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As anyone who has read some of my earlier reviews will testify, I really like my strategy games, and after hearing nothing but good things from magazines and American websites, I decided to get a copy of Galactic Civilisations from Strategy First.
For me, the coin is still in the air over this game. True it's now quite an old game and I have played it for many hours and find it rather addictive, but there are quite a few little problems which although insignificant on their own tend to add up. I will point out some of these later on.
The game itself cost £29.99, however that was just after release and you can pick up a copy on the high street for a fiver these days, and also in the usual places online. The hardware requirements of the game are as follows with a 600MHz processor being a minimum. The manufacturer recommends anything over 1GHz however. In addition 64MB RAM is required as well as 500MB hard drive space. Finally a graphics card supporting 3D and Direct X8 is needed. Put simply virtually any modern day PC will be able to run this game, and I have played it both on Windows XP and Windows 7 and have not had any compatibility issues with either of these operating systems. Installation is an easy process, with just one CD, so simply follow the on-screen instructions and you'll be ready to play in no time.
Now onto the actual game. The thing I noticed about this game from the first minute really is how similar it is to Sid Meier's Civilisation 3. Now this is either a good thing as that game was superb, or a major disappointment on the originality front. As I said I am very much on the fence with this one. The story behind the game is that the human race has developed a hyper drive, allowing the colonisation of other planets. For some foolish reason, humans have passed this information on to all the other races in the galaxy. The result being a rush to colonise the galaxy by any means necessary.
The first step after installation is setting up the game. Now this really is the best feature of the game. You have many options available to customise your civilisation to your liking. Basically you play as the human race, and have to decide the form of Government that you would like to have. There are several options, each party having their own special bonuses. The next task is which other special bonuses you wish the humans to possess. At first glance there are so many options, and with only 10 resource points to allocate, you may well feel slightly confused. However there is no need to worry, as after a couple of games, you will know exactly which options you need to fulfil your strategies.
Next is the size and composition of the galaxy. Ranging from tiny through to gigantic and with either a sparse number of habitable planets, or an abundance of life, the choice is yours. One word of warning here - It may be tempting to dive straight in to a gigantic map, however this can take many days to complete, and it is much easier to get a grip of all of the features on a smaller map.
Finally you have to pick which other races you wish to play. You can have any number of the 6 other races, and in addition can set the AI level for them as well as their ethical direction. I.e. Pure Evil empires tend to be harder to maintain friendship with than a Pure Good. One word of caution, I say major races, as several smaller races are present once the game starts. You have no option to remove these. The one good point is that they do not expand much during the game and don't affect the overall victory conditions. Once completed you are ready to get going. Hooray.
Now to start with you have one colony - Earth. You also have a colony ship with which to create further colonies, and also a scout ship for, erm, scouting!!! This is where the real comparison with Civ 3 comes in, as it is now a race to colonise the habitable planets in range and spread the empire out. Habitable planets are considered those over a class 15, although for tactical reasons the choice is down to you, and there may be times where you sacrifice colonists to occupy a strategically important poorer planet. There are ways to improve the habitability of planets later in the game too.
Each colony can produce both ships and/or social projects, which offer benefits either to just the planet in question or the empire as a whole. In addition depending on both the class of the planet and the current population, the colony produces research, and also makes a certain amount of revenue from taxes. It is this money that can then be spent on the building or research or even espionage for that matter. You can also pay to complete the buildings, either in full or take them on credit. Be warned however that this is the easy short-term option but in the long run can cause many problems. I.e. High debt payments equal higher taxes and unhappy people, or low spending and therefore a loss in productivity and research. Reminiscent of the current age of austerity anyone???
Now I would point out here that the game up to here is perfect, no obvious flaws and really complex. However as I stated earlier, it isn't all like this. One word technology!!! Now once you are presented with the option of which technology to research you may be a little unsure. However there is no facility for directed researching. This makes it really difficult to focus on a goal, and the lack of a technology tree of any note in the manual adds to this confusion. This coupled with the fact that there are so many technologies to research can lead to long periods where you feel you are researching just for the sake of it. Very frustrating indeed, especially if you know the overall goal, but have forgotten some of the techs needed to get there.
Second main problem in my view is the political aspect. Maintaining the control in your own senate is difficult at times, (i.e. unhappy people in a democracy vote for someone else) this is how I would expect it to be. If you do lose control, your empire loses the bonuses that your party brings and can at times suffer penalties as well. However the United Planets is the main problem. Basically it is designed to be the United Nations of the galaxy. The manual describes how many options can be voted on but fails to mention that you can't actually propose any laws, making the whole process an utter waste of time, as other races only propose motions that benefit them. I will point out that your number of votes depends on the amount of influence you have in the galaxy, so if you are powerful you at least have the satisfaction of rejecting other races demands, but this is scant consolation.
Another let down is the quality of the manual. Although I have never been one to read the whole thing, I do like to refer to it at times for clarification on a few things. However the result here is appalling. There is very little useful information, however they do go to great lengths to state the obvious. Again annoying!!!
Victory in the game can be achieved in the usual ways. Either by controlling the whole galaxy by military conquest, by researching an alien technology, by forming alliances with all remaining aliens or by culturally controlling the whole galaxy. This first 3 are all self-explanatory; however the 4th deserves a little clarification. Players of Civ 3 will know this already but certain improvements to the colonies increase your culture, as do certain events and bonuses and also the construction of star bases. If you are better off culturally enemy star systems may defect and join you. Each sector has a cultural effect on all the surrounding ones, and if you control every sector on the map in this way then you are declared the winner.
Finally I haven't mentioned sound or graphics. Well the graphics are actually pretty good. They are quite basic for this day and age but have the required effect. Video scenes are also OK but nothing amazing. However sound quality is very poor, with ship noises having little relevance and some annoying tunes present. To be fair it's pretty much what you would expect from a game of this era.
Finally as I said this is a decent game, very addictive but with some obvious flaws. I would recommend people bought this game and also visited the website www.galciv.com where other gamers have developed mods and improvements to add more variety and correct some of the problems.
Thank you very much for reading this and it also appears on Ciao under my same username.
Turn based strategy in which you must guide humanity into the next age. Fight wars, negotiate, and ensure survival of the human race.