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Before I begin I'd like to make clear that this review relates only to the free, Open Source version of Civilisation II.
Freeciv begins as a rather run-of-the mill strategy game, and seems to demand nothing more but unfaltering patience as you wait for any semblance of action to take place. Six hours later, however, you are manipulating 23 major cities, researching Genetic Engineering, commanding an omniprescent militia and wielding the world's greatest economic power. So what if this world may only consist of you and Slovakia?
Freeciv is a one or multi-player game, in which the player has the opportunity to take on the leadership of a civilisation. The first task is to create settlements in areas of optimal fertility, productivity, and accessibility. Taxmen are created to reap gold, while Scientists research technological advances and Entertainers keep citizens content. Cities need to be kept lucrative, technology progressive and output high. This is not as easy a challenge as it sounds - the fact that the game is so realistic makes it such that the civilisation remains demanding and extremely temperamental, so those six hours go into maintaining that precarious balance between territorial expansion, aggression and defense, scientific progress and citizen happiness. It really is that realistic, though - for example, the government of Democracy cannot be implemented until there is a certain level of Literacy, and in turn, Civil Unrest occurs if Industrialization comes before people are granted Democratic rights. In many ways, this is the poltical scientist's ultimate dream - it provides the perfect laboratory for the great poltical questions of "What if?"
So that's the mental value of the game. What about the aesthetics? Graphically, the game may not be as up to speed as others, and that's putting it politely. If truth be told, there isn't much to remind you that you're not playing on an old Commodore 63. On the other hand, if graphics is what you're looking for, this game probably isn't for you anyway. Considering how involving the rest of the game is, to have impressive animation and exciting sounds would be sensory overload. Even Civilisation, Freeciv's £15.00 counterpart, doesn't quite achieve this balance.
Freeciv will have you completely drawn. You'll come out with the understanding the stages civilisations had to go through to get to and beyond where the world is today, you'll find yourself contemplating the parametres of the perfect society, and you'll understand how precariously balanced the government, technology and economy is. To think of the processes the writers and developers must have gone through to create so complex a game is mind-boggling. It truly is an experience.