The Orion Sector On
First off, this is a pretty unbiased review since two out of three of the people reviewing GalCiv hadn't been watching its development like hawks. The other has been keeping tabs on it, however. We are reviewing GalCiv with 3 reviewers for a broader approach to the game. Some of us like certain things, and the other(s) dislike it. Well, that's what you get with three different minds, and we hope you enjoy the diversity. It's also worth noting that none of the reviewers peeked at each others' write-up before this was posted. We've included some decent hi-res PNG screenshots, but for more you really ought to visit GalCiv.com. And now, on with the show...
Some of you may be skeptical of this review in light of our last review of MOO3. If you are feeling that way, please read a quick note at the bottom of the review here.
Well, once again, I run this place. My taste in games is a bit eclectic. I've liked everything from Super Metroid to RoboSport to Master of Orion. To be honest, i'm not a really heavy gamer at all. I tend to latch onto one good game at a time. Since MOO3 sort of fell through, i've been busy making my own game.
I had not even heard of GalCiv before just a few months ago, so i can honestly say that i have absolutely no bias for or against GalCiv in any way, shape, or form. So if i don't like it, no harm done, If i do, woohoo! free game! I should say that that i am a good ol' MOO fan (1+2, not so much 3), and that's a lot of what i know about strategy games, so forgive me if everything in this review is a comparison between galciv and MOO.
The hardware i'm running is relatively new, so i don't have too many technical problems: Athlon XP 1800, 256 DDR RAM, 64MB Nvidia MX420 (the cheap one), and a 19" monitor running a pretty clean install of Windows98. I'm also trying to shoehorn galciv onto Linux with Winex, but so far it's a no-go.
I was introduced to GalCiv by DeadDireWolf about a month ago now. I was still busy playing Moo3 enough to kill me at the time, so I didn't really give GalCiv much thought at the time. I was not a member of the Beta and I'm not an active member of the GalCiv fan community. Once I found out that we would be doing a review of it, I glanced through the official site to see what the game was about. To put it shortly, I knew next to nothing about GalCiv before I opened the box, so please keep that in mind while reading my part of this review.
Computer gaming has been my major hobby for two decades now. I'm generally interested in most genres, though I spend most of my time with TBS/RTS.
Lately I've been keeping myself busy with GalCiv, Moo3, Empire Earth, Worms World Party and my brand-spankin'-new GameCube (which I just preordered
Zelda for. mmmmm.....Zelda). Other games currently in the pile are Age of Mythology, Alpha Centauri, Axis&Allies, Freedom Force, RCT2, Starcraft,
SC3K, The Sims, SimGolf and Tropico. Yes, I am a nerd. (Though more of the bearded, beer-drinking persuasion than the pocket protector type)
StarDock recommends a 1GHz or better processor, (minimum 600MHz) I have yet to notice any slow downs on my machine.
I was raised by an avid wargamer and over my 30 years have become one myself. I started at the age of six in 1977 with Avalon Hill's Squad Leader (Dad needed an oppenent. You know how hard it is to get a multiplayer game going.) I immensely enjoy board games and see computer games as an extention thereof. It's probalby therefore of little surprise that I prefer strategy and tactic computer wargames to most other genres (however my shelves are filled with other genres). Some of my favorite computer strategy games of all time include.... Harpoon, Theater Europe, HQ, Red Lightning, vikings, Civ1 & 2, Alpha Centauri, Moo1 & 2, Chaos Overlords and a whole lot more....
I've been following GalCiv for about three years now and it's been so long I forgot how I stumbled across it. I may have been searching for a new space game because I found GalCiv, MOO3 and Stars! Supernova Genesis at about the same time. I do, however, remember hoping that at least one of them would satisfy my desire for a galactic empire builder that I have so long sought. Well, one of them has..
