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Call to Power II

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Activision
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Remember Civilization 2? Well, despite the fact that Call to Power II has dropped the Civ ďnom de plume,Ē it certainly hasnít veered far from it in terms of graphics. Youíve still got the tile-based angled viewpoint that premiered in Civ 2. The units are oversized, making it easier to target them (which is nice), but theyíre still nothing special to see. The only moments of 3D in the game are when the movies play for various Wonders and whatnot. Thereís nothing you havenít seen before here.

NOTE: Those of you (like me) who have DirectX 8 installed may experience some odd flickering graphical issues with Call to Power II. Itís not so bad as to make the game unplayable, but itís definitely noticeable.

The sound is similarly passable, yet bland. The music is alright, one of those soundtracks that you quickly tune out as you play, reaching for your album of CDs for something else to listen to -- or not, depending on how music drives you. Youíll be sitting down and playing this game for long periods, though, so you may want to find yourself music that works well in that regard. The sound effects are solid, if sparse, and the little bits of voice acting are very fitting to the game. Once again, nothing special.


Gameplay:

And, unfortunately, thatís where the gameplay in Call to Power II heads as well. While itís an okay iteration of the Civilization-style games, it has its own share of problems, and really brings little thatís new to the table.

Following the tradition of the Civilization series, you start with a lonely settler or two in God-awful BCE, and you must found cities and increase your strength as soon as possible. Call to Power II offers four different victory conditions, each of which requires a somewhat altered strategy to succeed with. The first, and most familiar to strategy-game buffs, is the Military victory -- AKA world conquest. The next is the Diplomatic victory, where everyone gets along just hunky-dory. Then thereís the Scientific Victory, where you must build the Gaia Controller and make the world a utopia. And finally, if you canít beat the game by any other method when the game gets to 2300CE, the player with the highest score wins.

The gameplay itself is doggedly similar to the other Civ titles, with a few improvements but some of the same major flaws. Instead of super-micromanagement, like the first two titles required, Call to Power II allows you to appoint mayors to the various cities and have them control the general direction of construction. Thatís not to say that the mayors are particularly brilliant, but if you donít mind a somewhat under-performing A.I. managing your non-key cities, youíll do fine with it. And instead of the pools of resources being kept separate for each city, things like food and public works points are pooled across the empire. The entire game has a smaller micro-management feel than Civ and Civ II, which is a good thing. Youíll still have to babysit units because of the evil path-finding, and do the same with cities when you want something important to happen. But as a general rule, the game can be played on a higher level than usual.

However, Call to Power II suffers from the one major problem that the first game had -- unit imbalances. Watch musketeers lay waste to your supertech. Watch Televangelists convert cities to other sides -- or, worse, the Eco-Rangers and their complete leveling of all surrounding tech. Superunits are not cool, folks. Having to build a bevy of defenses to block specialized units is irritating and unfun. And the fact that ancient armies can wipe out high-tech ones is disturbing. It doesnít help that thereís no simple way to upgrade your units to keep them from being obsolete. Argh.

The combat system itself is almost pointless, with the various units going at it with little to no rhyme or reason until one side wins or retreats. The placement on the battlefield has something to do with the type of unit -- close range, far range, or flanking -- but is still too random to make strategic planning viable.

There are things that Call to Power II does right. The diplomatic engineís interface is very tight, with lots of options. Unfortunately, the computer responses to said diplomacy are quite arbitrary and often feel random. Itís disheartening, but definitely fixable. And the de-emphasis on micromanagement is definitely nice. But the game still feels like a chore to play, instead of the joy that is Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri or the like.

And yes, thereís multiplayer, but considering how long many turns take, chances are great youíll never use it.


Difficulty:

Another hallmark of the Civ series, Call to Power II has highly-tweakable difficulty settings. A.I. can range from moronic to ruthless, using silly units against you or slaughtering you with high-powered armies. They can be ruthless with super-units, or not use them at all. This sort of configurability is a Good Thing and helps offset somewhat (but not completely) many of the gross imbalances of the game. You can set it up so that a strategy ďnewbieĒ can play, or you can have the A.I. whomp Civ vets. The power is yours.

Game Mechanics:

The interface is quite intuitive once you understand what you need to do and how to do it, although the appearance and disappearance of fortified units in a town can be irritating and distracting. The path-finding and auto-moving abilities of units work pretty well... most of the time, but it has its issues. And the core mechanics of the game have major flaws -- look at the disparate tech levels and try to explain why that group of archers and knights just took out your regiment of tanks. The high configurability of the world generation engine is nice, though.

While itís not the worst turn-based strategy game Iíve ever played, Iíll break out Master of Magic again before I pick up Call to Power II post-review. While it tries to improve on the Civ mechanic, and does in a few places -- less micromanagement, consolidation of benefits -- itís still got major flaws that need to be fixed. And as such, unless youíre a die-hard Civ-er, youíll probably want to pick something else as your strategy game du jour.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/2K/Me, P166, 64MB RAM, 320MB HD Space, 16-bit video card w/4MB VRAM, 16-bit sound card, 4X CD-ROM
 

Test System:



AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6x/24x DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/32 MB RAM

Windows Blaze & Blade: Eternal Quest Windows Bird Hunter: Wild Wings Edition

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated