There's plenty to like about "Civilization: Beyond Earth."
It's gorgeous, nails the gameplay and eats up gamers' time as well as just about any turn-based strategy game on the PC market.
But something about it just isn't adding up.
"Beyond Earth," for the unaware, is a spinoff released on Oct. 24 from Firaxis Games' acclaimed and long-running "Civilization" PC series. It also serves as a spiritual successor to "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri." As the name suggests, "Beyond Earth" is "Civilization" in space.
Both predecessors are noted for the personality thrown in with the different factions and leaders available to control. It always felt unique to control the Americans or the Mongols, and it was never hard to tell anyone apart.
That's where "Beyond Earth" falls short. Polystralia and the Pan-Asian Cooperative don't stand out from one another in any discernible way, unless you're controlling one and not the other. That goes for all eight factions.
It may sound like a minor complaint to some -- and if that doesn't bother you, then you'll enjoy "Beyond Earth" all the more. But if you're like me, the level of detachment makes it really hard to care about what's going on beyond winning or losing. When one game can last for hours on end, it's preferable to enjoy the ride and not just the destination.
Otherwise, the game is solid. Three added win parameters make this more than a "Civilization" mod. Players now can win by taming the planet in one of three ways, dubbed Harmony, Supremacy and Purity. These replace the usual science victory in traditional "Civ."
Another interesting tweak replaces barbarians with different forms of alien life. Unlike the nuisance barbarians, the aliens can become assets, depending on the choices a faction makes along the way. It's interesting, and there's a learning curve to properly utilizing the aliens -- and knowing how to avoid the seemingly-unavoidable mega worms early on in a session.
Surely, mods will come along to make some of the more lackluster presentation elements more palatable. Until then, PC gamers will have to settle for what "Beyond Earth" is at present: a good, but not great, 4X game that may or may not be worth moving on from the 4-year-old "Civilization V" to play.