhaps more accurately, the limitation is the amount of stuff that maxis think should come in a single box.

        Of course people are comparing it to civ 5 plus expansions! That’s the level the game last got to before it was scaled back again. Adding these extra mechanics is much more about refinement than it is about the cost of a few extra sets of UI elements or 3d models. That they choose to un-expand before they develop the new game is a sign of them rationing things out.

      • P.Funk says:

        “Is it fair to judge the game by AC and BNW standards? Certainly, but those may be unrealistic expectations.”

        Unrealistic because of how they choose to develop their games? Yes. But does that validate their design process? In my opinion it leaves it open for debate, as I already said, since most people are generally agreeing that BE is pretty ‘meh’ and lacking personality and will probably benefit from an expansion pack.

        In my opinion you might as well be telling me its unfair to judge a fair game against a great game because its… unfair to expect a great game to be made and I should be content for average to good-ish.

        What is it they say, good is the enemy of great?

        • Xocrates says:

          My point was more along the lines that it was judging the game by standards the game might not even be able to aim for.

          AC was made in a different landscape in the industry, and BNW was built on top what many considered a “meh” or even bad game.

          This is not to say the game doesn’t pale in comparison to those (and as I said, the comparison is fair), but those are standards the game possibly couldn’t even aim for. Be it for design of business reasons.

          Like I said, I believe you’re underestimating how much 33% is, and different does not mean better. “Good” is the enemy of “great”, but “bad” is is the one that can make you go out of business.

          I’m not saying not to judge against a great game, by all means do so that’s how games are able to improve.
          But you can demand greatness and expect less, after all, if everything was great, then they would just be average, wouldn’t it?

  5. Sardonic says:

    I’m more disappointed by the lack of patching the most obvious issues. They could at least hotfix the more obvious flaws like the quest related bugs which can REALLY bork your earlygame if you get stuck with a bum quest.

    Though I suppose it’s not a huge a surprise considering the sniper weapon switch overwatch exploit in xcom survived an entire expansion and is still in there to my knowledge.

  6. mpk says:

    It’s very vanilla

    Yes! This! A thousand times this!

    It’s a game that feels very much like a version 1.0 of an ongoing development. I don’t know that it feels like anything is deliberately missing, but it does feel like there are sections that could easily, easily have been improved.

    • melnificent says:

      A real 1.0 or a double fine 1.0?

      • wyrm4701 says:

        Well, Beyond Earth is a finished product, offers a series of complete and satisfying games, and is largely worth the asking price, so… yeah. Definitely not a Double Fine 1.0.

        That said, it’s a little… bland. It’s a good introduction if you’re a beginner to 4x games, but seems weak – on a lot of substantive levels – next to it’s predecessors and upcoming competition. It’s excellent at building a series of smart fences, but never really swings for them. Hopefully an expansion addresses that.

    • P.Funk says:

      You know I am baffled by people forgiving the idea that 1.0 should be a bland average beginning to more development. The only time I’d consider that acceptable is if its ongoing free development. There’s nothing wrong with an expansion pack making the newer upgraded game the seminal version as with say Starcraft: Brood War. Still, I think its weird for people to think its okay that a released finished full priced product can be “bleh” because ongoing development that will cost me more money and take a year to arrive is no doubt in the works.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    That “augmented” quest decision screenshot.

    The writing is so, so bad. Star Trek Voyager bad. And that’s before you put it alongside SMAC for comparison.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      You stand at a crossroads. To the west there is solution A. To the east there is solution B. There is a piece of flavour text here.
      > W

      You have solved the moral problem.
      > Think about morality

      I don’t know the word ‘morality’

  8. WiggumEsquilax says:

    Firaxis have this idea that Civ should be kept newbie friendly in the base game, with complexities left to expansions. Problem being, people have already played this particular base game in the form of Civ 5. Seems to me that stimulating a players’ intellect on the initial release is beyond Civilizations.

  9. Jeroen D Stout says:

    The best thing about seeing Beyond Earth discussed is the Alpha Centauri fans who will say insightful things in the comments.

