It’s been a long time since Firaxis have explored foreign worlds, but Alpha Centauri was an off shoot that has had fans clamouring for more ever since, and so with the main Civilization series having gone over Earth’s history more than often enough, the time is ripe to hop onto colony ships and head out into the great unknown once more. It might not have the Alpha Centauri name, but Civilization: Beyond Earth could definitely be considered a spiritual successor.
Each game starts as humankind strives to leave Earth behind, following from an event known only as “The Great Mistake”, yet this isn’t some unified approach to settling planets, but rather as fractured and diverse as you could imagine leading to some great catastrophe on our home world. Starting the game sees you pick from factions such as the American Reclamation Corporation or the Slavic Federation, also choosing the kinds of people that you would take on your voyage, the cargo and the kind of vessel that they travelled on.
These are all choices that will have an impact on your options as you start to play the game, and find yourself on one of several different tilesets. If could be that humanity’s best hope was to land on a Fungal planet, with deep greys and blues to its foliage, a desert-like Airy planet or something more akin to Earth in the Lush tileset. Whichever planet you land on, it won’t necessarily be that friendly to humankind, and how your faction goes about researching further technology will come to define them.
You could be playing as any of the corporations, but you’ll quickly have to make choices that set out the course of your group, by way of their technological affinity. There’s the cybernetically enhance Supremacy affinity, as your faction determines that humanity must be able to survive regardless of their environment. It’s a similar thought process to the Harmony affinity, in which humans will come to take on genetic attributes and evolve to suit the planet, but these both stand in stark contrast to those who follow the Purity affinity, which refuses to embrace the environment and instead will embark on terraforming projects that transform the landscape into more Earth-like farmland and so forth.
The affinity that you choose will also come to determine the upgrades, technologies and units that are open to you on the tech web. This marks a shift from the tech tree of Civ V, representing a foundation in technology and science inherited from Earth by starting you in the middle of this web and pushing you to choose the main direction in which your faction will research, along the lines of Might, Prosperity, Knowledge and Industry.
This greater technological prowess is manifest in the game map by having a second layer set high in the sky. This opens up the option to have satellites of various kinds, whether they’re up there to harvest solar energy for you, or have more militaristic purposes like, you know, sending a beam of death and destruction down on your enemies.
Though diplomacy is always an option, and there’s a new favours system in which the AI may reach out for a special favour which you can then call back down the line, as a way of making diplomacy less like pulling teeth, but it wouldn’t be a Civ game if you couldn’t wage war on each other. Except you’re not the only ones on this planet, and there are indigenous life forms that can come to disrupt your development.
In the controlled demo, that expanded upon that in the video above, a large aquatic alien dubbed the Kraken was blocking a particular trade route out of the ARC’s main city harbour, and so the decision was made to turn the nearby warships and even the city’s aerospace fighter on it. It took quite a beating before it died, but the thing is that the other aliens, though not of an intelligence to rival the colonising humans, will remember this and start to attack more frequently.
It’s alien races which come to the fore in one of Beyond Earth’s possible victory conditions, with humanity always striving to find other intelligent life in this galaxy. Though they’re certainly not to be found on the planet that the human factions are squabbling over, they are out there. Through a particular quest chain that sees you chasing after hints of another spacefaring race, you eventually come to build a gigantic beacon – literally the largest and tallest building that’s ever been created for the Civ 5 engine that Beyond Earth runs on – and summon the aliens to visit you and your faction, setting you as the ambassadors for all human kind in this first contact.
After years and years of retreading the same ground, albeit endeavouring to improve with each iteration, it’s great to see Firaxis blasting off into space once more. There’s smart ideas like the affinity system and having a tech web rather than a tech tree setting out to differentiate itself from the foundations of Civ V on which it is built, but as the game heads for release in October, it’s that feeling of going off to new planets and playing at empires on another world that will have Alpha Centauri fans eager to get their hands on this.