AMD Athlon 1 Ghz Thunderbird
Hmmm... where to start? Well, the first thing i noticed about galciv wasn't the game. It was the attention we got from Brad Wardell (lead designer) and Stardock (the company that makes galciv). We got an email from Brad asking if we wanted to strike up a galciv thing here at the Orion Sector, maybe do a review (coincidentally, just hours before DeadDireWolf was going to fire off an email to Brad). We said sure and once again, we've got three reviewers with copies of the game. The review came only two days later and included the game CD in a DVD case as well as a manual, media FAQ, cover letter, and quickstart guide. By contrast, MOO3's review copy that i got was just two paper-sleeved CDs thrown into a mailer. There seems to be a lot of "home grown" feel to Stardock and GalCiv and a personal helping hand from Brad which puts a real positive spin on the game right out of the gate.
The other thing i noticed was that the intro movie didn't skip like MOO3's did! I could actually watch it in fluid motion. Neat. OK, but the game...
GalCiv is not an empire simulator. In fact, i might even say it's not an empire builder either (even though it is). It feels like a really complicated game of Chess, and you'll probably hear me use that analogy several times. The emphasis in this game isn't in glorious combat or tricky ship designs, it's really pure, raw, strategy. If you dig that, this game is right up your ally. If you need some fireworks and eye candy, better look elsewhere. That isn't to say that galciv looks bad, but more on that later. GalCiv incorporates a lot of personality and humor as well so the strategy doesn't get too dull by itself.
Let me also say that galciv has a decent learning curve, but nothing like MOO3's. I would say you need to give yourself a good 5 hour block of time to get a handle on it, and another 5-10 to really feel like you know how to sling some starbases and give the AI a run for it's money.
Overall, i'm initially "tickled" but not awed or overly impressed with GalCiv (remember: first impressions, not conclusions yet). It would be interesting to note that i felt the exact same way when i first sat down to play a little no-namer video rental PC game called Master of Orion.
(This is directly quoted from an email I sent to Lev and DDW shortly after receiving the game. I was going to write a completely new section here, but I realized that this email already said everything I was going to say. Keep in mind that these were my first impressions, before spending the rest of the week playing the game. Some of these feelings have now changed, others are still the same. All of these points are elaborated on later in the review.)
Ok, my first impressions (only about 3 or 4 hours of play so far) To sum my feelings so far up in one word, "eh." Elaborating on that thought, this game is not "great wow whiz-bang neato!", but by no means does it suck either. At this point I'd give it about an 7.8/10. Worth checking out for fans of the Space-based TBS genre. Those looking for violence should go pick up a copy of Serious Sam 2 for $10. And those looking for massive tactical warfare should check out Strategy First's other new-ish game, Hearts of Iron. (just to pick two genres)
(After looking at that email again, there's one more thing I'd like to add. GalCiv, like its name suggests, really seems to be "Civ in Space." It's not really a whole new type of game, though it does do some intriguing new things with the genre. If you're a fan of Civ, and I am; you'll probably enjoy it, which I do...to a point.)
My first reaction was a broadening smile across my face as the open movie set the scene for what was to be a struggle for galactic conquest. The music had immediately caught my attention as well. It was uplifting and sounded of victory. It had the excitement and mood of a Roman Triumph. It made me feel good. It made me grin. It made me want to crush somebody.
I think one of the most important parts of a game of this type is the race setup. It defines who 'you' are and indicates how you intend to reach your goal. Whether you wish to play the role of benevolent academic or intergalactic warlord, it is here that the mood is first set. You become your vision and Galciv let's you assume any number of faces.
The customization choices are astounding. There are so many to choose from and they all are important regardless of which path to victory you attempt. It's like when you were seven years old standing in the toy department looking at all that Star Wars stuff with only three dollars in your hand. What the hell to get?! It's all so cool I don't know what to choose. However, no matter what you chose you came away happy.
The UI is pretty much your standard sci-fi fare. Nothing really revolutionary or inspired. The look is like MOO2 crossed with the Star Trek command console. It serves it's purpose.
One thing that did bug me, as a self-prefessed and semi-learned graphic artist, is the "profusion of lines". Lines, lines everywhere! Lots of unnecessary lines that just go here and there and serve no functional purpose whatsoever. Is it a button or a decoration? You might have to click to find out! Too many lines is a distraction IMHO. I often give that advice to budding webmasters making websites with tables. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Some of the lines have no purpose, but might later. Something i noticed is that you will find empty buttons and spaces that are surely reserved for future expansion sprinkled throughout the UI screens (just look at the front opening screen and see how many slots are used). This is a subtle hint at Stardock's future commitment to the game and to expansion.
