Have you ever been told you ve made a woman pregnant? (WHAT?? What kind of way to start a review is that? Do you know how old our average reader is? - Ed.) Trust me. I know where I'm going with this. (You'd better - Ed.) Ahem, back to my question -have you ever been told you've made a woman pregnant? Probably not.
But let me tell you what it's like from the male point of view. You spend all night awake, your brow moulded into a permanent frown of worry, your social life reduced to trips to the local newsagent for cigarettes and disposable lighters and every time the phone rings your heart jumps about I three feet. Well. I those are exactly the same feelings I've had since I started playing Ascendancy. (I really don't want to know how you were able to make that comparison - Ed.)
You see it's one of those games that makes you think. No. that's an understatement - a dinner menu makes you think. Ascendancy grabs hold of your brain, squeezes, kneads and prods it, throws it against a wall, plays basketball with it. wraps it up with electro-shock ribbon and deposits it back in your head. By now it's so full of thoughts, plans, ideas, strategies and theorems that you'd shame a Sun reporter getting a story on the Queen Mother having an affair with Nigel Lawson by breaking into a house in Islington.
Hang on to your seats folks, Presley's gone loco!
Okay, time to settle into a comfortable reviewing pattern and start telling you why I've gone so nuts over what at first glance appears to be little more than yet another space-based strategy game. Remember how when playing games like Sim City you'd wish you could take your people from their thriving metropolis onto a higher level of management? Or while playing Outpost how you wished you could see and conquer more of the universe? Or while tackling Rules of Engagement 2 you wished you could try peaceful negotiations with alien races rather than constant warfare? You see where I'm going? Ascendancy has managed to take all of the best bits from all the other god/strategy/warfare games out there in the oh-so-crowded marketplace and combine them into one huge amalgamation of gaming joy.
You have to take care of everything in your quest for universal dominance to gain the fabled ascendancy to a higher plane of existence. From choosing the best race to control (each having their own unique talents that, for once in a game like this, determine how you tackle each game, rather than being the usual role-playing window dressing), to making sure your planetary resources develop in a prosperous manner, to deciding where to start your colonisation plans.
And it's not as though the different aspects all work individually. For example, the amount of ships you can have is limited by the number of planets you colonise. This means that if you want to start expanding, you have to have well-run planets. None of that 'Stay at home and build a massive fleet' nonsense. The amazing thing is that you can steer a planet's development in a particular direction, suited to your personal needs. Increase the amount of technological research and you'll be able to build ships quicker. Neglect to provide adequate habitation though and you'll run out of workers. Yin and Yang, Dark and Light, Sonny and Cher - it's all a question of balance.
The wild black yonder
But don't go thinking Ascendancy is a glorified Sim City. If that's the impression I've given then I might as well change my name to Bobby Davro and make a living from being crap. Planetary management is but a small part of the whole game; once you start building your fleet and venturing outwards into the multiverse everything becomes one hundred and thirty five percent more complicated. Alien races are discovered, negotiations start (which are normally as effective as a UN charter, inevitably leading to war), empires are formed, new technology is researched, cats and dogs live together -total confusion but totally engaging.
It works because, for once, the designers have managed to get every element exactly right. The interface is intelligent and instinctive to use, the challenge is perfectly set, the game grows at the same pace as the player's skill, and it looks nice to boot.
Yes, that age-old problem of strategy games with mediocre graphics finally seems to have been put so far behind us it'll need a passport and flight reservations to catch up. You can't fault the presentation of Ascendancy, from the high-quality and wonderfully varied graphics, to the haunting and orchestral music, to the informative and helpful on-screen tutorial. Never has a game managed to make you want to keep playing as much as this one does.
Time for a cliche
"It's not without its faults," I hear you cry, mocking me with one of my more commonly used phrases - and you'd be right. Trouble is, the only faults I can find are purely personal ones. Such as: I'd have liked a few little animations on some of the graphics; I'd have liked the musical scores to go on a bit longer and maybe fade into one another with more fluidity; I'd have liked the aliens to be a little more sensible in their appearance and description. But there's simply no mistaking the quality - if there was a multi-player option I'd be transported to Nirvana. As it is. I'm more than happy to be sleeping in its doorway, asking for change from passers-by.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Snapshots and Media
- Ambush At Sorinor
- Battle Isle 3: Shadow of the Emperor
- Blood and Magic
- Conquered Kingdoms
- Master Of Orion
- Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares
- M.A.X. 2
- Rules Of Engagement 2
- Star Command
- Star Wars: Battlefront 2
- Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2
- Star Wars: Yoda Stories
- UFO: Aftershock
- X-COM: Terror From The Deep