Those longing for a high-gloss remake of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri to go alongside Take Two Interactive’s ongoing development of Civilization, most recently with Civilization V and its various expansion packs, can let out that bated breath. Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth has been announced as part of TTWO’s fall 2014 lineup, for PC, Mac and Linux, priced at $49.99.
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Alpha Centauri is not officially a Civilization title – creators Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds left Civilization studio Microprose to found Firaxis Games, which was purchased by Take-Two in 2005. The rights to the Civilization brand described a more circuitous route back to its spiritual home, passing through litigation involving Activision, Avalon Hill and Hasbro, and then acquisition before being purchased from Infogrames by Take-Two in 2004 for $22.3 million. However, for many it is still a favorite “Civilization” game, since its play style mirrored that of Meier’s previous banner franchise, and many of its innovations were folded into the main Civilization line.
Continuing the theme of legal shenanigans, Civilization: Beyond Earth is so-called at least in part, no doubt, because EA still hold the rights to the name Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, having published the 1999 original. Whether Firaxis and Take-Two will set the action in the Alpha Centauri star system is probably the kind of question that keeps lawyers dancing on the heads of pins. So far we are told only that the colonists leaving a ruined planet will find “a home beyond earth”, compelling us to drink according to the rules of the Press Release Drinking Game.
So, this is in fact a second-generation “spiritual sequel” – Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri being a spiritual sequel to Sid Meier’s Civilization II – with “spiritual sequel” in both cases meaning “we don’t own the rights to this, but we feel OK about creating a product in a similar vein, since we are Sid Meier’s current corporate and creative home”.
Details are so far relatively thin on the ground, but screenshots from the just-unveiled web site show it is, not surprisingly, going to be a 4X – explore, expand, exploit, exterminate – game on a hex-based grid, very much in the style of the current Civilization, and using a version of its engine.
Some interesting elements promised include a choice of eight possible factions, a non-linear technology development tree and orbital satellites able to affect the action on the ground.
Of particular interest will be the “quest system”. One of the major differences between Civilization and Alpha Centauri back in the golden age of 4X was that the faction choice conferred not only starting benefits but differences in technological development and narrative, with science-fictional chapters telling the story of the colonists’ often fractious relationship with their new home and its engimatic ecosystem. It is not surprising that the more story-driven Alpha Centauri span off three novels, whereas a literary treatment of Civilization would be a deeply misleading history book.
No gameplay footage is yet available, but Firaxis has released a mouth-watering, if not hugely informative, narrative trailer.
This is going to be exciting news for fans of 4X gaming – the absence of a modern equivalent of Alpha Centauri has led to projects like Pandora: First Contact seeking to fill the gap. Much has changed since 1999, of course. Alpha Centauri’s original creative lead Brian Reynolds is now developing a Civ-flavored online game to be published by Nexon, and Sid Meier has moved to a hands-off, seigneurial role.
However, even without the classic team – or departed Civilization V lead Jon Shafer - and without the specific star system in its name, turn-based strategy fans would still probably trust Firaxis and only Firaxis to develop this title, and the Civilization brand association may actually increase sales.
If Firaxis can combine the shiny graphical upgrade of Civilization V with the trippy, Frank Herbert strangeness of the remnants of humanity battling each other and a hostile world, and struggling to remain human in the process, strategy enthusiasts may have to break out the nerve staplers to contain their excitement until release.