As much as Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth is purported to be a spiritual successor to the Alpha Centauri series, the E3 demo really made it clear that it’s a sci-fi themed version of Civilization V. The similarities really are apparent wherever you look – from the hexagonal tiles and map, to the graphical style and the way gameplay proceeds. That’s no bad thing in my book, Civilization V was, after all, one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played.
Beyond Earth takes place in the distant future, after an event known as the ‘Great Mistake’ (presumably not referring to CivCity: Rome), as humanity has spread out through the galaxy to distant worlds and split into three factions – Purity, Harmony and Supremacy. All three have different views on how the human race should continue to evolve, and choosing to align with any one of them affects your philosophy. For instance, Harmony believes that blending our culture with that of the worlds we inhabit (living in ‘harmony’ with the alien nature) is the most sensible way for humanity to colonise worlds, while Purity believes in the opposite, staunchly wanting to preserve our culture and history as it is. This division runs through the whole game, and you can view how various players and states on the map are aligned by clicking on them and checking out which colour represents them.
Other sci-fi touches extend to the monsters which now roam the map, coming in all shapes and sizes and lending a real alien feel to new worlds. However, they act much like more passive barbarians – they will not attack your colonies or facilities without being provoked, but once they have been you’d better make sure you have enough attack units to get rid of them for good. New explorer units allow you to check out the map, in much the same way that Scout units did in Civ V, although there are some significant differences. For one, they can discover new areas of interest (such as alien ruins, giant skeletons, resources, etc) and set up a research site to analyse their findings. This action will devour the unit, though, so the player will have to account for explorer units more often in their resource management then they would in Civ V.
The new setting also allows for lots of cool new units and elements, like giant robots, laser guns and spacecraft. The hands-off demo presented at E3 was only short, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see too much more from Beyond Earth, but I hope it can re-ignite my passion for ‘just one more turn’ gaming when it hits PC later this year.