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Game Over Online ~ Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

GameOver Game Reviews - Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (c) Firaxis Games, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim / MagikCow /

Game & Publisher Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (c) Firaxis Games
System Requirements Pentium 133, 16MB RAM
Overall Rating 87%
Date Published Sunday, February 7th, 1999 at 12:40 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

As they say, "Great minds think alike". When the original Civilization came out, everyone praised it and adored it. (Does that make them all 'great', though? By no means.) So Microprose twiddled their thumbs for a little while and figured, hey, why not go with the flow and make a Civ2? And it was made. And it was loved, cherished and adored again. Many magazines alternated their 'Game of the Year', 'Game of All Time' and 'Game of All Universes, All Times, All Ages, Personalities and Income Brackets' between Civ1 and Civ2. And then Sid Meier left Microprose to form Firaxis Games. (That's somewhat abridged, but the idea is there). Firaxis made Sid Meier's Gettysburg, and now, the long-awaited Alpha Centauri.

In Alpha Centauri, you play the role of those poor sods you shot off into space in Civ2. After spending X years flying (depending how cheap you were when you created the spaceship), you land on a barren landscape infested with weeds, mind worms and other poor sods like you that their respective governments shot into space in hopes of finding "a better world". This is where the similarities with the Civilizations (mostly with Civ2) start - and there are a very large number of them.

First of all, the other nations are very, very, very similar to those of Civ2. They ask you almost precisely the same questions, try to threaten you to give them technology, and when you refuse, they ask you for a Friendship Treaty. They develop similarly, and act cool by telling you what their latest unit is that they developed. They also tell you their armies have thereby become invincible, and honestly, that's somewhat of a script defect, if they try to scare you with a (1/1/1) unit - especially if you sport 4/3/2's and higher. Which brings me to an interesting point, where a major difference lies between AC and Civ2: units. Not only is there a fairly large number of them, but you can also modify the units - reducing armor for firepower, for example - or reducing armor and firepower for movement speed. The default units cover a very wide spectrum of capabilities, but it never hurts to be able to make something of your own.

Building cities (colonies, as they're called) is essential to progress. Unlike Civ2, terrain is no longer flat, and you can no longer build just about anywhere - but once you've researched enough technologies, your Former units (why couldn't they come up with a more original name?) can terraform the landscape, removing mountains, creating mountains, leveling the terrain and performing the everyday boring tasks, such as creating roads, forests, mines and so forth. You can also switch them to 'automatic' mode, which I found to be fairly useful, as they create roads between your colonies, remove the unfriendly Centauran weeds that inhibit unit movement, create forests, mines, and other enhancements that increase resource output. Another area where AC differs from Civ2 is in the type of cities you can build: no longer are you limited to traditional land-based metropolises, but now you can build Atlantis-like submerged cities, which, although very vulnerable to naval weaponry, could benefit the player greatly in other areas.

But units aren't the only thing you can build in AC (... but you already knew that.) Buildings (or facilities) represent an integral part of a prospering city, and also help production/morale/economy/etc. There are two types of buildings, and that's where Civ2 roots show again: so-called 'normal' buildings, and so-called 'wonders' (or 'Secret Projects', as the game refers to them). Normal buildings build in a relatively short time, and have immediate effects upon the city they're built in, such as, for instance, 'increase morale of all units by +1', or allow a unit to be fully repaired in 1 turn, or allow alien artifacts to be examined and researched. The Secret Projects are usually more global - for example, you might build one that acts as a Command Centre for all of your cities. Or one that increases output of all resource squares around the city. Or one that increases morale and decreases the number of drones (more or less chronically unhappy people) in your cities. Other nations also undertake Secret Projects, and surprise, surprise, you get a DataLink message notifying you of that.

The interesting thing is that the enemies do not necessarily include only the enemy nations. There's also indigenous life on Alpha Centauri, which, however, seems to solely manifest itself as (a) earth-bound mind worms and (b) water-bound mind worms. Sometimes they move from earth to water, as well. But then again, Civ2 also had indigenous life forms - they had a friendlier name, though - barbarians. The concept is absolutely identical, with the slight difference consisting of the fact that mind worms attack using Psi powers, and they can negatively affect the morale of units or a populace. They're not excessively hard to kill, though, and present a clear and present danger only once in a very rare while. Think of them as of mutated barbarians.

