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Populous: The Beginning (PlayStation) artwork

Populous: The Beginning (PlayStation) review


"Videogames can be great for your mental health sometimes. Imagine a bad day. You have to put up with hassle from The Man at work or at school. You come home to a mountain of bills or piles of homework, your partner or your mom nagging the hell out of you to do all the stuff you've been putting off doing since New Year. All you want is a bit of tolerance and understanding, but you get pressure and grief instead. Then you realise..... "



Videogames can be great for your mental health sometimes. Imagine a bad day. You have to put up with hassle from The Man at work or at school. You come home to a mountain of bills or piles of homework, your partner or your mom nagging the hell out of you to do all the stuff you've been putting off doing since New Year. All you want is a bit of tolerance and understanding, but you get pressure and grief instead. Then you realise.....

YOU ARE NOTHING

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING


So run off to your bedroom for a bit of a cry and a cake and then you see a game that has been lying at the bottom of your 'must get around to playing' pile. You pick it up and examine it. It's Populous: The Beginning. Populous...hmmm. Oh yeah it's that famous PC strategy game on the PC. Didn't it involve building land and raising tribes of humans to certain levels of sophistication?

You vaguely remember booting it up and playing for a while, before turning back to the quick thrills of Tomb Raider. Something in your head says ''....play it now''.

Although you are slightly perturbed by the voices you a hearing you decide its safer to listen to them and you load up the game in your PSX. You sit back and start to play.

Firstly you are surprised. This isn't like the previous Populous games. Instead of managing your land as a disembodied ''God'', using a pointer to direct land building and people management, you find you are a physical presence in the game. You are a female Shaman, a powerful, magical figure. You are a hot, partially clothed babe in a glowing head dress, Cool!

But what do you do now, your Shaman is all alone in the world. Plus stabbing buttons at random is causing confusing menu's to appear. Luckily you find that there is an amazingly helpful tutorial mode. A deep and sonorous voice leads you through the basics of the controls, so well done is this that soon the various menus you can access via the back buttons on the psx controller seem second nature.

Great, you've got the hang of the technical aspects, so now what about the meat of the game. You take the plunge into the game proper. Your Shaman wants to be the biggest and toughest Shaman in a world filled with tribes dominated by other Shamans. Your job is to use your Shamans magical skills to create Towns full of Warriors, magic soldiers, priests and others to fight and conquer their way across 25 game worlds.

So this is where it starts getting good. You have to provide flattened land for your little man-people to build on. As they build, the reproduce and train up. The more powerful your followers, the more powerful you become. Because you see, they WORSHIP you. You only have to walk past them and they will drop to their knees and genuflect at your feet. Make them build a fire and they will dance around it, all this unconditional love from your sheep-like followers gives you Mana. And what does Mana equal? It equals Magical Power. When your Mana is very high you can take your followers into an enemy camp and rain hot death upon their heads. The further you progress, the better your spells. Lightning, Killer Bee's, Volcanoes and more can be hurled at the enemy until their Shaman dies and you march onto the next level.

So here you are oppressed and down trodden in your real life, but here on the TV screen, you're the ultra-worshipped babe of power. You sit back and spend rather longer than necessary watching the tiny pixelly men kow-towing at your sandaled feet. All your pent up irritation is unleashed as you set enemies on fire, level their houses and set your hordes upon your evil foe the enemy Shaman. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Wish you could do that in real life? Don't we all.

As you play on, you realise that the ego-boosting nature of the central premise is welded to a fine conversion of a PC classic. There is much strategy in planning your building, carefully training your followers, planning attacks and keeping your mana levels high. You find out quickly that some levels need to be tackled differently from others.

While building a huge force and blasting the enemy into tiny bits works in some cases, in others you will be outnumbered. Time to try sneaky tactics like using priests to convert enemy soldiers and surreptitious infiltration and theft of enemy Shaman's secret spells from large Stone Heads and Libraries.

You will also find yourself very impressed with the quality of the graphics, which although a little grainy and dark are still easy to see and well animated. The sound is awesome and you will never be tired of the exceptionally lovely and haunting melodies accompanying each new world. You'll even praise the developers for implementing an easy to use control system, when many PC ports of this kind become unplayable without a psx mouse.

So you stay in your room, your homework doesn't get done, the bills are left unpaid, The Man is waiting to get back on your back and your partner/mom is doing their nut at you for more so-called time wasting.

But you don't care, because on the screen you are powerful, you are loved and you will beat all 25 worlds. You will ascend to godhood and finally be something. It may be just a game, but it's a damn sight more attractive right now than the real world.

Rating: 8/10

falsehead's avatar
Community review by falsehead (March 09, 2004)

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