    Last time it gave me an interesting interview with Reynolds. It was fascinating how he seems so calm about having written such a masterpiece and seems almost oblivious to why it is good. Interestingly he based himself on writing and reading more into that I do get a sense that Alpha Centauri is not merely its own merits, it also stands on the higher science fiction era. In a way, it is amazing how well that form of ‘serious’ science fiction could translate to a game, given how rarely we see fiction translate well to a game. Perhaps it is because it is a 4X game; science fiction that is about transgression and transience fits the somewhat dystopic views of 4X games more naturally than real history does.

    That it came so easy to Reynolds with SMAC gives me a profound sense of awe and frustration; and I continue to be convinced that game writing has the potential but rarely the inclination to be brilliant.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Someone I know suggested someone should run a SMAC jam, for people to attempt a remake or games inspired by it. Certainly I’ve bellyached enough about the missed opportunities in the spiritual sequels, and should at least fail catastrophically at putting my money where my mouth is.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I don’t think you could come anywhere near capturing SMAC’s majesty in the scope of a Jam, though. It’s the full-time work of professionals over…Wikipedia puts it almost three years.

        • Gap Gen says:

          You’d effectively be looking at building small systems or capsule projects rather than remaking it in its towering entirety, for sure.

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          FhnuZoag says:

          I like the idea of a SMAC jam a lot. It’s not going to produce any masterpieces, for sure, but maybe a scattershot approach will find some fresh ways to do the scifi 4X.

    • E_FD says:

      “The best thing about seeing Beyond Earth discussed is the Alpha Centauri fans who will say insightful things in the comments.”

      On that note, the “idea of future-tech going terribly wrong” mentioned above actually made me recall that Alpha Centauri had something a bit similar to that. The late-game techs just flooded you with buildings and wonders that boosted your mineral production, all of which will send your eco-damage spiraling out of control and force you to focus more and more on dealing with mindworms/global warming.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        The endgame of Alpha Centauri is an existential nightmare on all fronts (SPOILERS)… you mine the planet at terrifying rates, grow cities large; and everybody becomes trigger-happy and starts wars with you. You always have to compromise some of your ideals (as Morgan, no free economy because it makes war impossible; as the Gaians, mining too much; as the University, researching war above all else, … I think only the most aggressive factions really stay true to themselves but then; what horrible truth is that?) while the in-game narrative suggests the humans start to lose their basic humanity in this drive. I think I have never finished the game without feeling some existential dread and the desire for it to be over. At some point you have been researching these horrible things, fighting mind-worms for centuries, finishing wars started over 200 years back… I just want it to end. Be it through conquest, diplomacy or transcendence.

        I think that is one of the most terrifying but also amazing things about the game for me. In a way, it has a bleak view of differences between factions and the wars that must ensure. It does not dress it up in victories and fun historical aberrations like the rest of Civilization… it instead casts a bleak warning to the future. No matter what ideals you have at the start, you have to compromise and in the end accept that victory may come at the price of your desire for it.

        Of course, I am deeply embedded in the game. It simply resonates with me, so it really gets me at this point.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    I guess the issue is that it feels very much like a game with a fairly restrictive dev time and mandate. Something like SMAC felt like a game that had been developed over years with a lot of effort poured into every aspect of it. It helped, I suspect, that Brian Reynolds was already deeply involved with or lead on Civ II and Colonization, and so knew the systems well. They also understood what SMAC meant thematically, and drove that theme through the entire game. By comparison, BE feels like something that needed more time to mature, for designers who felt more like they owned the genre and the game they were going into. For example, the trade system is a great analogue to the crawler system in SMAC that allowed you to build hugely broken industrial wondercities, but with the terrible decision to make you choose between the economic advantages of convoys versus the manual labour of directing them every turn. The factions only have one awful line each, and the rest of their lore is hidden away in a menu where it can’t do anything harmful like add a narrative to the game.

  11. Shardz says:

    So, it’s a Warlock clone with soiled armor then. Yeah, I didn’t think this would work out too well.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      The frustrating thing is it clearly could have with a little more care and thoughtfulness. It is a very sound foundation to decorate, but they seemed to not understand the target audience and the high expectations. As said above it reeks of tight timelines and of well done busywork instead of love.

      I would absolutely want the people who worked on this game working on my games if I was a game company. But I wouldn’t let any of them make decisions.