Another interesting tidbit is that the UI graphically changes depending on your "moral alignment". If you are good, you get the "Good UI". If you go sour and turn towards evil, you get the glowing red UI.
The interface is actually quite good. It took a little while (read: three or four hours, without using the manual) to figure out where everything could be found. Once I was over that hurdle though, it was pretty smooth sailing.
The graphics are simple, nothing worth writing home about, but they serve their purpose. My only real complaints about it are the fonts are too small at times, and scrolling the galaxy map can be a pain. Otherwise, giving commands to units, changing build queues on your planets, negotiating diplomatic stuff, all works well.
One particularly neat feature about the UI is that it will change based on the moral choices you make through the course of the game. If you consistenly make "good" choices, the UI will eventually change to a "good" format. Also, good players have access to parts of the tech tree that neutral and evil players do not. The same applies to players who make evil moral choices, there is an evil interface and evil techs on the tree.
The UI has an intuitive feel. Left click on the mini-map and the main screen centers there. Want to access the technology screen? Click the DNA double helix button at the bottom of the panel. Reports and their options are right on the main view so all the info is available for you to make strategic decisions without having hop all over the place. Better not attack the Drengin Empire yet, their military spending far surpasses our own.
Getting Around The Galaxy
Awkward. I think Klemeroni will probably say the same thing. Getting around physically is weird, even though there are like 3 or 4 ways to pan the map around. Maybe it's just a case of mouse-button reversal, but it really throws me.
The main galaxy map is basically what you get when you cross the space combat and the galaxy map from MOO2. In galciv, you see everything all at once: stars, bases, ships, resources, etc. When ships fight, they fight on the map, not in a mini space combat. There are no Final Fantasy style closeup combats or going-ons. The whole map is a square-tile grid (although you can't actually see the grid). When ships move, they move X number of tiles per turn and you can redirect them in any way you want. It's just like moving pieces in chess. It is not like moving ships in MOO where you set a destination and let them go. However, you can give ships destinations and missions (guard, auto-attack, explore, etc.) and then watch them zigzag there way across the map. The big difference here is that you are working on a tile map, not a point-map like MOO.
One thing that i would like to point out as thuroughly disliking is the fact that planets in star systems (of which there can be several) have a basic 1-30 rating, but have no kind of real resource importance. You don't get any more or less production from this colony over that colony which really blows IMHO. Now if that basic number where split into a few seperate catagories like fertility, minerals, atmosphere, or whatever, then i'd be happy. That would put a strategic importance on different planets for different reasons other than population.
The map carries a Fog of War. This adds to the game in the exploration phase but also in combat: if you don't know the enemy is coming, you will find yourself cought off guard. Luckily there are ways around this. Sensor Drone satellites come in handy here.
The map is sprinkled with "anomalies" - usefull little tidbits you can run over and if you have a research vessel, you can "learn" it. Different kinds of anomalies may add different things ranging from ground troop enhancements to morale improvements to free ships. They don't add too much to the game overall, but it beats a kick in the butt as my dad would say.
Finally, the big deal with map is placement: Place this starbase next to a resource and it gets extra benefits. Build this enhancement on this colony, and this sector gains benefits. Build a starbase on this traderoute and the traderout benefits. Colonize this planet and grab some much needed sector influence. Placement is everything. That, and some decent ships to protect it all with. Otherwise it's free for the Drenguin taking as i quickly learned (they don't like to play nice).
The galaxy map includes three different types of objects: planets, resources and anomalies. Planets are pretty intuitive; you colonize them, class 15 or better is considered good. (though I have regularly colonized class 12, 13,and 14 planets to gain a foothold in a sector.)
Resources are special items on the map that can be developed using "Constructor" ships to increase your empire's abilities in one area or another. For example, if you build a starbase on a Research resource, your empire will get a 5% increase in research. Additional Constructor ships can be used to upgrade the starbase to get more bonuses, or to add different features to it (make it increase your cultural influence, add extra defenses, increase attack values of your ships in the sector, etc).
