Galactic Civilizations places you in control of humanity at the beginning of the 23rd century when mankind has just stumbled upon a new technology that gives instant access to the far reaches of the galaxy. Your job is to colonize new planets, expand your empire, and eventually rule the galaxy by whatever means you see fit, whether it's through diplomacy, trade, or war. By default, you're the human race from that infamous planet earth but there's a number of other non-playable alien races. Not too exciting eh? To counteract this, there are a number of different empires available. Feel like being a trade mogul and opening up interstellar trade routes? It's possible in Galactic Civilizations. How about being a tyrannical warlord and wiping out every hostile civilization in the galaxy? You can do that too. Galactic Civilizations is very non-linear in how you tackle things, thanks in part to the fact that you can customize your games at startup. Galaxy size, character alignment and AI difficulty can all be adjusted to your liking, which, coupled with the unlimited tactics at your disposal, guarantees a unique experience every time. By just playing with the character alignment (whether the race is considered good or evil), you can set up your game to be based heavily on economic or political strategies (by setting a majority of the races to good), and if you're feeling a little more masochistic, you can set up the game to be heavily combat based (by setting a majority of the races to evil).
If you've never played a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) before, it can be overwhelming at first. After all, building up a military force to be reckoned with, keeping your economy in an upswing, exploring the vast spans of the galaxy, maintaining friendly diplomatic and trade relationships with other races, and establishing colonies on distant planets - all simultaneously no less - isn't exactly cake. I know it's been a long while since I've played a space based strategy game and my first reaction upon seeing my map and the plethora of menus I had access to was, 'What have I gotten myself into?' Despite my initial fears, Galactic Civilizations didn't take long to catch onto. I picked up a good deal of the gameplay mechanics in my first game and I never really struggled with the controls. It's refreshing to play a strategy game where you aren't hindered by a cumbersome interface or overly complex gameplay mechanics.
Of course, strategy games aren't anything without smart AI and Galactic Civilizations doesn't disappoint. Opposing races will find ways to counteract your tactics directly or they' ll find your main weakness and exploit them. The AI delivers definite competition even on the beginning difficulty, and it along with the many random events will guarantee a challenging experience. The random events, however, can be a bit harsh at times. Things will be going fine in the galaxy and you'll be the reigning empire, when all of a sudden, civil war occurs and you've lost your most populated planet or recession hits and you have to scramble to fix the economy. Granted, these events were added to create a little unexpected excitement, but much of the time, there's little you can do to prevent or alleviate them. Needless to say, it can be frustrating to watch your empire fall to pieces at the hands of a random event, but whoever said ruling the galaxy would be easy?
Games of this nature don't need much graphical force behind it -- rather, stylized but functional menus and slick looking ships/planets are the call for order. Galactic Civilizations pulls that off for the most part. The interface looks very polished while being functional. As an added bonus, your interface will change depending on how you rule your galaxy. If you're a benevolent ruler, you're interface will reflect that with a clean and sharp touch. However, if you're more dictatorial and rule the galaxy with an iron fist, your interface will be gritty and dark. A very nice touch. Everything else is pretty standard, as not a ton of graphical flare is needed to pull off a game like this.
When all is said and done, is this a game for everyone? Simply put: no. Gamers looking for twitch action or a strategy game with a strong emphasis on combat might be disappointed, but gamers who prefer to meticulously oversee things rather than execute them directly have something to look forward to. Galactic Civilizations is extremely polished in every respect and is easily one of the best 4X games to come out in a long while.