Critique this Civ 4 review

Well, I know where the review is from, but to protect the innocent I won’t say.

Every time I read it, I get a little more puzzled. I’ve seen shoddy workmanship - Civ 4 is not shoddy. Though there are slowdowns, I’ve never had a crash. And my primary gaming computer is a three year old laptop. No interface problems at all, except when the memory leak kicks in. (And why does it take so long for Ctrl-T to give me my tile-view?)

My primary complaint about the review is that there is zero on all that has been added or changed except for the religion factor. A lot of background - most of it completely unnecessary to the job at hand.

I don’t give credit for going against the grain if it is merely for that purpose. I doubt that’s the case here. I think that the writer has had the experience he is talking about, and we can’t expect him to describe anyone else’s. But when my reaction to a game is shockingly different from the general population, I usually pause to see if I’m missing something.

Troy

Tell you what, Cristoph, why don’t I just send you the six computers I ran it on, none of which had the problems you’re describing, and none of which managed to out the insidiously hidden “slapdash workmanship”, “shoddy construction”, “unacceptable bugs”, and “rubbish interface” that are apparently limited to only a select few?

The point apparently lost on you and Hanzii is that there’s a difference between a game in which you’re experiencing isolated technical problems that you have every right to be pissed about and a badly made game worthy of the sort of adjectives in Allison Janny’s review. Because, lord knows, I’ve played plenty of games worthy of those adjectives and Civ 4 ain’t one of them.

I’ve been playing Civ4 since probably about a month before it was finished, and you know what I’ve seen all along? A flexible and insightful interface, a gratifying amount of polish, thorough and accessible ingame documentation, a generally solid engine that’s gotten smoother with the latest patch, and what is easily the best built strategy game I’ve played in the past five years.

And here’s the kicker: none of those statements is hyperbole.

-Tom

Oh please. Those “select few” were numerous enough to create huge threads (and no, it’s not always the same two people posting…) in every available Civ4 forum about the game’s frequent compatibility issues. Several people right on this forum chimed in repeatedly that they still couldn’t play wonder movies without stuttering – how is that not shoddy? Do you remember any other recent game that couldn’t even play back prerendered movies on a system that could run the game?

Not hyperbole, but in part merely theoretical (the interface would be reasonably good if it was responsive which is isn’t) and in part simply untrue (the in-game documentation is neither thorough nor accessible, although it’s nice that it’s there in the first place).

I agree that Civ4 is the best strategy game I’ve played in years, or perhaps ever, but that’s due to the fantastic game design and the excellent presentation. I don’t see how those two great strengths oblige me to overlook blatant defects in the areas of compatibility (your calling these issues “isolated” doesn’t make them so), performance (which you didn’t comment on), and user interface (which isn’t that great except when compared to MOO3).

Tom, do you think you could send one to me? I can’t play for more than 15 minutes without it causing my videocard to turn off my monitor. I want think this reviewer’s comment is off and that I’m the exception to the rule. However, it describes my experience with the game very well (minus the interface comment). I’ve spent enough time in the support forums trying to fix this issue that I’m very sure that I’m not alone.

I thought the review was ok, not great but not bad; let’s call it a B or B+. Specifc comments: the review spent relatively too much time on older versions of Civ. Given the focus on the interfacem the rewview should have mentioned the ways in which the interface improves on past versions by making more information visible on the main screen. I would also have made space to add more specifics on some of the game play changes, such as the the interlinked great-man+specialist system and perhaps the promotion system for units.

So, wait, are you saying he’s right, Hanzii? “Slapdash workmanship”, “shoddy construction”, “unacceptably buggy”, “crashes regularly”, and “the game simply lacks polish”? These are obviously hyperbole, much like your snipes about “bad design”, “shoddy navigation”, and “rubbish interface”.

[/quote]
One man’s hyperbole…
I’m sorry I only ran it on two pc’s (three graphic cards) and experienced problems on all. My remarks weren’t snipes nor hyperbole. I stand by the fact, that the interface and especially the civiliopedia isn’t designed by somebody with a keen eye towards usability - that you had a 1½ month more than me to familiarize yourself with it, doesn’t change that.

