"his means that anyone who has touched anything resembling a turn-based strategy before will easily pick it up but the simple setting change doesn't make the game good. Its kind of like how many people say that Firefly was just a Western for Star Trek fans. Except Firefly had Nathan Fillion. And was entertaining."
The Civilisation series has dominated the turn-based strategy scene for over a decade. I spent years of my own life stomping around a virtual globe pretending to be Byzantine and hitting things with sticks. Galactic Civilisations II: Endless Universe takes that idea one step further – into space.
You may believe that taking a race to the final frontier also means that the complexity and difficulty of gameplay is knocked up ten-fold and may be reluctant to try a game that tackles such a grand scale – don't be; the basic, simple systems of management that form the backbone of any title in the genre are still there, just adapted to meet the intergalactic setting: Instead of cities, there's planets! Grenadier squads are replaced by fleets of starships! Instead of green, over-sized, aggressive man-eaters from faraway lands there's Queen Elizabeth! Oh wait-
While the whole 'Civilisation in space' idea may seem initially excellent – allowing strategy gamers to boldly go where they've never micromanaged before, its still not very, well... original. Call me a cynic, but blasting around the universe using a flagship is really not at all different from walking across ground with a scout in the more Earthly turn-based titles. Constructing a huge entertainment centre on a colony is hardly distinguishable from building a cultural wonder in older games. Galactic Civilisations plays, looks and feels like a mod; bringing nothing really new to the table aside from a few re-skinned units and alien races instead of human nations. This means that anyone who has touched anything resembling a turn-based strategy before will easily pick it up but the simple setting change doesn't make the game good. Its kind of like how many people say that Firefly was just a Western for Star Trek fans. Except Firefly had Nathan Fillion. And was entertaining.
Galactic Civilisations does attempt to set itself apart from being a glorified community venture by including some very nice (if not defunct) features. Customisation is a heavy selling point of the game, which would be ideal if the developers didn't already present the player with many decent, efficient templates to choose from. Regardless, the option of changing the colour of your ship doesn't mean that the title will suddenly get better overall: So what if your craft look uncannily like a popular Final Fantasy airship? Does that break up the monotony between hammering the 'enter' key to proceed with turns? Many players won't even bother checking out the customisation options as they are not at all necessary to use. You may think slapping on a few extra turrets to a ship design is a great way to decimate your foes, but I guarantee that the game already has a better one prepared from the go.
Despite all of Galactic Civilisations' flaws, the game definitely does display some positives: The AI, as expected, is truly great. Your enemies will act quickly and decisively following a declaration of war; Expect to find your trade routes assaulted, starbases destroyed and planets besieged by foes. Conversely, allies will hurriedly support you during times of need, sending tributes and fleets to aid you. Its times like these that the game really gets interesting and the best part is that you can jump straight into scenarios of intergalactic warfare – amusing the most impatient of players. Even during normal, seemingly peaceful weeks Galactic Civilisations still throws the odd random event to mix things up. These range from the random combustion of planets to the option of enslaving underwater cities. The greatest example of such strange acts of randomness was during the final stages of an epic, six-hour game which, at the end, only myself and an AI super-power remained. For the past five in-game years we had been waging a war of attrition – something that would slowly amount to Mutually Assured Destruction as the arms race heightened. I was considering making peace with the enemy when, suddenly, hundreds of high-powered pirate fleets warped into the galaxy and began to lay waste to my remaining forces. Fortunately, my rival succumbed to the force of the hostiles before I did, surrendered to me and I won the game.
Its the careful balance of spontaneous events and slow-burning base building that incurs addictive gameplay. Galactic Civilisations is a flawed game in so many ways, but turn-based strategy is going through a drought at the moment: If you can suspend your disbelief long enough and ignore the fact you'll spend entire weekends crushing alien races under an iron-fist by looking at a 2D overlay map, then embrace Galactic Civilisations II with open arms; its good at what it does, after all.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (October 06, 2008)
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