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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution

Every generation needs a new Civilization.

Revolution's a dangerous word. It promises absolute change, yet so often means the same but tweaked - a new colour, a new interface... It's much the same as how 'awesome' once was used to describe humanity or nature's greatest achievements, but now can mean 'that's a nice hat'. I rankle a little at seeing it applied to this console overhaul of the venerable globe-conquering turn-based strategy series. It's still Civilization. It's not Civilization played only with your tongue, or Civilization that can travel through time. Civilization Smallerisation or Civilization Simplification would perhaps be more apt, but they don't look quite so good on a shop shelf. They suggest what Civilizution has done is merely to lessen itself. In truth, that's exactly what it's done. But it's done so with noble purpose, to focus on what is most important.

Civilization's globe, complexity and strategy alike have shrunk significantly, making for a game that makes sense to a newcomer within ten minutes, not ten hours, and though most of what's been lost is rolls of unnecessary flab, there will be an awful lot of people who'll lament that the chunky look kinda suited it. Civilizution is a leaner, brighter-eyed figure, with nice teeth and none of that musty PC smell, but its attention span seems a little diminished. Whenever I approached the part of what would, in an unrevolved Civ, be crunch-time, with a hundred different facets of war and expansion and uprising and construction and research and religious freedom and pollution to worry about at once, I'd suddenly find myself within spitting distance of conclusion. Half the globe was already either wiped out or absorbed into mine or another Civ, making it a straight race between me and those that remained.

In theory, it's all in the numbers. In practice, there's an oft-infuriating random element to combat, which I'm not entirely convinced by.

Simpler. Faster. Shallower? Maybe. Also remarkably tense. There was none of this vague, elaborate points-collection or 80-turn construction of 12 different spaceship parts. Just a pulse-pounding dead heat - would my proud Japanese Empire amass 20,000 gold and claim economic triumph before Russia built a craft to sail the stars? And before the Zulus gobbled up one more rival and snatched a conquest victory? All this emerged in that game's last 20 turns, making for a genuinely thrilling race to the finish.

When a given Civ commences a game-winning action - in my case, collecting that giant cashpile and starting work on the World Bank wonder - the rest of the Civs hear about it, and where I'm doing it. No matter what careful alliances you might have forged by this point, all bets are now off. You must be stopped, at all costs. So, informed that I'd started on the World Bank, the other three remaining Civs turn on me. The still world comes suddenly to life. Troops pour out of nearby Moscow, battleships and subs slip out of Zimbabe's harbour with murderous intent. My outlying cities fall, one by one - my focus on cash meant I had little in the way of military defences. In desperation, I pour every unit I do have into Nagasaki, where the Bank was being constructed. Four turns to go. No other cities left. I look at the circling French bombers, at the Zulu tanks rumbling across the land towards Nagasaki, and steel myself for what's ahead. Truly, this is an historic last stand. Sure, I'd feel a little more heroic if it wasn't all about building a bank, but nevertheless, each time I pressed End Turn felt impossibly momentous.

The characters are beautifully animated, even protesting and squabbling when one pushes another off-screen.

The intense aggression of the other Civs is because there isn't a meaningful second or third or fourth place in Civ Rev - there is simply The Winner and the losers. While, at first, the sudden hostility of the NPC Civs whenever my victory was in sight seemed flighty and artificial, I soon realised a human player would behave exactly the same way. If you're about to win, they've nothing left to lose. Why on Earth would they want to help you? The only logical course of action is to try and bring you down, and in doing so maybe buy themselves some time. In this case, the other Civs didn't buy themselves enough. One more turn and they'd have had me, but my last Modern Infantry weathered the storm just long enough for the World Bank to complete. Victory! I might have but one city remaining, but through it now flows the global economy. Give it up, Zulus. Sucks to be you, France.