Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: November 26, 2004
Buy 'GALACTIC CIVILIZATIONS: Deluxe Edition': PC
The 4X strategy game has been a mainstay of the PC community for many years. Standing for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate, the 4X genre has produced legendary games like Master of Orion II. Developers attempting to make a game in this genre have their work cut out for them because the legacy left behind by its esteemed predecessors has left an indelible impression on the minds of gamers everywhere. I know some people who play Master of Orion II to this day, and they swear that nothing can compare to the experience it offers. Well, I have to tell them that there is a new game in space, and it's called Galactic Civilizations Deluxe.
The Deluxe package includes the original game as well as the expansion, Altarian Prophecy, which adds a new campaign, tweaks the mechanics of the original, adds a scenario and campaign editor, and includes an online ranking system called the "Metaverse." For all intents and purposes, this review is of the Altarian Prophecy expansion, since the core gameplay basically remains the same, even if the campaign is different.
In any strategy game, the key to making it good is to have lots of choices for the player to make, such as which technologies to research, which military units to build, where to explore and how to expand. Should I destroy my neighbor now while they are still relatively weak, or should I forge an alliance while I focus on economic and technological growth? These are the types of options that give such games phenomenal replay value and drive them to become favorites, and Galactic Civilizations allows the player to make an unreal amount of decisions that will shape the way their empire grows and progresses.
Before the game even starts, there are numerous choices to be made. While the only playable race is the humans, they can be customized to such a level that it doesn't make a bit of difference whether they are human or something else. A government must be chosen, and this choice affects certain bonuses to combat or research and everything in between. The bonus is only granted as long as that government type remains in power, so it adds a lot of strategy to the game as the morale of the citizenry factors in to a lot of decisions the player makes.
After choosing a government type, there are other statistics that can be chosen. Affecting combat, research and everything in between, these bonuses are always in effect, and help the player tailor their race to their own style of play. After choosing the size of the galaxy (which determines how long the game will last) and the difficulty level (each enemy race can be set at a different difficulty level and disposition), the game starts.
The beginning of the game is extraordinarily slow. If you're playing in a gigantic galaxy, it may be a few turns before you encounter another race. The game takes place on a familiar looking galactic grid of sorts, where the planets are spread out and where the player movements will take place. The player starts out with a scout ship and a colony ship, as well as one planetary colony. There can be several planets orbiting one star, but usually only one or two planets per star system are suitable for habitation. It becomes necessary to explore and find these planets before your competition does, otherwise you'll soon find yourself backed into a corner.
Researching the various technologies eventually leads to all the various planetary improvements that can be built to improve morale, income, research, and everything else. In a twist from most strategy games, a planetary improvement can be built at the same time as a ship, effectively eliminating that age-old problem of being about to complete a lengthy project and needing to cancel it immediately to build a ship for defense. It's a simple addition, but an extremely useful one.
Diplomacy is a very interesting aspect of the game. In order to even speak with the other races, a Universal Translator must be researched, and occasionally, the races in the galaxy will meet together in a Galactic Council and vote on various proposals that may be beneficial or harmful to the player. It becomes extremely important to make friends, as their votes can end up swinging the result in your favor when it comes to important decisions. Votes are earned through how much influence your culture has attained, and there are various things that affect the amount of influence your civilization has, and it is one of the most important factors in the game.
Building ships for combat relies heavily on the technological prowess of your civilization. Bonuses are applied depending on which technologies you have researched, so it's beneficial to at least keep the military on par with the competition. While it's not possible to design your own ships like it was in the Master of Orion series, it doesn't feel like there's anything missing from the military aspect of the game. However, military conquest of the galaxy is a bit difficult due to the way defensive bonuses are handled and the direction that most of the games tend to take.
There are many, many other detailed aspects of the game. From random events that can affect your alignment, to minor races that can upset the balance of your whole civilization, the game is packed to the brim with detail and life. There is a lot of information available with the few clicks of a mouse, which goes a long way to help make things feel like a real civilization that you are in control of. The interface is clean and easy to navigate, which helps a lot in a game as chock full of detail as this one.
Graphically, things are really simplistic, with a lot of 2D sprites and animations prevailing. Special events have CGI cut scenes, which look really nice and help to flesh things out, and enemy races are detailed and look suitably ET-like. The game only runs in 1024x768 resolution, but it's easy to see everything and it all looks sharp, so there's no real reason to wish it were in a different resolution (unless you have a widescreen monitor, but that's another story entirely.)
The music and sound effects are suitably sci-fi in nature. The music has the epic feel of a John Williams score for Star Wars and the spacey quality of Star Trek. Most of the sound effects are similar and don't really set themselves apart. Explosions and weapons are pretty standard fare, and aren't anything you'd expect to hear in a big budget sci-fi movie, but they do get the job done. Overall the sound is adequate, and the music is above average. There is a way to import your own mp3 files to listen to during the game, but there's no real reason to unless you absolutely hate the in-game music.
If you're looking for a game that can challenge you in the long term and keep you entertained forever, this is probably an excellent choice, since the replay value of this title is astounding. Not only can you create your own campaigns and scenarios (as well as download those created by others!), but you can also submit your game scores to the "Metaverse," which will log your ranking online and compare you to others across the world who have done the same thing. The difficulty level can be customized to suit players of any skill level, and there's always a challenge to be found. The AI is smart enough to really suck you in and make you forget that you're playing against a computer opponent, even if it does have a bit of an advantage inherent in games like this.
Even with the sub-par graphics, minimal sound effects, and other issues, this game is leagues better than most strategy titles on the market today. The core gameplay is where it's really at anyway. Galactic Civilizations Deluxe is a collection that will keep you busy for months – even years. There's so much replay value and fun to be found with this title that you might not need to purchase another strategy game for a long time. If you love strategy and can ignore a few minor problems, you'll definitely enjoy Galactic Civilizations Deluxe.