Review by ChrisM513

"Buy this game now. It's more important than paying your rent."

Games, even great games, come and go all the time. We are enthralled by games like Starcraft and Morrowind and Civilization 2 and Halo for awhile, and then a new game comes along that pushes these great games into the back of our CD folder, usually never to be seen again.

Once in awhile, though, a game comes along that invents or defines a genre. These are the games that last forever. No matter how outdated they get, they always make it back into our conversations, and all future games in the genre are compared to them. Final Fantasy is one. Doom is another. Super Mario brothers is one. Sins of a Solar Empire is like these.

Let me try to describe exactly what I mean, here. There is no other game like Sins of a Solar Empire. You can't define it by comparing it to other games, because it's different from all of them on a fundamental level. It would be like trying to describe Doom to a world that had never heard of first person shooters, or describing Super Mario bros. to someone who had only played Pacman and Space Invaders.

The game is played in a sandbox mode, similar to Civilization games. When you start a new game, it generates a unique map/galaxy. This means that exploration is always important, and you never know what's around the corner before you go see for yourself.

Movement is handled differently from other strategy games. Around each planet there is a "Gravity Well" in which movement works similarly to other RTS games like Starcraft. To simulate the vast distance between planets, movement works differently once you're outside of a planet's Gravity Well. The space outside of the Gravity Well is where units use hyperspace lanes that connect the planets together. Every planet is connected to its neighbors by a hyperspace lane, but to go from one planet to a distant one might require you to travel through 5 or 6 hyperspace lanes, and traverse through a planet's Gravity Well in between each jump. If you haven't explored the planets along your route, it could be very dangerous to travel long distances.

The game progresses in real time, like Age of Empires. Unlike Age of Empires, though, games are HUGE in scope, and take quite a long time to finish. You will lose sleep playing this game, because it's more engrossing than anything I've played recently. Battles can last quite a long time - long enough for reinforcements and large scale maneuvers to make a major difference, unlike games like Warcraft 3, where the person who can click fastest is usually the one who wins. The first game I played was the smallest map size on the easiest difficulty level, and when I finally completed it I couldn't believe that I had spent over five hours playing. Games can last days of real-time on harder difficulty levels and larger maps.

The strategy element of this game is from the point of view of a general or leader, not a commander. Grand strategy is much more important than micromanagement. If your grand strategy puts your ships in the right place at the right time, the fastest clicker in the world wouldn't be able to stop you. There is a small element of micromanagement available to experienced players who want to maximize the potential of their ships, but I found out pretty early that my time was better spent in other areas, like planning the geographical layout of my defense turrets or sending scout ships to check up on the enemy's strength and location.

There is multiplayer available for this game, but I haven't used the feature yet. Friends of mine who have say that it runs smoothly, for those of you who are interested in facing human opponents.

Overall, this game is incredible, but there are a few things that annoyed me. One problem is that there are a LOT of units produced in this game, and their confirmation audibles get old, fast. You may produce 20 of a particular type of ship at once, and you'll hear 20 "ready for action!" (or something similar) confirmations when they finish training. I haven't any way to turn this feature off.

Another problem is that although the game is freakin' gorgeous, it's really hard to adjust the camera to get a great angle of the action. You adjust the camera by holding down the right mouse button and scrolling, but the scroll is inverted on the horizontal axis and not on the vertical one. That means that when you scroll left, the camera pans right. This makes it really awkward to get the perfect visual angle to watch your attack crush an enemy's home world.

These minor annoyances aside, the game is still an excellent buy. If your local software store is sold out, another awesome feature is that you can buy the game as a digital download from the company's site, and even save a few bucks on the retail shelf price. That's how I got the game, and I was finished downloading in 15 minutes - less time than it would have taken to go to the store and back, and install it from a CD.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/19/08

Game Release: Sins of a Solar Empire (US, 02/04/08)

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