Anomalies are scattered all over the galaxy map. Only certain ships with the Survey ability are able to collect them. These anomalies can be anything from increasing your economy by 1-5% to adding hitpoints to the ship that found them. Somtimes you will even stumble across one that gives you a new ship! The first time you collect an anomaly, you will be shown one of the game's many reward videos, all very well done.
Exploring the map is a relatively simple task. Simply select a ship and right-click where you want them to go. One fairly stupid thing about exploration is that you know where every planet is before you can ever see them. As the screenshots show, the mini-map shows planets in the black, unexplored area. Honestly, how could I know that there is a planet there if I have never seen that area of space? Nitpicks aside, I feel that StarDock did an incredible job at making exploration in GalCiv fun.
Only two things have bothered me with the maps and UI. First, there isn't any really good way I have found for locating planets if you haven't memorized where they are located. For example, if an event occurs in the Leto system and I don't remember what sector it's in I have to click around the mini map until I find it. This is because there are essentially only two views for the galaxy. The main view which shows a blown up view with equivalent area of a sector or the mini map which can show the entire galaxy at different zoom levels but doesn't list system names. This hasn't been too bad playing my medium sized galaxies which are 8 sectors by 8 sectors but on the bigger galaxies with inherently more sectors I could see where system location could become a task.
The other bother I have is with the Fog of War. Granted, I love the way the FOW model is handled - explore and map the galaxy but although you've mapped the galaxy if you don't have ship or planetary sensors that can reach everywhere you've mapped, you just know a planet is where you left it, not whether a competitor's colony ships are only a sector away. My bother is with the graphical representation of these different levels of FOW. The difference between known mapped out of sensor range space and mapped sensor range space is so subtle I can't tell the two apart. Something like pitch black for unexplored space, space with a blue hue over it for explored but out of sensor range, and unobstructed space for explored within sensor range. They may have tried something like this but if they have these eyes can't see the difference.
The Home Front
Colony management is a whole ball of wax that i haven't fully dug into yet. There is plenty to chew on though, that's for sure. It runs everything from political parties to build queues to tax rates and all that. It's reasonably complex, but not everwhelming.
Since people will wonder, build queues work like so: you get a miltary and an infrastructure queue that simultaniously build projects. You can queue them if you wish. GalCiv has an odd feature that i still haven't decided i like or not called governors. No, these aren't your MOO3 viceroys in disguise. Governors are really just pre-named build queues. You can stack up your buildings in such-and-such an order in the first governor's list, and make a whole 'nuther list for this second governor. Now instead of stacking up building projects for each colony, you can just assign a colony a "governer" (pre-defined building list) and anytime you make changes to the overall list, each colony assigned to that governor will update its list. The "governor" has no AI componant. Its just a list you make with a cute name slapped on it.
Politcial parties add a little spin to game as well. Every few years, the empire gets together and "play musical chairs" as i like to say: they vote and change seats in the empire's senate. You get bonuses if your party is in the majority control, and deductions if you don't. Also there are certain pros and cons for each party, so you can route for ones you want depending on you current playstyle.
There is a ton more than that, but i can only type so much!
Every colony has two build lists, military and social. They are pretty straight forward, the only issue I have is that if you choose not to use the Governor system, you can only pick one building at a time, there is no queue. Once you grow your empire past a few star systems, you will want to make full use of the governor. Selecting new buildings for five or more planets every turn is not fun. The governor allows you to set a standard build queue for all your planets, which you can deviate from when necessary.
In GalCiv, taxes and unrest are handled at the empire-level. i.e. there are no individual tax rates for planets and unrest is over the whole empire (not per planet). Delegated to individual planets is building ships, building social projects, and creating research points. (in other words, it works just like Civ does) For this game, it's good that it was done this way. The game is already a micromanagers dream, these few things done at the macro level allow you to focus on the planetary stuff.
