Review by trancejeremy

"Not the heir to Master of Orion, but a great game in its own right"

The space based strategy game goes back to the early days of computing. Yet it's one of those games that doesn't come out all that often anymore, at least turn based 4x (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate). So I was eager to see a new one come out, especially as I had played (and liked) the original (rather, the original Windows version, there was an OS/2 version about a decade ago).

Galactic Civilization II is not particularly original, most of its elements appear in other games of the genre, but does combine them skillfully creating a game that is very fun to play. However, the game is brought down by a number of bugs and design flaws which make it less fun than it could be.

Gameplay:

If you have every played a space 4x game, or something like Civilization, then you should be at home here. Basically you start with one home planet, a colony ship, and a scout. You explore the galaxy, colonize planets, and develop your colonies turn by turn. Then meet alien races and either kill them or dominate them.

The game basically revolves around managing 3 things: planets, ships, and starbases.

Developing planets is pretty simple, but requires a lot of thought. Basically each planet has a number of tiles, each of which can hold 1 improvement. Improvements are things like factories, labs, farming (to raise the population), entertainment facilities (to keep your people happy), etc.

The downside is that there is very little feedback when it comes to your economy. You see the planet's production and income stats, but you don't see how that information is calculated. This can cause some puzzlement.

You can design your own ships. Not only in terms of what equipment, but also visually. You can stick 3d shapes or parts together to make almost any sort of ship you want. Not quite Legos, more like Micronauts.

But the important part is what's in the ship. There are 3 types of weapons: mass drivers, missiles, and beams, and a defense for each type. When you fight a war, it's a must to tailor your ships to counter your enemies ships. Like if they use mass drivers, you'll want to put armor on your ships. If their ships have missile defenses, you will want to use beams or mass drivers. Simple, but it does provide a challenge as you try to counter the AI's ships, while it will try to counter yours.

Similar to the lack of feedback about the economy, the same happens with combat. While you can watch your ships fight combat out cinematically, and see some sort of readout, it's hard to figure out the why of what's happening. 2 fleets with similar stats before the fight often will result in a complete wipeout for one side. But it's not obvious why in most cases, other than the fact that fleets with fewer, bigger ships will beat a fleet with more numerous but smaller ships.

And personally, I would have liked the option of me controlling my ships somehow in combat. Be it their every move, or their general tactics.

The last aspect to the game is starbases. These are actually pretty much original to the GalCiv series. Basically a starbase can influence a sector of space, either providing help to your ships in combat, production bonuses to your planets, or it can mine a resource which will provide a bonus to a certain aspect of the game (like improving weapons or morale or research ability)

Basically starbases start out as ships, called constructors. But you keep adding more constructors to them, which upgrade the base more and more. While this adds an extra layer of strategy to the game, it also adds a lot of extra micromangement. It can get pretty tiresome - build constructor - click to send to starbase. Build contructor, click to send to starbase. Repeat 20 times. Too important not to do, but very boring, though you can automate it somewhat by using the governor to set a rally point that the planet will send its ships to when constructed.

Graphics & Sound:

The game map is entirely in 3d, although the galaxy is still in a 2D plane. The graphics are apparently scalable, so they will look about as good as your hardware. If you have great hardware, it will look great. If you have lousy hardware, it will look "eh".

The sound, well, I guess the best that can be said is that most of their development money must have been spent on the graphics. Other than the introductory song, the rest of the sound is pretty annoying, music and special effects. I found myself turning both off.

Final Thoughts:

The game is a lot of fun, but two things mar the experience.

First off, the game is rather bland. Other than the Altarians, who are good human guys, and the Drengin, who are the bad klingon like guys, you'd be hard pressed to put a name to the face of any of the other aliens. They are just boring, just generic humanoids. The only alien to have any real personality are only a minor race, a race of evil Teddy Bears.

The blandness extends to the tech tree. Titanium Armor. Titanium Armor II. Titanium Armor III. Then a new armor name and repeat. Pretty much all the starship techs are like that. And are many of the planetary improvements.

While there are occasional random events, all of them have been recycled from the first game, and there weren't all that many different ones in that to begin with.

Secondly, the game feels unfinished and unpolished, and the game is rather buggy. The initial version was playable, but only just. After 2 patches, it does seem stable, but still not 100% polished. There are also still a number of "design flaws" to be worked out. For instance, the AI surrenders at the drop of a hat, which can be infuriating.

It's also missing a few features, like some bits of technology. Not enough to be a problem, and are apparently being added in patches, but somewhat annoying.

Still, the bugs and missing stuff are annoying enough that I am knocking off a point. In 2007, when everything is fixed and there, it will probably be a 9/10, but right now it's a 8/10. Still, definitely worth buying if you are a turn based strategy fan.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/16/06


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