  12. Laurentius says:

    After generally pleasant but rather bland game of BE, I didn’t feel like going for another game with different ending (completed Purity quest ) so instead I started game of Alpha Centauri. What can I say ? AC is exciting, profound and ruthless and BE is not.

  13. Dusk108 says:

    Part of the problem with Civ:BE is the just the lack of imagination. You look at the tech tree, buildings, secret projects (wonders), and even the units of SMAC and they’re just dripping with imagination and creativity. Civ:BE is is bland, 3 of the techs you research are Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Yup, basic science, been around for hundreds of years on earth, gotta re-learn them on another planet, cause reasons. Most of the tech web and such just look like someone googled “Sci-fi gargon” than pasted it in almost randomly.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      I don’t think it’s imagination, really. It’s context.

      The stuff SMAC has, aren’t really particularly new. Research hospital? Tree farm? Doctrine: Mobility? Blah. But what the designers very cunningly did was to fit it all into an unifying context, by judicious insertion of the faction leaders. This gives what could have been bland concepts, an actual personality.

      In Civ:BE a dialog box tells you, oh, you can click here to choose to restore the Augmented to humanity or not, if you do it you get +1 to Purity, or +1 to Supremacy, woo.

      In SMAC, Pravin Lal tells you “They are creating their own private army of demons.”

      Which game really makes you feel like your society is standing at a crossroads?

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        Exactly this. This is why I still replay SMAC a couple times every year. To be immersed in the atmosphere, not because I enjoy struggling with the UI controls.

  14. harley9699 says:

    Someone mentioned Pandora: First Contact. I actually prefer that to BE, mostly due to the randomized tech tree (and the ability to hide as much as you want of it). At least the tech isn’t already mapped out, in the same way, every time. It makes you vary your approach more each playthrough.

  15. wondermoth says:

    A lot of fair comment. It’s a good game. It’s definitely a better game at launch than Civ V was. And it’s definitely unfinished.

    The thing which irks me the most about it are the unit promotions, which are flat out insulting.

    You’ve reached 10 XP! Choose between
    a) 50% health restored, or
    b) 10% boost to combat strength.

    You’ve reached 30 XP! Choose between
    a) 50% health restored, or
    b) another 10% boost to combat strength.

    Combat with Aliens no longer grants XP! Get out there and fight your rival sponsors!

    You’ve reached 60 XP! Choose between
    a) 50% health restored, or
    b) another 10% boost to combat strength.

    You’ve reached 120 XP! Choose between
    a) 50% health restored, or
    b) another 10% boost to combat strength.

    You are skill capped!

    Yes, you get promotion-style upgrades through affinities, but frankly, they also suck. Again, there are only ever two choices, and realistically, once you make your first upgrade decision for a particular unit type, you’re locked into that path until the end of the game. Every important decision you make about customising your military is done by turn 100.

    Why are Firaxis doing this? Remember Civ IV? God, how I love that game. Rampaging thorough enemy territory with a stack run by two great Generals, one focused on city raiding, the other on healing. Then attach a third Great General to a battleship, give him Blitz, and laugh as he eats his way through a stack of 9 caravels in one turn. Compare this to Civ V, where Great Generals suddenly become pointless annoyances that you resent having to keep alive, and the choice of promotions is drastically reduced, and the number of viable promotion paths that stay relevant are reduced further. And now, in Beyond Earth, GGs are gone, and there are only two “veterancies”, which both suck.

    That aside, I’ve played 50-odd hours, and I’m pretty confident that I’ll drag another 100 out of it after I fork out for all the patches DLC.

    • soldant says:

      I remember Civ IV. I also remember people saying how it was dumbed down compared to Civ III and how X and Y ruined the game and nobody would ever play it again.

      Pretty much anything they do or don’t do is going to attract criticism.

      EDIT: There’s also a problem with veteran units in the Civ series in that most units are pretty expendable in the long run.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        I do love that literally no one during Civ 3 release remember how much criticism there was of Civ 2, and no one at Civ 4 release remembered how much criticism there was at Civ 3 release and so on. Each time 5% of the fan base goes off the deep end and insists it is the end days.