Hmm, maybe the mystery reviewer isn’t such a mystery…

And no, I don’t review many games, I don’t review in English, my reviews aren’t avaliable online and if somebody did a cut and paste of one and posted it here, I’m sure our legal department would be in touch shortly.

I explained it. Sorry if my English is lacking. The alfabethical list is only of units, not logically placed and doesn’t give you all information on a given unit. If you want that, you have to navigate by pretty pictures.

I agree the game is brilliant. I would mention these faults in a review, but not focus on them, since the game is so much more and these annoying and shoddy issues shouldn’t prevent anybody from buying it - most can probably be fixed in a patch. But there’s nothing inherently wrong in pointing out, that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

I gotta go with Tom on this one. I have found the interface tio be remarkably well thought out and flexible. I have no problems running any pre-rendered videos. The only two problems I have is with a PBEM game and that’s only because I can’t get the other players to take their turns (not the game’s fault) and with the CPU whooping my ass at the higher difficulty levles which didn’t happen in CivIII. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn site closer than 99% of the games that come out these days.

I don’t like the review at all. I’d give it a 4. Here’s why:

The first paragraph is boilerplate. It was a worthless use of the cut and paste keys on the keyboard. It was a waste of time for me to read it.

There was a nice history lesson there but I read 7 paragraphs before I read something about Civilization 4.

You can’t talk about a sequel and the changes it makes to a previous iteration of the series without actually talking about what changed. Troy mentioned this above. You can’t introduce things this way and leave so few details in the meat of the review.

The review jumps around too much. You can almost feel the reviewer getting stuck on the subject of the interface, a portion of the review that just doesn’t seem to fit in very well with the rest of the review.

Most of the interface comments are nitpicks and some of them are wrong. His comments about modality are kind of silly. There are very good reasons to do this to and for a game player. Tom shot down the online reference comment above.

The rest of his interface comments are incorrect. Civ 4 does an excellent job of presenting a complex game full of interesting details to the user. For example, tooltips are presented in a consistent way and in a consistent position. The use of color and icons are used throughout to enhance or point out specific information to the user. The reviewer has no appreciation of the amount of information under their fingertips (which is a blessing of the interface). How about mentioning things like the fact there is online help in the first place?

The only place I agree with the reviewer is when they talk about instability, mostly because of the issues I’ve had getting it to run on my personal PC (to me, it is unacceptably buggy). To a point, I think this comment is fair. That said, he or she should have done some research and, possibly, borrowed 5 of Tom’s PCs. I can’t believe that the issues that I’ve experienced are widespread. There’s no way the review scores around the net would be as high as they are if that were the case.

I didn’t like the ending as well. I hate people that waffle.

I think Writeability is average. Accurateobility is acceptable, but factobility is a little bit iffy.

KG

Also, how did “faced-paced” get past the editor?

I still haven’t played Civ 4. It’s my X-mas presetn from my wife. And although I know she has bought it, she won’t let me preview my present. :(

So from the perspective of a Civ player (1,2,3 and SMAC), this review is poor, but makes a great games forum post. It makes a great forum post because it articaulates specific issues with the game. But as a review, it really doesn’t tell me a lot about the game play.

Joking aside, exactly.

I’ve no real problem with anything he said as opinions.

As a review, however, it’s considerably beneath what I’d consider professional quality.

KG

I would reject this review and reassign it. Fuzzyslug has a good breakdown, but I’ll add:

The first paragraph needs to be rewritten–it doesn’t set up anything that he talks about in the review, which makes it filler.

He spends too much wordage (the next four paragraphs) talking about past games in the series. None of this foreshadows any of his criticisms, even though it’s written to make it sound like it does. You can delete everything from the first paragraph to “One of the major changes is the introduction of a rich variety of religions…” without altering the substance of the review. If something is that easy to edit out, it’s filler.

He explains religion, but doesn’t explain how it helps or hurts gameplay, other than to say that it is “interesting.”

His comment on how the economic and cultural system affects city building is also curiously neutral, and too nonspecific. If he can spend four paragraphs talking about the highs and lows of Civilizations I-III, then he can spend a few words explaining why encouraging the development of mega-cities is a good thing.

