Reviewed: May 6, 2003
Released: March 25, 2003
Space Ė the final frontier. These are the voyages of the USS Hero. Itís mission, to explore the ass end of the universe in order to study space junk and hopefully find something useful in the scrap. That is but one of the many ships you have available to you in order to further your conquest of the galaxy. Aside from survey vessels you get colony ships, scouts and various fighters, corvettes, frigates, battleships and of course the Death Ė I mean Terror Star.
Galactic Civilizations opens with the universe being opened to colonization because humanity was creative enough to invent the hyperdrive and make the use of stargates obsolete. Also in our inestimable genius we decided to share that secret with the universe. So now there are five great civilizations (and us) vying for control of the whole thing, not to mention a whole slew of other nasty little boils on the face of your empire and other malevolent surprises.
Galactic Civilizations features:
Galactic Civilizations is much like most other political or governmental simulation games. You have the option of directing your budget in three different directions to research, social development, or military development. The more money you put in one the faster you get results, but of course having a high research budget means that you get to put less money into the other two categories. Research lets you advance as a civilization, build better equipment, enrich your economy and industry, and improve your current equipment. Military lets you build ships faster, and social improves your planets through economic advancement, terraforming, and industrial build up.
After that itís basically boils down to waiting for your stuff to be build through the budget you have allotted (you can purchase social or military projects so they are ready the next turn, but unless you have a massive store of cash you buy it with a down payment and installments. Do that too much and good luck doing anything else because your whole budget is going to paying off debts). Unfortunately the computer cheats; well not really it just does things so much more effectively than you can because it can keep track of everything. Thereís a reason the Borg can walk all over the Federation.
Anyway, what livens up the action is the random events. Anything can happen from having researchers develop a way to make zombie warriors to a fanatic religious cult using an ancient device to bring a species of galactic conquistador into your space. Have fun trying to get rid of that particular infestation. What bugs me about them is that almost all of these events are at least partially detrimental. Itís not like I didnít already have enough to deal with, I have to have the computer screwing me every half dozen turns too. Itís not very random if everything that happens is bad. Also if those interstellar conquerors do happen to show their faces theyíll mop the floor with you because they can make the best ships at will and donít have to worry about little things like ship yards or build times.
Also the really big kick in the teeth is that there are space sharks. Whatís that? You havenít heard of space sharks. Well theyíve heard of you. Theyíre hungry, and your trade vessels look like tasty appetizers for the main dish; your Terror Star. Thatís right, the star base youíve just spent the last at least four turns and five thousand dollars building. Thatís not including all the time you spent researching to be able to build one, or all the effort put into upgrading the defense, support, trade, and other areas of the station. Maxed out, you have spent a good portion of your game building the thing. It can destroy a planet. The space shark will kill it go back for seconds. Does anybody else think thatís wrong?
So aside from unbalancing factors such as those, thereís plenty to keep you occupied here. The research trees are HUGE and pay off pretty consistently. As a hint though, specialize in one type of research until you have a good hold on the galaxy, otherwise youíll just fall behind and get ground beneath your oppressorís boot heel.
Also be careful of what you do because some decisions have significant repercussions. In colonizing a planet if you get rid of the indigent semi-sentient animal life, well youíll crawl a few ticks closer down the evil end of the ladder, chose to leave them as they are and suffer a population penalty, but you get closer to being good. This really only affects two things, the most important of which is how the other species react to you.
Think of looking at a game board from above and thatíll give you the best idea of the graphics. I know that sounds like Iím being overly critical, but that isnít the case. Thatís just a way of conveying perspective. The ďboardĒ itself is like something taken from star charts with the actual systems shown with sun like objects. The ships and stations are all from a top down view as well so while there isnít a lot of depth to the objects there is good detail.
The most beautiful thing about the game are the planets. Other than the galaxy screen there are sub-menus for each system that shows the planets when you click on them. Not every planet is paradise of course, but the most well developed planets all look sumptuous and inviting, but in a very sci-fi manner. You donít get the basic blue on green Earth palette. On any planet sufficiently advanced you get well-blended pastels with a nice misting and softening effects.
There are also a few cinematics built into the game that play when you first colonize a planet, or build a space station, or study a piece of space debris. These are surprisingly good when compared with the rest of the game graphics; as are the renders of the other species, with good hair and skin textures and smooth motion (the few inches that they move). In fact the only real complaint I have about the graphics is that some of the societal structures are a little simplistic. Some buildings like the Galactic Stock Exchange or the Embassy are awesome, but the News Agency structure is little more than a folded cardboard box.
That aside however, the colors and textures are liberally applied with a few subtly utilized effects which is good because a background of unrelieved black would get a little oppressive after a while.
Ah, every species with a theme song, allís right with the universe. That being the case, the music is nothing to write back to the moisture farm about. There are a lot of nice touches, with music in all the appropriate spots; however, the music doesnít stick around. Itís like it just drops by for coffee, says hi and then runs off.
It is nice to have when it does show up, especially the evil race, because itís a nice organ mood moment, but Iíd like to have seen more of that.
You may want to turn down the sound effects too because the lack of other background noise emphasizes them. You know when combat happens because there are rather loud explosions and weapons discharges. These effects are also pretty basic, but fitting if noisy.
The one really neat approach to this game is that there is really no one set storyline that you play through again and again every time you start anew. So there is a much play time in here as you can stand. There are five other major races that you can alter the alignment and intelligence of (the really stupid ones think that communication consists of a finger up their nose, note this doesnít prevent them from researching things faster than you and building things better). Additionally there are other races that join the game at random, colonizing uninhabited worlds and then telling you to stay the hell away. Also, though there is really no plot per say there are a lot of events that tend to string together into a bit of story with you as center. So itís kind of like those choose your own adventure books, but without the cheesy dialogue.
Personally, Iíve put over forty hours on the game and I still havenít completed all the researches even though I discovered what made Brittney Spears popular and how to create galaxies, let alone destroy planets. While I have conquered a few small galaxies, I have yet to get a full fight with all the races and a huge galaxy so there is plenty of challenge left for me. If you like a slow inexorable conquest then youíll probably lose the next few months and that new job to just one more turn. If youíre too impatient then well not only will you end up with your kiester in your hands but youíll be frustrated as well.
If thatís not enough for you then there is the by now ubiquitous multiplayer option to keep you supplied with a good array of fresh meat for the mill.
Despite being a little too difficult, even on the easy setting, and having all the break-neck speed of a run away yak in a snowdrift Galactic Civilizations is actually an enjoyable experience. There is enough dark humor and just outright funny moments that you wonít get bored, and there is plenty of gaming options from different research approaches to alignment choices to just different ways of conquering (you can just be the most influential species, and make your civilization appealing enough that the other civs rebel to join your side.)
So go have fun storming the galactic fortress, just watch out for that da-dun, da-dun, da-dun.