Colony management is another part of the game I believe they've done rather well. Stardock has taken the best colony management aspects of empire building games and wrapped it up neatly for the gamer. You can build two items at one time - one military and one social. Most uniquely handled is the way that Stardock chose to tackle the Planetary Governor issue. I hear players all the time talk of stupid AI governors. On the social side Galactic Civilizations solves this by allowing you to customize governors to your specs and then install then where you like. You put together an extended build queue as the governor's 'policy' and install them where you see fit. They build exactly what you specified and in which order. You can even tweak the build order after you've installed the governor because you want an embassy before medical centers on Cassius IV. I've had every social structure available to me queued at one time and that was 25 items.
On the military side of things while you don't have a build queue you can have it repeat build what is currently selected or prompt you for new instruction when a ship is completed. One other time saving device allows you to change ship type in the build docks at every planet with just a click. Example - you are building starbase constructor ships on 7 different planets when the Torians launch a surprise attack on you. In the governors screen you can issue a single command to have all planets building starbase constructors to switch to building frigates or whatever. This feature is very handy and works well with the customizable governors. Essentially you are the planetary governor for all of your planets and it works great.
Diplomacy + Spying
Now so far, diplomacy and spying have been thuroughly disinteresting to me. Diplomacy is basically a nice horse-trade. You put down what you want on your side and what you want to offer on the other and offer the deal. You can trade anything: treaties, techs, colonies, ships, bases, and declarations of war on other empires.
What i don't like is the alien video (the Aliens video, now that's another story :-). You get a small picture tube at the top of the screen which consists of the head of the alien race you might be talking to simply bobbing its head ever so slowly and blinking on occasion. No simulated speech, not even any moving lips. Just a lot of hokey head bobbin'. This is one minor thing that could definately stand to improve.
Spying isn't about stealing techs or blowing things up so much as just collecting intelligence. You invest so many points in the other empire of your choosing and those points add up. Once you get enough, you get promoted to the next level of intelligence and get to know more details about your neighbors.
I have yet to see espionage have any real effect in this game. Every so often you'll get a message saying that one of your enemies has used spies to help rebels in your empire rise up against you, but you never really see any effect from it.
Diplomacy on the other hand is a big portion of the game. Allied victories are possible, so getting everyone to like you and laying the smack down on those who don't is a good way to achieve victory in the game. Actions are pretty varied; you can declare war/peace and swap money, tech, ships, starbases, planets and trade goods. Trade Goods are items that can be built by only one empire in the game and have some sort of bonus associated with them. For instance, Aphrodisiac increases your population growth rate by a small percentage.
Unlike other recent releases the diplomacy model in GalCiv is solid and very, very good. Trades are reasonable and you can swap anything from money and Starships to council votes and technology. I love it when a trade partner of yours is getting their butt kicked by an enemy and they come pleading to you for help. You can funnel them money, ships and tech and have them wage war for you while you grow more and more powerful keeping your hands clean. I've also seen opponents ask me for some shrewd deals. I had the Dregin offer me a few really good tech for one of mine that allowed alliances. It registered somewhere in the back of my mind that if I was to swap them, sometime in the not so distant future, I would be facing hostile neighbors allied against yours truly. Seems to me they knew what they where doing. And the more I play this game it does seem like they know what they're doing.
Espionage is one area where the game mechanics have been abstracted it appears. You allocate funds towards intelligence and over time details are revealed about the races spending, production bonuses, etc. You are also able to steal tech but I haven't yet stolen any for lack of heavy investment in this area. Through espionage it's also possible to undermine the enemy by causing civil unrest in hopes of having their systems defect, to your possible advantage but surely to their detriment.
Now technology is something Galciv does right: simple, effective, useful, and semi-random. It's basically the same system as MOO1 for those of you who remember, only with dependencies to break tech tree racers from just running up and grabbing Plasma Cannons or whatever.
The tech descriptions suffer from the same plague as MOO3 though: Lots of fun technobabble but not many details. I don't care who invented Cold Fusion, just tell me how fast i get to go now! Please! Is it like a big jump over what i got now, or is it just a tiny step forward? I really need to know these things, guys! The good news is that JavaScout has a website devoted to just this sort of thing.
Research is pretty basic, while still being quite deep. A full tech tree is available from the GalCiv website. Techs are available for just about everything you could want. This includes things I certainly hadn't thought of before, like a tech that will highlight all the good planets on the mini-map, so you don't have to spend the time to send ships on missions to sectors with nothing useful in them.
