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Archived Review

Alpha Centauri

So here's the situation. It's the 22nd century. Earth has been blown to hell by war, famine, and disease. The United Nations, recognizing that the earth will not be a viable place to live in a few more decades, decides that they must act to preserve the human race. The plan is to settle colonies on another planet. If successful it will be a new beginning for the human race in a vast utopia.

A slight problem occurs during the flight to this new planet. The Unity, the spaceship that is transporting the colonists to this new planet, has a malfunction with its engines and is damaged. The 7 leaders aboard the Unity begin to argue and there is a split between their followers, which leads to the creation of 7 different ideological factions. Descending to the planet one can only wonder what the fate of these brave pioneers will be. To find out, take control of a faction and lead them to victory or defeat.

SMAC, as it's commonly called, is Sid Meier's most recent blockbuster civilization simulation. The game is very much a futuristic version of Civilization 2. A turn based strategy game; SMAC is one of the best story driven games I have seen in a while. In many ways this impressive creation exceeds and improves upon its predecessor in the gaming world. And as much improvement as it has made, there are still some annoying traits that are present.

As far as turn based strategy games go this one does have some interesting features. You have a choice of selecting between 7 different factions with different backgrounds and ways of accomplishing their goals. A few of these factions are the University, who are the scientists of the bunch, The Believers, who are religious fanatics, and the Spartans, a group of survivalists. Each one of these groups has benefits and drawbacks. For instance if you pick the Hive as your faction you get free perimeter defenses at all you bases which can be very helpful at the beginning of the game but you cannot use a democratic style of government. If you are a University fan, you receive benefits in the research section of society which help you make advances quicker than the other factions but you have a weak military. Each faction excels at one point or another so there is no real advantage over the others. You can customize your faction as well by changing your government, economic system, and your society's values.

Winning the game can be achieved 5 different ways. You can win through diplomacy, conquest, economic, transcendent, and cooperative means. Any of these goals may be turned off so you can attempt to beat the game the way you want to. An interesting and helpful new feature in the game is the city governor. This function automatically takes the measures to ensure no rioting occurs, builds units to garrison your cities, and can be modified to govern however you choose. You can set it up to build and produce more military units to defend or conquer with or it can be set to discover mode, which increases your city's science and research output.

Next up are the units. Can't very well play a strategy game without any units. This is where the game generally bothers me. Unoriginality kills the fun of the units in my eyes. While you may be able to get new and more powerful units they never look that much different. E.g. A needle jet, no matter what adjective you throw in front of its name still looks almost like the original needle jet. Yes it may be more powerful but its boring to watch the same unit through most of the game whether it can kill 30 units without dying or not.

I honestly did like two things about the units in this game though. First they are fully customizable from the weapons they carry right down to their shielding. You can have your units your way, right away. The second thing I loved was that you can capture the indigenous life forms on the planet and use them in your military. A powerful weapon indeed if your starting military is weak.

Another mind numbing aspect is watching every unit that is even remotely close to one of your units or city's move. This isn't a problem in the beginning of the game when units are few and far between. However, later on when factions start getting eradicated, watching all that unit movement begins to become irritating. I couldn't find an option in the preferences that let you turn this feature off. I did find ways to make allied and enemy units move faster, but even if you do that it still tends to take a while for the turn to end.

As far as the interface goes to this brand spanking new game. Well I've seen it before, as have any Civilization 2 fans. The built in governor is a nice addition. The new communication screen is nice as well and makes it much easier to get in touch with other faction leaders. You can even call a council and elect a leader or revoke sanctions on atrocities. Even with these improvements I was not overly impressed with the interface. You can however access a screen and change your research goals if you feel like you need to, but this option does not greatly improve gameplay unless you are working with a partner in multi-player. Multi-player is quite easy to play and fun as well, even when you have a timer set on how long your turn gets to be.

Overall I'd have to say that I loved the game's storyline (although its basic plot did seem a bit reminiscent of a sci-fi series that flopped a few years back). The gameplay was very nice and the graphics were good too. The "wonders" that you can build are impressive as well as the cinematic screens that go along with them. The unoriginality in unit appearance kind of killed the game for me and the good soundtrack that overshadows the game can get on your last nerve depending on how long you've been playing. It just continually loops.

This game is definitely worth the price you pay for it. I recommend it highly. I've pointed out many aspects that are unlikable but it's still a fun enough game to want to go out and dominate in. I personally would have to recommend Civilization: Call to Power over this game for fun and excitement but the system requirements for that game tend to be a bit higher than the ones for this game.

I give Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri an 8 out of 10 stars that it richly deserves.

Written By Werewolf
(While not writing for this magazine Werewolf anticipates a sequel to the Teen Wolf movies so he can cash in and become a hairy, howling movie star)

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