The interface is something one should perhaps mention. It has been redesigned to look more like a game, unlike Civ2, which had a standard titlebar, menu bar, etc. The game doesn't use any 3D hardware, either - nor does it switch resolutions when it starts. That's to say, whatever your display runs in, that's what the game will use. A note to LiteStep users: although it doesn't switch into its own resolution, it doesn't act like a true full-screen app, either - it goes underneath the wharf, so you lose a few centimeters of screen space. Not a big problem, but worth noting. (Suggestion: get 0.24.4 and roll the wharf up during gameplay.) Another glitch, which I found to be extremely annoying (and having Civ2 at its origin) is the unit activation 'feature'. What I mean by that is the action of centering the screen on the unit that has available action points; it's really annoying, because say, for example, you have three other units you wish to take care of in that turn. You scroll the map, click on a unit, give it orders, and boom - the map recenters on the unit from before. You scroll again, give orders again, bang - it recenters again. I find that to be quite annoying and un-intuitive, as when you have an army to take care of, it becomes rather annoying, to put it mildly.

A neat feature of AC is multiplayer. While Civ2 was originally single-player-only, a later remake was dubbed Civnet, which included multiplayer capability. But in a way, playing multiplayer Civ2 or AC is very much like playing multiplayer SimCity - very long, tedious and annoying. But from another perspective, it's quite enjoyable - given the fact that you can even send voice messages over to the other player, though, in my personal view, the only place voicecom belongs in these days is in action gaming. Nevertheless, AC supports it, as well as traditional text-based communication, for less bandwidth consumption. Rules can be set before the game, as well - for example, a victory can be disallowed for conquering all of the enemy nations, but can be encouraged by other means. A very useful thing is that the game uses plain vanilla DirectPlay, so if you're using an IP masqueraded connection, getting multiplayer to work is a snap. Fortunate also is the possibility to limit the time spent per turn, with the longest delay at 5 seconds per base / 45 seconds per turn for each player. That truly is a blessing, given that if 7 players were to compete (maximum), and turns were taken at leisure, the game would be pretty much unfinishable by anyone but the most diehard players. Or players with way too much free time on their hands.

On the last note, I should mention the graphics. That is something that actually disappointed me considerably - and that made me seriously suspect Firaxis used the Civ2 engine (or some low-order derivative of it) for AC. The graphics use an 8-bit color depth (256 colors), with no 3D acceleration required or used. That's not necessarily bad - Fallout 2 uses a 256-color palette, and the game is great. But in AC, considering how great a role the terrain plays, I believe the developers could have at least worked on making it look less ugly - it's just red. With some red weeds. And some water. But the main theme is this really red red. And red isn't a friendly color for the eyes - considering how much time players will spend glued to their computers battling it out with the AI (or other players glued to their computers), the red will take its toll on the eyes. Also, the game still uses squares for unit movement, which is okay, and for terrain design, which is not. How often do you see very long stretches of land shaped into a more or less perfect rectangle and precisely one square wide? And how often do you see vegetation grow in precise geometric shapes?

Overall, AC is quite good. Many people will see it as a carbon copy of Civ2, and, in some ways, that is true - but a copy of something that's great doesn't have to be bad - and that is something AC is not. People might bash it for lack of originality in certain areas, but by no means is this a bad game - in fact, it feels just as addictive as Civ2, and that in itself can't be a bad thing. The neat things that got improved, such as aqua-based cities, larger variety of units, unit customizability and a few others make this a great game to play - even if you have to think of it as of Civ2.5. It's definitely worth it, and I can't overemphasize that. But a word of warning... if you hated the original Civilizations, then you will most likely not think as highly of AC as I did - but even then... I suggest you check it out and see for yourself.