They definitely follow a Civ2/AC model, only one tech researched at a time, with every tech available to research at some point (no need to pick between three, or worry that you might not have a certain tech in your tree).
StarDock did an excellent job at introducing humor into the game and not taking themselves too seriously. When you finish researching a new tech, you get to see this green robot do a little finger dance on his screen and read about what your tech does. The cheesy music that is playing while on this screen makes it pretty fun.
The tech tree in this game is huge. I don't know if it's possible to research them all. There are all different paths to research depending on where you want your strengths to lie. Starships strength, production bonus, population moral, cultural influence, etc, etc. The choices are immense. This also lends itself to a very nice system of checks and balances amongst races. If you're the production powerhouse but somebody else has the cutting edge military hardware you'll have to try to exploit the enemy's weaknesses. One thing about Galciv I've noticed is that even though you might be last in the tech race if you're filled up on the tech that follows your plan for victory you may still be able to win. - unlike other games where if you lose the tech race, you lose the game. It just another example of how there are multiple roads to victory in Galactic Civilizations.
War & Combat
Now remember what i said about Chess? Here's where it comes into play. You aren't worrying about major space battles and shootouts over Tau Ceti IV. You are concerned with the overall control of the board, just like in chess. Yes you might have to sacrifice your queen, but look what it gets you over here...
The hitch is this: GalCiv is a strategy game, not a tactical combat game. In fact, there is no MOO style tactical combat. Combat is reduced to a stack of ships on one side firing at a stack on an adjascent square. There is no ship design either. Ships are technologies that need to be researched. Instead of adding weapons, if you want better ships, you'll have to research the weapons which just give simple bonuses. Each ship in GalCiv has an attack vs. a defense rating. You just subtract the defense from the attack and there you go: damage. That's it. The top ship from stack A shoots at the top ship from stack B. They shoot back and forth until one or the other is destroyed and sooner or later the whole stack is chipped away. It's not glamorous, but then, as Brad Wardell would tell you, it wasn't supposed to be anyway. Combat is truly strategic. It's What and Where, not so much How.
The war in general though, is where GalCiv starts to shine. You will play for hours landing colony ships and building colony infrastructure, maybe letting your political party change hands every now and then. Sometimes you might make an exchange with another race, but it's all pretty dull and boring until something blows up! Like in Chess, you have several phases: The first phase is the Setup. You get your pieces in all the right places in order to get a better position over your opponant. But you both know that sooner or later, someone has to go down first! Then we start taking pieces out and things finally get interesting. In GalCiv, it's much the same. Colonizing is boring. When you start attacking and defending, now the game widens up. There are many ways to go about a war. You could grab enemy colonies, fry enemy ships, intercept trade routes and wear them down economically, bust up starbases to reduce effectiveness, etc. But which colonies? Which trade routes?
The more I play this game, the more I realize that my problems with the combat system aren't just with GalCiv. I'm a control freak. I want to take my armadas and move them around, tell them when to shoot, etc. GalCiv follows the Civ model of combat, move troop to enemy, attack, it tells you who dies. I don't really like that, BUT those who do like that style of combat will probably get along with GalCiv's combat system just fine.
There is no such thing as unit customization in GalCiv. There is a set number of pre-defined ship types that you can research and build. (you know the drill: LameShip #1, LameShip#2, NotSoLameShip, Doesn'tSuckShip, OkShip, SlightlyBetterThanOkShip, GoodShip, GoodBigShip, GoodHugeShip, KickA**Ship, UltimateBehemothKickA**Ship, etc.) It works, and for those who don't mind the limited selection it should be just fine. For those looking for infinite variety and tactical combat, this system isn't for you.
One of the preferred roads to victory is, of course, war. What would an empire builder be without combat? As I've been following GalCiv I've always had reservations about the lack of a separate turn based tactical combat a la Moo2. Now that I'm chest deep into this game not only do I like their system I haven't once said to myself, "Man, I wish the combat was different". Combat between units is simplified but think more along the lines of chess; the maneuver and check of units. If your units are in support of each other it's a force to be reckoned. Piecemeal and you're a dead man. Another way to think of it is the entire galactic map as the tactical battlefield and you maneuver your units for support and influence while positioning yourself to strike the enemy.
