'Civilization: Beyond Earth' Review: Alien

'Civilization: Beyond Earth' is out now on PC and will be coming to Mac and Linux this year.

Key Features:

  • Civilization... in space
  • New 'tech web' mechanics
  • Alien environments (and lifeforms)
  • Revamped interface

Games of Civilization usually end in one of two ways: either you look in the mirror and see your haggard, sleep-deprived face, suddenly realise that it has been 186 days since you saw sunlight and delete the game in despair, or one of the competing Civs kills everyone else and blasts off into space.

'Beyond Earth' tells the story of what happened next. Once again you're cast as the head of a (this time fairly vague, geographically-inspired) empire alone on a fresh world. But this is no eden populated by a few barbarians, Ghandi, Elizabeth I and Bismark. This is a nightmarish alien fungal hellhole, resplendent with occasionally mean xenomorphic death machines, unbreathable miasmas and squid dragons. Your job is to survive, thrive, and then set about relentlessly destroying all the other civilisations.

In essence, then, this is a classic Civilization game: addictive, horribly detailed but attractive and accessible. It looks pretty much like Civilization V and plays a bit like an extended expansion pack, but that's no terrible thing. Civ 5 was an excellent game, and Beyond Earth is also fundamentally great. It's addictive as crack, difficult but just-about beatable on the middle levels, and expansive in scope.

It's also very different this time around, in some fundamental ways. The alien life forms, for instance, are not just random units that spawn once and die. They're a living presence around you, are tough to beat and keep in place, but also have their human supporters on the planet (damn environmental SJWs!) who want you to stop killing the precious, slobbering monsters and play nice while they eat your loved ones. The tech tree is revamped as a sprawling, at first totally-intimidating 'web' where techs are rediscovered, recombined and tactically researched. You can launch and develop orbital techs to give you an advantage, upgrade units en-masse, and explore the genuinely weird worlds BE throws up to conquer.

All of this adds up to an incredibly assured and interesting game - though not one without downsides. For one, there's no 'strategic view' (a 2D, cut-down tactical version of the map) which was a lifeline in Civ 5 for players with slightly-rubbish PCs. As a result if you're not an owner of a dedicated gaming rig, you might struggle a little to run the game at more than minimum graphics. There are also a few bugs with game resolution, meaning we couldn't run it at native res on our machine.

The game also struggles at times to explain its complexities to new players, and to reward their perseverance with interesting end-game scenarios or rewards. Fans of 'Alpha Centauri', the last Civ set in space, might also find this is less close to that game than they hoped.

But these are pretty much niggles. The game itself is just as endlessly playable and compulsive as ever, and we can't wait for it to slowly ruin our life and be deleted from our machine in a horrified, un-hygienic panic in about six months' time.