Beyond Earth is the latest game in the renowned Civilization series of strategy games. The typical set up of taking small group of settlers and crafting a culture of your own design is transplanted to a science fiction setting as humanity flees earth to settle on a new planet.
At the endgame of the last installment, Civ 5, the player had near future tech, and you might expect Beyond Earth to push the game further in this direction. However, one of the loading screens sums it up when it says that moving to a new planet was more like beginning again than continuing.
The gameplay is more refined than it is expanded upon. Compared to the gold edition of Civ 5, which had two large expansions bolted upon it, Beyond Earth is more cohesive and less daunting for beginners. As always, a beginner should not expect victory in their first game as there are still tons of mechanics to learn.
From the opening cutscene it’s clear that the game wants you to be emotionally invested in, not just your kingdom, but the ordinary people dwelling in it. This approach is at odds with the typical strategy mechanics which place you as an overseer, scanning the entire globe and largely having to treat people as nothing more than a resource.
Throughout the game, quests will appear as moral choices. For example, human-robotic hybrids may seek refuge in your civilisation and you must decide if you will grant them asylum.
However, it feels superfluous to be told that there is change or unrest in your civilisation when little evidence of this surfaces in regular gameplay. I felt detached from the choices and they only served to make waiting for plans to come together more bearable.
The lack of visual feedback can be a detriment. When enemy spies enacted a Coup against my capital and turned my own people against me, I actually had no idea what had just happened. The only visual feedback I received was my beloved Capital changing flags. Beyond Earth, like past Civ games, never makes you feel like you are actually ruling a nation. Instead it feels more like a digitised table-top game.
The music is gorgeous and is indicative of a really high level of polish all around. However, compared to traditional, historical Civ games, the overall atmosphere is more one-note and sombre and the designs are more restricted. One art department is not able to offer cultures any where near as interesting and detailed as those found in actual human history.
Although the designs of armour and vehicles are cool, they do have a generic Halo/Crysis vibe. As the game goes on you can upgrade units and designs and perks branch off depending on the way you play (affinities). The process appears exciting at first glance however, due to there only being three branches, development feels artificial and restricted.
Though the game does very little wrong, it also offers very few reasons to pick it up over its predecessor.