Highs: Very addictive, new unit types and buildings, high replay value
Lows: Not -that- original, graphics not exactly the prettiest, a few annoying "features"


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Divider Left By: MagikCow Divider Right

I still remember when I got my first Civilization game. Seeing the name Sid Meier plastered over the front intro after I typed the command in my good ol' DOS prompt from DOS 5.0 I thought to myself "Who the hell is Sid Meier? I hope I didn't waste my money on a bad game". Luckily I didn't and along with countless other gamers I was pleasantly surprised with the countless hours I've spent being King Jason Hsu of the Chinese, launching my nukes at the pathetic other despots who tried to take over my cities. But once my good ol' 386 with state of the art VGA display broke down I had to put down my gaming for a bit, and for the time being Civ just rested on my shelf. The next Civ I picked up was Civilization II that I thought was a great and wonderful game. The improvements were numerous and a huge betterment of Civilization 1, it blew me away with all the new wonders of the worlds and all the new techs I could research. Now comes Alpha Centauri, not an official sequel to the civilization (since Sid left Microprose) series but a whole new generation of turn based strategy, or so they would like us to think. Some titles in this business have been over hyped and this title is not an exception. However, it is rare to see a title actually live up to the hype and when a game does, you know the designers made something superb.

The graphics in Alpha Centauri are just a little notch above the Civilization series. It lost the most points in this section for not being new and interesting. The graphics are pretty much sprites moving along a 2d plain. But who actually rev's up their 3d card and runs a turn based strategy to show the "eye candy"? In my opinion the graphics in Alpha Centauri fit perfectly for a turn based strategy game.

Alpha Centauri's sound is essentially the same as the civilization series except for few couple differences. Every single time you gain a tech you hear a short little blurb of a quote by the leading thinker behind it. I also found it quite pleasant when you're up to the brim with hover tanks while taking over all of the enemy's cities being able to hear the classic noise of explosions. The music was a nice orchestral score that fit excellently into the game design and feel.

Alpha Centauri is a turn based strategy game. The story behind it is that Earth has become so polluted that no one can live on it anymore so the UN sends a group of people to explore a near by star system called Alpha Centauri, more specifically, to the planet Chiron. On the way there a meteor strikes your ship waking everyone up and several different factions develop all having their different ways to do things. For example, one faction develops known as the Human Hive that believes in the mind over body, another one is the Spartans, which feed off of war. Thus, at the beginning of the game, you choose the faction that best suits your personality.

There are four main things that you need to do in this game. They are explore, conquer, expand, and survive. The first part of the game is just exploring the areas surrounding your city. The next part of the game is expanding growing new cities, followed by conquering other pathetic factions, and finished with either you obsequiously cowering to the most powerful faction or you demanding such acts by the others.

In Alpha Centauri the terrain is supposed to show different elevations in a "3d but 2d" manner and looks very similar to Civilization 2. The Terrain changes as you terraform it, just as in civ2 as you often must terraform your area to better suit your city. You can put down roads so the movement of your units is faster, (again like civ2) or you can put down mines or farms to increase production within the city. Almost everything in Alpha Centauri is customizable including the way you research your technology all the way down to exact makeup of your units. One of the major things that stood out for me in Alpha Centauri was that you could customize your unit. You have a set amount of units that you can make but as you research more techs that give you better armor or weapons you can make modifications to your existing model, kind of like Master of Orion. For example, you have a Speeder, one of your first units. It starts off having 1 power 1 armor and 2 movement points. But as you progress and get some fusion, some missiles and better armor your speeder turns into an 8 power 4 armor and 8 movement point unit, making it still a backbone of your army. The best part of it is you can upgrade your existing units without having to disband it and making a whole new unit to take its place. On a side note, the map randomly generates every single time you start a new game thus making the replay value infinite, just as in civ2.

The battles in Alpha Centauri are mostly fought like in the Civilization series. You move into the person's space and you see little blasts while the power bar goes down. The unit with the first power bar that reaches the bottom blows up and the other unit is the winner. If a unit is damaged you skip it's turn to get it healed 10 percent at a time. One of the differences in the battle system is that once a unit wins a battle it just doesn't turn into a veteran like in the old civ title. There are 7 different titles to be earned in this game for each unit, and as the titles get higher so does the strength of the unit.

One of the main things that I really didn't like about civilization was that you had to move your unit with your keyboard if you expected it to move correctly. In Alpha Centauri you are able to use your mouse by choosing the unit and then clicking on its destination which it will then move towards.