        That said I do think this game is disappointing if technically very sound.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Interesting; Civ 2 was the first Civ I played and I didn’t go on forums at the time, so I didn’t hear the criticisms. I didn’t much like Civ 3, though (particularly the thing where a rival power builds a city in the one unoccupied square on your continent). That said, I know at least someone who still played it way after release, so YMMV I guess.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            In a major franchise like this there is always a loud vocal minority who flips out with each iteration.

            Literally people were going crazy about only getting to fill your throne room rather than build a palace, and “AI this and AI that”, as though the AI for this type of game was ever good. It was a more refined criticism because of the smaller and older audience at the time, but it was basically the analogue of what you saw with Civ 3-5. No one remembers that the forums were all pissed off about CIv 4 when it came out.

    • Tssha says:

      Slight correction to your statement: at the higher level-up tiers for units, they restore more than just 50% of your health. They heal 60%, 75% and more, increasing as higher tiers are accessed.

  16. Yargh says:

    I enjoyed a few playthroughs of BE and have no regrets about buying it, then I figured it would be a good idea to reinstall SMAC (surprisingly easy to get the old CD version working on Win7/Win8)…
    Damn does SMAC have a lot of polish and so much more personality than BE, custom voiceover for every tech, every new building, and then there are the faction leaders which seem to be much better actual characters than the poor things in BE.

    It seemed to me that a lot more care and attention went into building SMAC than BE, BE being more ‘building a small step on the shoulders of giants’ type thing.

    I’m still holding out hope for potential expansions.

  17. Premium User Badge

    rustic says:

    ‘I promised myself I wouldn’t say “an expansion’s what’s needed”’

    Why not just blurt that out from the beginning? Both Civ IV and Civ were frankly rather boring until they got their two expansions each. The expansions made Civ IV brilliant and Civ V…well, good.

  18. Chris Cunningham says:

    Quite honestly I’m of the opinion that they just didn’t pay any attention to SMAC. It took until my second playthrough to notice my biggest problem with the voiceovers – rather than having each of the main personalities speak their own text, giving you a real feel of what Yang or Dierdre or whoever felt, they’re all done by the same actor. Which is fine in Civ, because you know it’s a narrator, but that was one of the most important ways that SMAC drew you in.

    In the end, it’s only cost me £10-20 that I wouldn’t have otherwise spent (no matter how crap it was I’d have ended up getting it in a Steam sale eventually), but the opportunity cost is massive. There’s no way they’re going to fix the game’s biggest problems with patches (or, as they’ll actually due, paid expansions) because the designers fundamentally don’t seem to have understood what made SMAC so compelling.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I assume the designers have a lot going for them, but that someone at Firaxis basically pulled them into their office and said “we want you to make a new SMAC, or whatever, you’ve got two years”, which is presumably quite different from Brian Reynolds deciding to make a game set on another planet with his years of experience in the genre and it being an idea that motivated him.

  19. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    So let me get this straight:

    Spacebase DF-9: Great game, despite Double Fine screwing over it’s users by funding the game purely via Early Access and them not finishing it. You don’t mention it in your review about it.

    Planetary Annihilation: Great game, despite the fact it was unfinished on released, the developers screwed over kickstarter backers like me, showed their anger many times over, patched in off-line only so they can try to get their newest kickstarter scam some more money, you lament their failed kickstarter, you ignore customers complaints about the unprofessionalism of the developers and the anger of the customers in your article.

    Civilization: Beyond Earth: ICK!! IT’S MUNDANE! Let me lazily take the opinion of every person in the world even before the game was out that since it’s not Alpha Centauri it’s not good enough because when I was a child I loved that game but blah blah blah.

    You really are making those misogynistic scum GamerGaters look correct about Games Journalism and it’s corruption. Seriously. I hate those little sexist pigs, but RPS has changed a lot since you started doing your supporter program. The quality of your articles have declined, and you’re seriously selling out more. You don’t point out racism and sexism in games anymore. You’re becoming like the rest of the game sites on the internet.

    I recommended and lauded RPS for pointing out the racism, sexism, and bigotry in video games. I can’t wait to see you all love the new Dragon Age despite the disgusting treatment of the transwoman character (b..b..but they talked to transgender groups!!!) like all the rest of the seals.

    You’re really losing your touch RPS. You spoke out about these things. You made non-cis white males proud to have a game site they can go to and have their voices heard. Now, you’re turning into IGN part 2. Did you need money that bad?