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Galactic Civilizations Review
publisher: Strategy First
developer: Stardock Systems
PIII 600, 128MB RAM, 8MB Video Card, 600MB HD
|ESRB rating: E
release date: Mar 26, 03 (released)
|» All About Galactic Civilizations on ActionTrip|
I've never been particularly keen on OS/2 games. But, back in the old days they were quite a catch and I have to admit that I would occasionally run into a few addictive titles like The Master of Orion series, Reach For the Stars, Star Empires I-VI and a few others. Whatever I may think, back then these games were a universal pastime. The development team at Stardock and the reputable publisher Strategy First have decided to revive Galactic Civilizations, a popular OS/2 space strategy game, and bring it closer to today's gaming standards. As it turns out, this endeavor would've been more welcome if it were accomplished a few years ago, since Galactic Civilizations is now competing with games like Master of Orion 3. It's abundantly clear that most gamers nowadays are used to top-notch next-generation games like Splinter Cell, GTA3, and HALO, and it's unlikely they will be captivated by a game of this caliber. Nonetheless, it's important to emphasize that turn-based strategies like Galactic Civilizations are meant to challenge the mind, and they still come as a nice refreshment in a gaming scene that's continually flooded with 3D FPS and RTS games.
The overall story seems somewhat of a let-down. Not much is explained in the introductory film sequence and further on during the game you still won't have a clear picture of what your ultimate purpose is in the game. Granted, the official web site offers a thorough explanation of the historical events that took place in the worlds of Galactic Civilizations, but that doesn't seem to cover it from my point of view. Players usually hope for a profound story, presented through a clear-cut plot structure along with in-depth characterizations. Although the characters may not be such an important ingredient for a turn-based space strategy, a more involving story would be appreciated. Anyhow, we've presented a few details about the basics of the story in our recent hands-on preview, so you can learn more about it there. Essentially, the only thing you need to know about the story is that there are 36 factions and they are currently struggling to maintain influence in the universe. Once colonization begins for your character something goes terribly wrong and you found yourself in an uncharted region of the galaxy. So basically, your task is to colonize all the inhabitable planets, build an armada to defend your people, and research as many new technologies as you can. You'll also have to make a choice whether you wish to annihilate your foes or live with them in peace and harmony. (Ed.- Wasn't that the choice in Civilzation that no one ever took?)
Before you begin, you can choose five different opponents and you are also allowed to make several adjustments to their skills and intelligence. Here is a warning, if you select a low-level AI it might ruin the whole feeling because then the game is childishly simple. Similar to classics like Master of Orion, your main goal is to explore space and inhabit any suitable planet you run into along the way. Once you've established a colony you can start producing various ships and research a variety of technologies that are significant to your progress.
Advancement and evolution becomes a routine to the player very quickly, which means the game is straightforward in terms of gameplay. This is no doubt praiseworthy, but there are also many different aspects of Galactic Civilizations that may dishearten hardcore new generation gamers. The first, rather annoying, setback is the interface, which is highly inadequate. Secondly, some players are not going to have the patience and skill to master all of the game's options and features until they've really made an effort. This is, unfortunately, why it may not do all that well on the popularity scale.
In spite of these mishaps, Galactic Civilizations can hold one's interest for some time. Before you me smother me with your raging skepticism, you should know that this game has some positive characteristics. Looking back on Master of Orion 3 I remember feeling very disappointed that the AI did most of the work for the player, leaving very little room for true strategic challenges and on-the-spot improvisations. Well, frankly, it's a very different case in this GC. It's obvious that Brad Wardell (the game's lead designer) and his team did a bang up job on making a believable AI for your opponents. For those of you who are looking to explore and improve your strategic abilities, this game will prove to be a great test. The diplomacy, for instance, proves how effectively the AI can function (unlike Master of Orion 3, where you have to slog through a series of meaningless discussions and negotiations that bring absolutely no results).
In addition, it's good to see that there are various ways through which you can expand your colonies and triumph over enemies. Each time you begin a game you are treated to a unique challenge - your opponents are different and the planets and star systems are randomly placed. Additionally, a rather nice and realistic element in the game is the Galactic News Network or GNN. (Ed.- Ted Turner's Futurama-like preserved head owns the company! Bonus!) GNN, broadcasts information about the events that took place throughout the universe (Ed. - Vadar, don't watch too much GNN, it can be bad for ya).
Most of the low points can be attributed to the rather flimsy presentation and a general lack of richer visuals. Since this a remake of an ancient OS/2 strategy, we didn't expect to encounter any ground-breaking and jaw-dropping GeForce-powered real-time 3D action. On the other hand, we didn't expect to see a shabby 2D space map either. Generally, there are very few effects that might actually remind us we live in an age of powerful CPU technology and graphics. So, I guess any feature like smooth 3D animations now and then, or some nice lighting effects could've livened the atmosphere just a wee bit. The sounds have been addressed in a very similar slipshod manner, which sort of ruins the whole atmosphere even further.
To sum up, you never know when a game is fun and addictive until you learn how to play it. This one may have somewhat of a sharp learning curve, but once you get into the routine, it shouldn't be too difficult to conquer every region of the galaxy. No matter what you prefer, war, political or economic influence, or diplomacy, it's all there to assure you'll have a variety of ways to prosper and triumph over other races. The game doesn't include multiplayer, which we do not consider a drawback since the designing team took the opportunity to enhance the single-player campaigns instead. Also, the wide range of options and customizations increase the game's replay value. On the weak side of the situation though, Galactic Civilizations simply doesn't have enough features to allure average gamers into its complex world. Although the developers did a satisfying job on the AI and diverse gameplay intricacies, the game's overall presentation doesn't match up to the standards of games we're used to today.
Galactic Civilizations can be played in many different ways, and each time the universe, races, and planets are shifted randomly, so you'll never be bored. This gives a nice boost to the game's replayability. The AI is well-balanced and challenging. Some nice gameplay touches here and there that give a touch of authenticity to the whole experience. Many options, customizations, and possibilities to tackle with. You could just enjoy the ride... if you're susceptible to turn-based oldies like this one;
Although the visuals were meant to stir up the reminiscence of OS/2 oldies, it still needs more flavors that might've given it a crucial push into today's gaming scene. I was also kind of hoping for richer sounds and a better atmosphere altogether. The interface could do with a few renovations here and there; it appears very confusing at times (particularly at the beginning).
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