The game's pace is seamless with this combat model. I've noticed how the game cruises along, even late game. No end game clean up battles where the results are forgone conclusions. No chasing one large enemy fleet so you can 'win'. My reservations about comabt were wrong.
Audio / Visual
Nothing overly impressive here. The graphics are decent and run at a sufficient resolution. They look good (except all those stinkin' lines, arghhh...) and give the game a nice feel. The video and cutscenes are nice (except the diplomacy aliens of course). The galaxy map is iconic and MOO2ish. But we know what all strat gamers say: gameplay over graphics! If that's your thinking, you'll be quite happy. There isn't anything to complain about with regards the graphics, but nothing to write home about either.
The sound is the same way. For those who are interested, i would describe the sound as "Star Wars with warm tones". It's a bit refreshing after playing the very cold feeling MOO3. It leaves me in a happy mood even if i'm getting my butt kicked. I also noticed that the background music changed as i moved through different phases of the game. I'm not sure quite what the trigger is yet though, whether it's my moral alignment or the growth of my empire. However, it's nicely orchastral and rich without getting in the way. It feels soft and warm, but not "fuzzy" or cute. There are a few spots i might complain about (ground combat), but it's no big deal.
If for any reason you can't stand that, one of the nice features in the GalCiv expansion pack is the option to load up an MP3 playlist and just let the game play it. Galciv doesn't have a whole MP3 center, but it will play your play lists.
The ambient sound is pretty good, it manages to feel right without getting in the way. Sound Effects are good enough. You never think, "This sucks!" but at the same time you never think, "This is brilliant!"
The planned free expansion pack (yes, I said "free") that will be available for download on release day will include a built-in MP3 player that will let you set up your own play lists. ...I think I'm going to set mine up to play "White Wedding", "Safety Dance", "Walk Like an Egyptian", and "Lowrider" over and over and over again. We'll see if I can drive my wife insane after 10 hours of it. ;-)
Generally, the graphics in this game are sub-par. The enemy leader diplomacy animations are well done, but otherwise you are left wondering if you are playing a game made for or five years ago. Admitedly, graphics aren't a necessity in a Space TBS game, but this is almost bad enough to make you scream at it. And I don't know what StarDock was thinking when they made the United Nations screen, it absolutely SUCKS.
Last but not least, the graphics and sound. The galaxy map is set in tried and true 2D fashion. Nothing flashy, nothing fancy. Just something that works. The shadows of spinning Starbase nodes to the smooth movement of ships and fleets on autopilot work very well in1024x768. I'm reminded that 1024x768 is a good thing. While there is very little that can be done to set a 2D galactic map on fire graphically, this map looks good. It's pleasing to look at and that's good because you spend a lot of time there. The ships look good too. Not accelerated 3D blow your mind stuff but it keeps the suspension of disbelief engaged. One thing that I did like was the race diplomat characters. Not lots of wild animation but subtle gestures and very crisp and clean detail. Very polished. Once again this is a TBS game meant to convey important information for you to make decisions and not a game to blow you way graphically. It achieves its goal and builds character at the same time.
While the sound effects I've found to be limited the music is not. I've been playing for three weeks and haven't tired of it yet. Of course both can be modified (along with almost any part of the game) - the sound effects by user mods and the music by loading your own into the built in MP3 player.
Some things we threw in at the last minute or after the fact...
Some people have been asking if we could compare MOO3 to GalCiv. Well, it's not quite the same, but overall i do like GalCiv more. Why? GalCiv, though not the awe inspiring Ultimate Strategy Game MOO3 was supposed to be, grows on me as i play it, the same way MOO1 did. MOO3 has done the opposite for me. When i first got the game, i was giddy, then shocked, then confused, then some joy, then finally disallusioned with it all as i realized the pieces were there, were interesting, were even enjoyable at times, but none of them fit right (reflecting its design process). It took me a good 4-6 weeks to realize the final part of that though. MOO3 just wasn't fun in the end.
