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Ascendancy CD
Minimum specs:  Unavailable
Developer: The Logic Factory
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Release Date: September 1995 No Players:  Unavailable
UK price: �.99 PC Gamer Score: 89%

Article first published: Issue 10
Writer:  Andy Bucher

Expansive
A science fiction strategy game might not be the most original concept, but Virgin's latest release shows that you can teach an old dog new tricks...

Publisher: Virgin
Developer: The Logic Factory
Price: �.99
Minimum System: 486, 4Mb RAM, SVGA
Recommended: 486DX
Sound Support: All major cards
Release Date: September

Call me a cynical hack if you like, but after playing so many computer games there are certain things that you find yourself taking for granted. Some of these are quite general in nature, such as the fact that for some inexplicable reason nearly every game has to have a plot, whether it's remotely relevant or not. Others, though, are specific to certain genres - strategy games, for example, are more often than not slightly lacking in the presentation department, a little bit dry, and normally require you to plough through a hefty manual.
It always comes as something of a pleasant surprise, then, when something turns up that breaks some of these 'unwritten rules' of games design. Ascendancy is, without a doubt, a strategy game. In the normal scheme of things, then, there'd be a long and involved background, featuring all manner of ridiculous plot devices and general silliness. Ascendancy's plot, however, amounts to 'make your race rulers of the galaxy', no more, no less. In addition, it looks great, has a (admittedly slightly warped) sense of humour, and although the manual is certainly quite heavyweight, it's by no means required reading for your first few games. In other words, it's slightly unusual. It's also rather good.
Starting from a single homeworld, the aim of Ascendancy is to make your species the leaders of the galaxy, by either bringing more than half of it under your control or forcing every competing race to accept peace with you on your terms. Even before you start playing, a few things strike you almost immediately. The first is the presentation. Ascendancy is played in 256 colour high resolution SVGA throughout, and everything looks slick, clean and well designed. What's more, there are none of the usual SVGA nightmares. I tried the game on four different PCs, each with widely differing graphics cards, and it worked first time, every time. The next item of note is the tutorial option, which takes you on a step-by-step guide to each main section of the game. Best of all, rather than being just a manual on disk (as with the help available in most Windows programs), the Ascendancy tutorials actually play the game - moving the mouse around the screen, selecting things and so on, just as you would if you were actually playing. At key steps a text box pops up, explaining what's going to be done next, and at any time you can stop the tutorial and continue playing the example in progress. This is one of the best tutorials I've ever seen in any software, and in addition you can get in-game help by holding down the Shift key and clicking on what you want to know about. Together these two features will get you playing in hardly any time at all, without even having to get the manual out of the box. Finally, while Ascendancy does have the obligatory animated intro sequence, it doesn't start it automatically every time you play, but gives you the option to view it from the main menu. Not an important point, but nonetheless this kind of attention to detail and ease of use is much rarer than it should be.
You still haven't started playing when the next impressive aspect of Ascendancy appears, and that's the set-up screen. From here you can choose from a number of options to customise the game to your own specifications - the size of the galaxy (from five options), number of races (between three and seven), atmosphere (peaceful, neutral or hostile) and your own race (from 21 different species). With this amount of control, and so many possible combinations of race, Ascendancy is guaranteed to be different every time. What's more, you can easily set the kind of game you want to play - a short, bloody conflict is easily achieved (smallest galaxy, seven races, hostile atmosphere), as is a vast sprawling game of exploration and diplomacy, with highly developed technology (largest galaxy, three races, peaceful atmosphere).
In short, before you even start you know you're onto something very good indeed, and that impression is only strengthened once you've got the game up and running. Ascendancy mixes just about the right level of complexity and challenge with an intuitive interface, great graphics and the odd spark of humour. Being able to research 'Advanced Fun Techniques', which in turn allows you to set your planets to producing the 'Endless Party' is one example of this. It gave us a bit of a chuckle, anyway.
Having said all that, however, Ascendancy is not quite perfect. As with so many games of this type, the key problem lies in the artificial intelligence. While certainly not unimpressive (the computer controlled races can be a real pain if you're not careful), it is a litt

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