It's a well known fact that PC gamers love conquering outer space. You come home from the tragic monotony of work or study, and through the portal of that otherwise soul-sapping monitor you transport yourself to the furthest reaches of the galaxy and the farthest futures of mankind. Obscure the fact your bedroom is a pigsty and you've surrendered the kitchen to the cockroaches with the distractions of terraforming class IV ice worlds. So welcome back Galactic Civilizations, take us away once more and transcend this mortal coil again by means of your turn-based space empire building.
Turn one, and your chosen species stands ready with a home world, a humble scout ship and a colony ship crammed full of interstellar asylum seekers. From here it's up to you to colonise new planets, mine resources and deal with your extraterrestrial competitors for universal domination as you see fit: shake their clammy reptilian hands in friendship, or ram a mass driver up their silky wormholes.
A DARK MATTER
Galactic Civilization's game mechanics are straightforward to the point of being second nature to any seasoned empire-builder. Building a military, researching technologies, expanding your colonies, trading with other civilisations: it's classic stuff, Sid Meier's Civilization in space. In fact, you can draw a line between many aspects of GCII and Sid M's Civ, from the diplomacy screens to the Special Projects (they'll be World Wonders) to the option of a cultural victory.
But these tried-and-tested mechanics are not served well by a poor interface. The tech tree is still sprawling and often incomprehensible ('What exactly is ploughing resources into Mini Balls II going to give me?'), unit stack management remains atrocious ('FOR GOD'S SAKE LET ME SELECT THE SPACE STATION!') and finding which units haven't moved this turn is a repetitive trawl. As Civ IV recently showed so clearly, a rejuvenated, intuitive interface can breathe new life into an old concept. Here, you want to be engrossed, you try to be engrossed, but you're prevented by sheer clunkiness.
The major renovation is GCII's 3D engine. Which is slightly misleading, actually, as the star map is still as flat as a pancake. From a certain angle, the jumbled clutter of multicoloured circles and beetling ships that is GCII's playing space appears as if an old lady has dropped her button collection. Space battles consist of clicking 'attack' and then watching a dreary 3D replay of the action, where the opposing ships float around poking each other with glowing red and green lines. Likewise planetary invasion, where your involvement is reduced to pressing a button at the start, then watching two armies pulverize each other in a poxy animation.
The disappointment of the 3D engine stretches to most of GCII's improvements - it all feels a little superficial really. Playing as different races doesn't alter the experience much, and the other trumpeted new features are interface tweaks that should have been addressed in a patch to the original rather than here in a sequel: grouping ships into fleets, having planets displayed on the star map, designing your own craft. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, this kind of last-generation gameplay would relieve the daily tedium. Now it's in danger of adding to it.
- Great campaign options
- Smooth game mechanics
- Derivative gameplay
- Interface still needs work
- Combat a spectator sport
- Counter-intuitive map