And those two brief, random comments mark the beginning and end of his assessment of Civ IV’s gameplay. That’s a big problem.

The next two paragraphs (about the music and graphics) make the review start to feel like a laundry list. They aren’t bad comments, but coming in the middle of the review with no segue, they feel like a nonsequitur. I would move these up front, probably to the first paragraph.

All the problems thus far have been errors of style and composition. The last section of the review contains errors of judgement, and those are more problematic. He points out one legitimate interface issue (accessing the pop-up help), but then takes a hyperbolic leap to “The UI in Civ IV is bad. No, not just bad; it’s terrible.” That one example is not enough to justify that comment, and having played Civ IV, I doubt that he’d be able to offer more because the UI is actually quite good. His complaints about the Civiliopedia are, as others have pointed out, factually incorrect. Comments about stability are tricky. I haven’t experienced any problems personally, and though I have seen some complaints online, I don’t think the issues are as pervasive as he makes them out to be.

My profile of the author: the review reads like an excuse to write a diatribe about his personal technical issues. You can almost hear him thinking “Have I said enough about the gameplay yet? Maybe I should throw out one more random comment before I start bitching.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the last few paragraphs were the first thing he wrote.

I don’t really want to turn this into a tech support thread, but what other games can you play without a problem? That’s sort of an odd problem you’ve got there (although maybe I’m wrong, can you link to the support forum thread?), and my first inclination is that your card (or even the slot that it’s in) is in the process of kicking the bucket and this is a symptom.

I don’t really want to turn this into a tech support thread, but what other games can you play without a problem? That’s sort of an odd problem you’ve got there (although maybe I’m wrong, can you link to the support forum thread?), and my first inclination is that your card (or even the slot that it’s in) is in the process of kicking the bucket and this is a symptom.[/quote]

Matthew, I’d be happy to kick this into the hardware section if that’s appropriate.

I play all sorts of stuff. I play Madden 2006 all the time. I have several recing games (SimRacing, Richard Burns), action games (UT 2004, Doom 3, FEAR demo), Battle for Middle Earth, WoW, and some other stuff I’d have to go look at. I did have a recent problem with a freeze with Painkiller that made me install it on another system but that, as far as I remember, was a different type of error.

I agree that it sounds like a greater problem, except that I’ve only seen anything like it once (Madden did this just one time). I’ve spent quite a bit of time upgrading my video drivers and even flashing my bios to see if things would work. Nothing has.

I wanted to mention that, even with my issues with Civ 4, I’ve lost the ability to be too critical about its stability. Soren invited me into the beta test as a result of my complaints in a previous thread. I’m pretty damn thankful for the great customer support.

The review addresses problems I experienced myself and which were not well-covered in other reviews I read. I would have found it useful. I like the contrarian tone: it’s direct, it isn’t overdone, it’s not snark soup.

Focus, however, is not there. The writer spends too long wandering down meadow lanes, and the things that jumped out at me – descriptions of problems, the game’s heritage, the civilopedia – could all be summed up in the final third of a more buxom review.

Here is my FBI profile of the writer:

This looks like the work of someone who can write O.K., and say what they mean, but who doesn’t know how to shape and structure a story.

This happens a lot at small newspapers, which I imagine have a similar relationship to journalists as the gaming press: it’s hard to find ones who actually respect and know the basics on how to write a story, rather than just write.

Show this reviewer an inverted pyramid and hand him/her one of those “best feature reviews” books. I should know by the second graf what the reviewer is going to say. I should be reading on because I want exposition, not because I’m being carrot-and-sticked for the actual opinion.

tl;dr

I give the reviewing of the review a 4 (out of 5) so far. It seems to collectively cover all the angles. Someday there might be better reviewing, though, and I’m saving my fifth star for that.

I think a lot of the discontent with the interface has to do with the sluggishness – anything short of perfection pisses people off when it takes longer than it should. There are definitely some legitimate complaints about the interface though, a few of which I already made in another thread.

So how would you rate this review of a review?

Troy

Grognard is a term that may be lost on many potential readers. Other than that, good. I enjoy passing references to flaws and passages that almost juice when talking about taking full advantage of systems. When your civilization gets wiped out, do you restart from a save or from the very beginning?