Revival: Finally a Civilization-Like Game for Windows Mobile!!!

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There have always been a few gaping voids in the field of games available for the Windows Mobile platform. One of the most striking is the lack of turn-based 4x games in the tradition of Sid Meier's groundbreaking Civilization series. I've been calling attention to this omission for as long as I've been playing Windows Mobile games (as can be seen in this post from almost two years ago, for example).

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Finally, though, finally, a Civilization-like game has arrived for Windows Mobile devices! I was so excited when I heard about Revival that I could barely contain myself. I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a break from the break I've been taking and write a review. And while not without its flaws, I'm glad to be able to report that Revival definitely delivers for the most part.

[NOTE: This review is based on a prerelease version of the game. The final version of the game was released on January 29th. I will update this review to reflect any changes to the final version when I get a chance to (I'm fairly busy right now though).]

What Type of Game Is This?

4x games are a subset of the larger strategy genre. The 4 "x"s come from the four activities that form the heart of these games: eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting, and eXterminating. In these games, in other words, one usually starts the game controlling a small territory and from there must explore surrounding areas, expand one's territory into them, exploit resources, and exterminate opponents who are trying to do the same.

According to its developers, Revival was "designed in the best traditions of Civilization" and so it's no surprise that Revival shares the latter's 4x heritage. You start revival in possession of one city and must expand your civilization so that you can win by either eliminating all of your opponents by conquering them or achieving technological supremacy by being the first to construct a teleport (this is akin to being the first to build the Alpha Centauri in Civilization).

What You See Initially

When you first start the game, you have one city and can see some of the surrounding terrain. Unexplored terrain is blacked out. You also have one unit, your civilization's emissary, which can be used for some preliminary exploring, but be careful because if your emissary is ever killed you lose the game. The initial screen should look something like this (except that this screenshot shows all of the territory revealed instead of showing the unexplored territory blacked out):

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In the upper left your gold and minerals are displayed. The upper right tells you what turn (year) you're in. The bottom left displays a minimap of the game world, which can be used to quickly navigate the game map. The bottom right contains four buttons that you'll be using a lot. From left to right these are: the town button, which allows you to scroll through your towns; the unit button, which allows you to do the same for your units; the end turn button; and the menu button, from which you can do things like save your game and the like.

Working with Cities

The first thing to do is to select your city. To do so, click on the town button and then tap on the image of your town. Doing so will bring up the main city menu. There are three screens within the city screen. The screenshot below shows only the first, main screen:

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In the upper left you see a map of your city and surrounding terrain. The city itself and its surrounding terrain constitutes the area on which you can build improvements (a total of 9 plots). Immediately below the map you'll see an image of the currently selected terrain and, to the right, a summary of the terrain's attributes. From left to right, the selected plot's food, gold, minerals, and research values are displayed. As in any good 4x game, terrain matters. In addition to affecting the movement and defense of units, it also determines how useful improvements will be. For example, some terrain contains gold veins and consequently will produce more gold per turn if you build a market improvement on them than other terrain would. For a summary of the different terrain types in Revival, see this chart. To build a new city improvement, simply tap on the plot you want to improve and then select the building you wish to build. If you have enough gold and minerals and are not constructing anything else in that city at the time, the building will begin construction: a crane will be displayed and a progress bar placed on the bottom of it.

In the upper right corner the city's overall statistics are displayed. From top to bottom, the city's food, gold, mineral, research, and population production are displayed horizontally. Above these stats is the city's population (blue) and the city's population that are being used to support units attached to the town (green). If the supported units is at or near the total population, you won't be able to create new units in that city. Total population is also important because some city improvements require a certain sized population before they can be constructed.

This screen is also where you create new units. To do so, click on the city itself in the city map and direct the unit to begin construction.

Above the four game buttons on the bottom of the screen are are two boxes. The box on the left displays the unit that is currently being constructed; the box on the left displays the science currently being researched.

As I mentioned above, there are two other screens within the city screen. The second screen allows you to manage units. Here, you can do things like instruct present units to defend the city, disband them, tell them to leave the city, etc. The third screen is where you manage research. Here, you can change what you are presently researching. As anyone familiar with these types of game knows already, research is important because it is what allows you to create more advanced city improvements and units (see this for a further discussion of how science works in Revival).

