Sins of a Solar Empire (PC) review
"Sometimes it feels like the word massive was invented for this game, or if it wasn't, that until now you didn't really know what massive meant. Like maybe before you though elephants were massive, or whales, but then you play Ironclad's universe spanning RTS and you realise that elephants and whales are tiny, insignificant specks, smeared on the windscreen of a gigantic battlecruiser in the midst of a million, billion stars. It really is quite big. "
It's very rare that a game lives up to the blurb on the back of the box, very rare that a tag line or a copy stealing brag is actually true. But when Sins of a Solar Empire screams, with almost every breath, of its unrivalled scale, you can't help but believe it. Sometimes it feels like the word massive was invented for this game, or if it wasn't, that until now you didn't really know what massive meant. Like maybe before you though elephants were massive, or whales, but then you play Ironclad's universe spanning RTS and you realise that elephants and whales are tiny, insignificant specks, smeared on the windscreen of a gigantic battlecruiser in the midst of a million, billion stars. It really is quite big.
Being large is all well and good, and in the size department, Sins of a Solar Empire is spectacularly well endowed; the “first” mission has you conquering and colonizing a solar system. First missions in RTS games usually involve capturing a building, maybe protecting a specific point from an encroaching army. Sins... certainly revels in its own scale, never afraid of making the player feel small in the early stages, letting them know that they may have conquered one planet, but there's still an entire galaxy out there waiting to be quashed and cajoled into servitude. The typical RTS triumvirate of races is available, each with a unique skillset, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and their own specific design. They range from the standard fit, middle of the road humans, here called the Trading Emergency Coalition (surely the least inspiringly named side in an RTS ever), the hyper teched up but slow developing Vasari and the weak with giant bonuses Advent.
There is a story somewhere in Sins... but it's clear that the developers saw the idea of narrative as a hindrance rather than anything else. There's a brief and reasonably spangly introduction, which serves as little more than an advert for each of the races, and then you're flung into the battle. The missions on offer can be played in any order, and with any race: there's no chronology to your actions, no set way in which you should play the game, Ironclad have decided that freedom is key here. Rather than forcing the player into one avenue from the offset, they can experiment with which playing style suits them best, which race pushes their buttons and which of the missions they fancy trying out next. The basics are all here, from base building to resource collecting and everything else in between. Of course the bases here are planets, the resources collected by mining nearby asteroids, but the principals are the same. The differences lie in the handling of the population, keeping them happy means that the expansion of your galactic empire is smoother, taxing the pants off them means it's quicker. Add to this an almost RPG levelling up system for the various crafts you need to learn and there's a fair amount of depth to Sins.... It even allows the player to choose not to fight at all, with options for political and economic takeovers, rather than invasion and bloodshed.
The missions carry on the enormity that the game prides itself on. There are no brief skirmishes here, the focus is on campaigns, sprawling and every bit as epic as the game claims. Even the simpler missions will take upwards of an hour and a half to complete; this is certainly not an experience for the casual player. Sins... will quite happily devour large portions of your life, more often than not without you even noticing. It's a cavernous game, and sometimes it's too easy to get lost, caught up in the long term strategy, micro-management and eventual dominion of whichever race you're piloting towards destiny. Thankfully though, even online games can be saved, allowing a much needed brain reseting, eye fixing break from the screen.
The graphics are reasonable enough, with some nice lens flares and explosions. Zoom out too far though and you lose any sense of action mightily quickly, eventually staring at a number of circles and lines on a black background. Low to mid range machines will quite happily play the game, although lower end chipsets will chug when the on screen numbers jump too high. The soundtrack could have been lifted from any third rate Star Wars clone and the voice acting stretches no further than the odd “yes” or “no”. But these are only minor niggles, small problems that RTS aficionados will look past with ease.
If you've never played an RTS before, then Sins of a Solar Empire is almost certainly not the place to start. It's not fast or frenetic and whilst it's simple enough to pick up, the complexities of the game mechanic can take weeks to learn. If however you're a veteran, Sins of a Solar Empire offers a different type of challenge to most of the games on the market now. It may not be perfect, it may only play on a flat plane rather than in true 3D, but it's meaty and, yes, massive. If you're looking for engrossing and well thought out space combat, with the added possibility of diplomacy, then look no further, if you want huge explosions and giant cannons, then you should probably go elsewhere.
Freelance review by Harry Slater (June 23, 2008)
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