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Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) artwork

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) review


"Build it and they will come. The aliens, that is. To mercilessly destroy you."


Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) image


Gather around, children, and let me tell you about yet another game from 1992. I know, I know. I keep reviewing games from that era for some reason. I guess I played a lot of games back then; there were also a lot of releases worth mentioning. A few really bad ones too. But the flops and hits aside, what about those other titles that were just kind of so-so?

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation is one of those titles, though I do recall that it managed to hold my attention for quite a while. It is a city-building game that shamelessly rode upon the coattails of SimCity's popularity, though with the twist that it was set on distant worlds. As I've said before, I don't mind games that are clones as long as they are done well, though I suppose that's the question here. Utopia does a lot of things right, but in most other respects it's a bit of a mixed bag.

The basics of the game are enjoyable enough. You place buildings, assign workers to them, and keep an eye on your various spreadsheets to make sure everything stays in balance. Expect to see a lot of numbers detailing your production and consumption rates along with your birth rate, crime rate, morale, et cetera. Expanding your colony slowly and evenly is the best way to ensure that nobody runs out of food, oxygen, fuel, or any of the other precious resources that your people need to survive.

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) image


This is a game for people who like detail-oriented jiggery pokery, though it does remain accessible to players who might not want to bother with it. For example, there is a robust trading system, but you can set monthly transactions to happen automatically, all the way down to setting what percentage of each product you would like to be bought or sold each month. Or you can elect to handle all of your market transactions yourself, if you want to want to hold out for the very best prices. Either approach is acceptable, and all of this is laid out in tables that are quite easy to understand.

Designing your colony is also extremely easy, as the rules for placing buildings are very lax. You don't have to worry about placing power lines, for instance. As long as your power plants are producing enough power, your colony will be fine. The only restriction is that you must place buildings within a certain distance of a power-distributing "flux pod" (basically, a Protoss pylon). There are also no roads, and no mass transit systems. I suppose the assumption is that your colonists travel via underground tunnels, or perhaps they have Star Trek-style personal transporters. Either way, your colony designs can be very open-ended. This is rather liberating at first, but also feels kind of pointless. The only reason to leave any space between your buildings is to allow room for your combat units to roam.

Yes, that's right - Utopia has a combat system. It is sort of a proto-RTS, where you move your units around the map in real-time and fight against alien invaders. Every planet has a hostile alien race that wants you dead, and if you don't build defenses quickly enough, they will gleefully overwhelm you and reduce your colony to rubble. Diplomacy is not an option. It is imperative to produce as many tanks, turrets, starships, land mines and rocket launchers as you can in order to keep your colony safe.

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) image


As much as I like the idea of adding a combat element to a city simulator, this part of the game isn't executed very well. The tanks don't have any attack animations, so it's difficult to know when they're actually shooting at enemies, aside from a nondescript sound effect that is supposed to represent gunfire. Laser turrets, which are crucial to eliminating enemy invaders, seem to lack responsiveness. Starships are clunky and hard to manage. Most disappointingly of all, when it comes time to finally pose a counter-attack against the enemy, you don't actually get to see the action. Your units simply move off the edge of the map and then you get the results via a wall of text.

The only interesting part about this is the integration of the espionage system. If your intelligence programs are well funded, your spies will aid the war effort with their own covert actions and provide advantages to your troops. They can also attempt to rescue captured forces or warn you in advance of the aliens' next anticipated strike. The writing here is actually pretty good, but it's a bummer that it entirely represents stuff that is resolved off-screen.

The controls are also abhorrent by today's standards. Units can only be moved by setting a marker, then sending a unit to that marker. You are also limited to a total of eight markers, and if you want to get rid of previously placed markers, you have to go through the laborious process of tracking those markers down, clicking on the side panel, clicking on the marker itself, then rinse, repeat. This is extremely cumbersome and basically renders tactical maneuvers impossible. The best you can hope for is to station your units in certain spots and hope they'll do enough damage when the enemies come their way.

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) image


Utopia also hasn't aged very well. The graphics, while serviceable, were only barely on par for their time, and the game features only four Adlib music tracks. The tracks are fairly well composed (including a nice rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D), but they still get repetitive pretty fast. There are some additional control issues as well; the isometric view can only by navigated by clicking on the arrows on-screen; there are no keyboard shortcuts for this. Pressing the arrow keys on the keyboard actually makes the cursor move, if you can believe it. This game was released back in the days before it was mandatory for computers to have mice.

Regardless, Utopia has enough depth and moving parts to keep simulation purists happy. It does a great job of making you feel like you are actually sitting in the commander's seat of a space colony. You receive great feedback about emergent problems in your colony, and are provided point-form solutions on how to fix them. A panel of advisors is also available to provide you with suggestions and useful statistics.

This game also has quite a bit of variety. There are ten different planets to colonize, each with unique terrain and a different alien species to fight. Each respective planet ramps up quite sharply in difficulty, ranging from "ridiculously easy" to "downright impossible". This adds some challenge and replay value to a title that is perhaps a little flat in some other respects.

Utopia: The Creation of a Nation (PC) image


I wouldn't exactly call Utopia a gem, but it's worth a look if you're into the simulation genre. It's freely available on abandonware sites if you want to give it a try.

3/5

Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (July 09, 2016)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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