Review by Words_of_Ivory
"Coherent, structured, and very finely crafted. A unique vision for the strategy genre."
Although the Civilisation series have spawned many of its own sequels over the years, each one has essentially been nothing more than a continual refinement of a system already near flawless. Alpha Centauri stands aside from these in a rather unique fashion; it is not Civilisation, but for all intents and purposes, it is the game's only true sequel.
Once your desired faction is chosen, and planetfall is made on the alien landscape in which the game takes place, the similarities to its spiritual prequel become instantly clear. Movement is made across a grid based map. Colonies are managed through a near identical system of resource farming. Diplomacy between other factions is still a major factor.
This is where most of the similarities end though. Whereas Civilisation was forced to build upon the pre-existing history of the world we live in, with had little freedom to diverge from the broken track, Alpha Centauri has the freedom to set its own path right from the beginning. The result of is a gameworld that is quite alien (befitting it's setting) yet grounded within a surprisingly tangible experience - the capacity of this freedom makes the game a possibly more believable gameworld than it's forefather. A large part of this is not down to the gameplay though, but the identities of the factions leaders who (not always wilfully) share the alien world with you.
The game holds up perfectly through its strategical elements alone, but it is the faction leaders; the bureaucrats, the despots, the zealots, that give the game its sense of consistency. A near inexhaustible amount of narrative context is scattered throughout the game; most of it can be side-tracked if you simply want to concentrate on the core gameplay; but the exceptionally high standard and quality of it all means even the most hard-core of strategists will find it hard to be drawn in by the depth of it's narrative, at least to some degree. Even now, much of it stands strongly as a moral observation on human nature and interaction.
Though this lore makes for a large part of the game's appeal, it falls down slightly in one aspect - the actions of the factions sometimes seem at odds with the narrative driven beliefs system, and this becomes especially noticeable during discussions in the diplomacy screen. The systems largely works from a gameplay point of view (though this diplomacy is often sporadic and needlessly random), but the monotonous and robotic nature of the discussion is very much at odds with the lore the game tries so strongly to convey. This is hardly enough to destroy the game though, and is possibly the only major flaw the game possesses.
Exploration through the technological tree is a mysterious but compelling endeavour throughout, as you wonder where you next discovery may lead, and what possibly profound effects it might have on you colonies and the world around you. A very solid unit building system also allows for an unparallel degree of customisation for field units, one which even now has very rarely been duplicated with the same degree of customisation and versatility, but this insane attention to detail often stands as a universal staple of Sid Meier's games.
Confidence it it's design, elaborate in its narrative, and extensively complex without ever buckling under its own weight, Alpha Centauri is a rare game that embodies both quality and quantity in equal. Is it a better game than Civilisation, the series that essentially birthed its creation? That's debatable, but whatever the answer, it is unquestionably the more expressive, and, rather ironically, without the constraint of the real world to hinder it, the more human of the two because of it.
- 7 /10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/18/06
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