The on screen HUD is amazing to say the least and I consider it to be one of the best I've seen in a turn based strategy game. At the bottom of the screen you will find the map, the currently selected unit and all its statistics. You will also find terrain information as well as any improvements that have been made to the terrain. The mission year and your current standing with the other factions are also shown in easily accessible line graphs and bar charts. When you begin a confrontation the HUD shows the two units that are fighting and the faction they are from with each unit's crucial statistics as well as its advantages given by the terrain. For example, if a unit is in its own home base it gets a 25-point defense bonus, which helps it greatly to defend. As you can see the on screen HUD is amazing and therefore one of the most detailed and well thought out HUDs I have ever seen in my turn based strategy experience.

There are special bonuses and detriments for each faction, which can have a great impact on gameplay. If you choose the war faction you receive a combat bonus, but if you choose the research faction you have much improved research capability and so on for each of the seven factions. There are also bonuses according to your politics and economy choices. For example you can choose having a "free market" thus increasing energy production but having to have more drones to work.

Drones are the uneducated people of the city working their backs off for you. Each drone has to be supervised by a Citizen that has a higher rank which means sometimes there are drone riots and you can either put it down peacefully or you can "staple" the drones, also known as using mind drugs. Other factions however from upon this, so watch your back.

There are many different ways to win in Alpha Centauri. There is the old classic Civilization style where you go in and explore and nuke people out of their house and homes and take everyone over. Or you can do it the Alpha Centauri style where you can be elected supreme ruler (now what fun is that!) or you can still nuke everybody out of their house and homes. But there are things that keep you from nuking people this time around. It's getting to the point where you can actually nuke them that is the hard part. You have to master diplomacy to improve your not so great aspects by leeching off the greatness of other factions. Of course, on the easy difficulty level you don't have to worry about it. But when you increase the difficulty you start having to do that or else another faction will come along and crush you. Your bases in this game are almost the same exact things as cities were in the Civilization series. They provide you with the units and you can improve on them to earn more money and increase production. Instead of building Wonders you now have secret projects. There are roughly around 50 secret projects that you can pursue throughout the game. Each project provides you with a special improvement or ability to your whole faction. One of the slightly altered aspects of city management as compared to civ2 is that you can now use four different types of governors who do a much better jobs than those of civ2. For example, there are the build (Building and improving), Conquer (Things to Conquer), and Explore (fast moving Scouts) governors. You just click on one of them and your city takes care of itself pumping out whatever you have just told it to pump out.

In Alpha Centauri you have borders which are controlled by your base. To expand your boarders you build more bases on the outskirts of your territory. The borders are defined by the proximity of your base. This comes in handy when you're fighting a war and a friendly guy comes in to your territory and gets in the way. You can just go and use your com link and tell them to get the hell out of your area and they retreat to behind your boarder.

Unlike Civilization where during the end game you had 100's of units running around and you had to move each and every one of them. In Alpha Centauri you can stack them and move them as a stack. This solves the old problem of management of the units later on in the game. But what do you say?... "wouldn't the whole stack be destroyed if one of the unit dies?" Not in Alpha Centauri. In Alpha Centauri the other units take damage but the whole stack isn't destroyed if one unit is destroyed like other games of this genre.

As I was fooling around with the settings in the directory I've noticed that you can change almost everything around. Everything is kept in a common format and thus everything is customizable. For example, you can change a sound of your tank blowing up to your younger brother's voice asking "can I play". Or you can change the picture of your faction to a picture of your girlfriend and much more. So the possibilities of Alpha Centauri are almost endless since you can edit the rules and make your very own units or a faction if you wanted. The multiplayer in AC is actually fast. LAN can support up to 7 players, while the internet (TCP/IP) can support up to 4 players. There are two different ways which turns can be taken. The first is just like a turn based single player game where a turn is taken by a player and passed on to the next. Or it can be played at the same time so all the players move until the last one is finished. You can set a time limit for how long it takes for each person to finish his turn. For example you can set a 30-second time limit for each player to finish his or her moves, you can always change the time limit as the game gets more complicated.

This review just touched base with Alpha Centauri. I've played the game time and time again and every single time I find new things to do. New options that I haven't seen before. This is one of the games I have to say lives up to the hype. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri brings a whole new standard to the turn based strategy genre. This game I can safely say will become one of the classics that people refer to in their reviews and the standard that all turn based strategy will have to live up to.


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