Units

Units serve many functions in Revival: exploring, fighting and conquering, mining (workers), transporting other units (ships), and founding new cities (immigrants).

Units have several attributes: movement points, attack, defense, health, and experience. Every unit is also registered with a particular city. By default, this city is the city where the unit was created. A unit's registration is important because it affects how many other units can be built in that city and because injured units are healed by drawing on the population of the city to which they are attached. In other words, if your unit is injured but not destroyed, it will heal by reducing the population of the city to which it is attached.

In a particular turn, units can do any number of things including move, attack, defend (which will increase its defense value by 25% while it defends), disband, display its statistics, etc.

To conquer a city you have to destroy all of its defenders. Attacking a unit is fairly straightforward in Revival. All you have to do is move the attacking unit next to the defender and then move towards it. Doing so will cause a mini animated battle that looks like this:

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Check this out for a list of units that are available in Revival.

Putting It All Together

If you've never played one of the Civilization games before you might be wondering how you put this all together. What exactly are you trying to do? Well, as mentioned earlier, you win by either eliminating all of your opponents or by being the first to construct a teleport. Attaining either of these goals requires advanced technology, which in turn requires that you have lots of cities (because cities are the sites where technological research occurs). Having lots of cities, in turn, will likely require some combination of military defense and offense, since you are fighting with other civilizations over a finite amount of territory. Offense and defense for their parts require both technological accomplishment as well as large enough city populations (which requires both technology and certain city improvements). Hmmmmm, I guess this part of the review isn't very helpful. Oh well.

Other Features

  • 7 different planets with a total of 27 continents
  • A scenario campaign consisting of 13 missions
  • Play against up to 7 AI opponents
  • 3 difficulty levels

Aspects of the Civilization Series That Are Not Found in Revival

No one would expect that the first Civilization-like game for Windows Mobile would contain everything found in the desktop series, but I thought it would be worthwhile to point out some specific differences between the two for any Civilization fans out there reading this review. You can skip this section if you're not a civfan:

  • Revival has no great wonders. I REALLY hope this changes in future versions
  • No cultural borders. In the most recent incarnation of Civilization, each civilization has an expandable cultural border through which other civilizations cannot pass unless war is declared.
  • No culture or religion. These are absent from Revival
  • No diplomacy. Revival contains no diplomacy model and you are basically in a state of war with all of your opponents from the get go.
  • Less units and technologies. Not surprisingly, there are less units and technologies in Revival than there are in the Civilization games.
  • No technology-revealed resources. In the Civilization games, certain resources are revealed by researching particular technologies. There is nothing comparable in Revival.
  • No air units. There are no air units in Revival

What Makes This a Great Game

Revival is the first game of its kind for the Windows Mobile platform (unless one counts the unfinished game Pocket Humanity) and this is its chief virtue. Finally we have a decent 4x strategy game! And a turn-based game to boot!

All of the gameplay elements of Revival are well-implemented in my opinion: terrain really matters, technological achievement matters, population matters, geography matters, city improvements matter. These are the trappings of a good 4x game and none of them are superfluous in Revival. I was really surprised that the developers managed not only to include all of the necessary 4x elements, but managed to do so in a meaningful way that enhanced gameplay (by contrast, in my opinion, is a game like Pocket 4000 A.D., which contains many 4x elements and consequently looks like a 4x game but doesn't really play like one).

Another commendable achievement is the fact that the developer managed to include all of the complexity inherent in Civilization-like games while maintaining a relatively simple interface. In the later stages of the game, you might have dozens of cities and units and so there is obviously the potential for confusion. Yet Revival makes managing them simple. Scroll from one unit to the next by simply tapping on the unit button; do the same for cities with the city button. It couldn't be simpler. Furthermore, the game alerts you when construction of an improvement is complete in a city so you can be confident that your cities aren't sitting idle. This easy interface is a much appreciated addition to Revival.