GalCiv is a simpler game on the surface, but plays deep. I like that. It's not what you've got so much as how you use it.
Another thing i like is that because the game is "simpler" interface wise, it plays out swiftly and keeps moving along a very fluid pace. My #1 biggest complaint about MOO3 is that it took a grand eternity to play even on the smallest map size. It bogged down like riding a bicycle through 2 feet of tar. It was absolutely excruciating. While the game had some good features, it just didn't jive and i couldn't bring myself to play it anymore or force myself to try to find the good in it when i really didn't feel like playing it at all.
The Bottom Line
What we have here is a decent strategy game for $40 (clarification: what i mean by that is that the game is fun if you like the TBS field or Civ type games. If you don't, well, it's not like everyone is going to like GalCiv. Let's be reasonable). It's not a knock-your-socks-off Homeworld style graphical showcase. It's not a complicated "Ultimate Strategy Game" like MOO3. It's not the game to end all games, but it should be very mentally engaging. You will like it for the strategy elements that are simple enough to grasp, yet varied enough to be creative in your play style. personally, I do like this game.
There are also many ways to play this game. You can win from several different ways, just like MOO but better: diplomacy, warfare, technology, or indirectly, building a trade empire. You can play Good or Evil or something in between. You can play in tiny galaxies (which should be over and done with in 1-4 hours) or Gigantic ones that really scare me to even imagine playing in, but needless to say, it would take months to finish it. You can play with one opponant or all 5 alien races. You can set their moral alignment and AI level (stupid - genius, and yes, it makes a big difference) independently.
If you like a true thinking game or a long lazy game of Chess, you'll like GalCiv. Let me put it this way: Some games have a narrow face but a deep strategy element (like Chess), while others have a large face and a shallow strategy (like MOO3 in its current state - just my opinion). GalCiv is easy enough to pick up reasonably quick, but there is a lot too it. It reminds me of MOO1. The interface is simple, but the game is hard! Truly hard. I've heard that none of the beta testers have beaten the game on the hardest AI level. On that note, i got stomped wholesale on Beginner. So that says something important. I guarantee that no one will be complaining about the game difficulty for a good long time. No sir...
Is it worth the 40 bucks you ask? I can't decide that for you. If you have the time for these kinds of games, i'd say sure, give it a shot. I'm personally liking it more than MOO3, but i'm still not totally taken by it either. Maybe it's just because i'm getting older or that i'm rather busy at the moment. Hard to tell. But yes, it definately warrents further investigation. With MOO3, i felt i had to teach myself to like it. Well, that didn't pan out. I don't feel that way about GalCiv. That should speak for itself.
GalCiv is looking to be a great game on its own merits without the hype and glitter of the bigger blockbusters like MOO3 pushing it forward.
8.2/10 If you are a fan of Civ-style game mechanics AND like Space Strategy AND are willing to deal with the graphics, you'll probably LOVE GalCiv. If you don't fit in that category, I'd suggest trying out a demo or looking elsewhere for your next game purchase. If nothing else, the enemy AI should develop into something quite formidable, and it will be fun to watch.
There is so much to this game I could go on and on and fill pages with its other features. I haven't touched on the individualized opponent race AI, strategic resources that drive conflict, potent starbases and there customization, the outstanding documentation - manual and online supplements, modability, and coding that takes advantage of top line hardware. This game has been very well planned, designed and executed and it shows. And it shows even more the more I play it.
I was concerned about only being able to play the human race but the game is so customizable I don't think it matters. This game has four *viable* paths to victory, military conquest, cultural, allied, and research - two which I've accomplished. The sheer number of different cut scenes and still art I've seen creates such a feeling of personality, depth, character, immersion, and soul I can't remember a game that's done it as well.
GalCiv reminds one that the nostalgia of the classic games is indeed attainable in a new release. It is possible to 'get it right' after nearly losing hope from so many disappointing titles. It is possible again to get lost in a TBS game for hours. Galactic Civilizations succeeds on so many levels it still has me smiling just thinking about it.
Pros & Cons
A Note On Comparing Reviews
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