There are a number of other nice small touches throughout the game. The most obvious will be the humorous comments and dialog that appear everywhere from the tutorial to the unit descriptions. Another nice touch is the way that the game's look and sound changes as you progress technologically. Players of Civilization will be familiar with this transition. the idea is that learning certain technologies advances your civilization to the next era. When this happens the music will change, the game colors will change, and other changes will occur, such as your teepee villages turning into actual buildings, etc. While this doesn't affect gameplay per se, I found it to be a welcome addition.

Any Room for Improvement?

Despite what XBOX-obsessed kids would tell you, the most important part of any game isn't graphics but rather gameplay. And while the gameplay in Revival is pretty solid overall I've found that there are balance issues sometimes, meaning that if you fall behind your rivals it can be very difficult or impossible to ever catch up. And while we're on the subject I wish that it was more clear who is who among my enemies. There is a rudimentary statistics screen that displays a bar graph of one's situation relative to that of the other civilizations but if I see that, say, the green civilization is doing better than me I don't know who to attack because the "green enemy" isn't green on the game map.

The biggest disappointment for me personally though was the fact that the game cannot generate random worlds. True, there are seven different worlds to choose from with a total of 27 continents but the lack of randomly generated levels severely limits the replayability of a game like this.

Another pet peeve of mine is when games don't have a high score table. I wish Revival had one.

I also think it would be beneficial if enemies were more clearly denoted as such. Currently, when an enemy moves towards your territory you just see a unit that looks exactly like a comparable unit of your own would look. I wish that they at least looked red or in some other way made it clear that they belonged to the enemy.

I found that the tutorial, while hilarious, was a bit hard to follow.

Finally, while there are a lot of buildings that one can construct, I wish there was a little more variety. As it is currently buildings can basically be categorized by their core functions (producing food, producing money, producing minerals, etc.). A farm is simply a plantation that produces more food, a factory is simply a smithy that produces more minerals, and so on.

[Note: I encountered a few minor bugs but won't comment on them until the final version, in which they might be fixed, is released.]

Conclusion

This game isn't perfect but it's a fantastic effort nonetheless. If, like me, you've been waiting for a Civilization-like Windows Mobile game for ages, the wait is definitely--and thankfully--over! I was excited when I heard about Revival, but I have to admit that I was very skeptical that it would live up to my hopes. Boy was I wrong! This game is a major achievement!

I am consistently amazed at the new games that are coming out for the WM platform. This is definitely on my list!

I'm glad to hear that Dale! I look forward to reading your opinion!

Masa, I'm looking forward to reading your review!

I agree that the game can be difficult. I usually play on the medium difficulty level and still find it to be quite challenging.

Having said that, though, I really like that the game does a good job of bringing the complexity of games like this to Windows Mobile, even if it does make it a little bit more difficult for those who have never played TBS games before (you said RTS but I think you meant TBS).

Thanks for posting!

Yep, that's exactly it.

Thanks Graft!

As far as the fights go, yes they are automatic (as they are in similar games like Civilization, etc.). The fights look like the lowermost screenshot in the review. The outcome of any given fight is based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the units engaged in combat as well as factors that modify defense (e.g., terrain, whether or not the unit being attacked has been told to defend, etc.).

As far as power consumption goes, I will try to investigate this weekend and post back here with anything I find out. As it happened, I usually played the game while my device was plugged into AC power so I'm not entirely sure at this point.

Ben, use acbTaskMan to find out the CPU usage. (Unfortunately, past Herocraft games all had ~100% CPU usage; dunno if they have fixed this in the meantime.)

Good idea Werner! After testing the game with acbTaskMan, I can confirm that the game runs at 100% of my 624 MHz CPU.

Werner, the link you posted didn't take me to a valid page...

Ben, try a forced underclock to save battery life. Many games like this run OK even at 208 MHz - and, at the same time, burning way less power.

How does one go about doing a forced overclock (sorry for the ignorance!)

Nick: Thanks for the kind words.

Masa: Thanks for the tip.

Revival is now out. Go and get it!

Ambojitsu: Yes! I encountered the same bug in a pre-release version of the game. I was hoping they would have fixed it by the time the game was released but I guess they haven't and I've been too busy lately to test the released version...

I'll email the developer and let them know ASAP!

Thanks!

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