Imperium Galactica II: Alliances
Seated in a Budapest cinema that would make your local UCI look like an oversized video shop, I was among a horde of European game hacks, all there to see the sequel to 1997's Imperium Galactica. Considering the amount of video sequences in the game, a cinema was the perfect venue and, compared to the rest of the gaming world (bar Westwood), who now prefer 3D-accelerated cut-scenes, Digital Reality obviously like FMV. A lot.
"We have been gamers for a very long time," said Gabor Feher, head of Digital Reality, after the show. "We remember that many games had some great animations - animations that you looked forward to seeing. You can tell a richer story using the old animation techniques. You can give more personality to the characters with facial details that 3D engine cut-scenes cannot handle - not at the moment, anyway. Don't get me wrong - I love 3D cut-scenes, I just thought our method was more appropriate for this kind of game."
Gabor isn't wrong. Sitting there, siphoning fizzy pop and scooping handfuls of popcorn, the FMV sequences were as impressive as any I'd seen. Whether they'd seem quite as dazzling on the small screen was another matter. Thankfully, lmperium Galactica II as a game looks just as good, and unlike the previous 2D attempt, sports a swanky new 3D engine that any strategy game would be proud of.
Reach For The Stars
Like the original game, lmperium Galactica II is a blend of Command & Conquer, SimCity and Master Of Orion, only this time in full 360 degree spin-o-vision. To give you an idea, if you've read the Homeworld review, imagine the same game but with full research trees, diplomacy, spying, sabotage and large-scale 3D combat not only in space, but down on planet surfaces as well.
Boasting three races to choose from and a campaign for each, the core of the game is mission-based.
The Humans must find an ancient device that holds the secret of immortality. In contrast, the Kra'hen have more simple aims - galactic domination - and, being a hostile race, they are quite happy to kill first and ask questions later.
In between are the Shinari -devious, secretive and out for profit. If you choose to follow the campaigns through, you will be rewarded with hours of FMV (the game will come on at least four CDs), as well as a number of random missions and branching storylines. Instead, you could choose a number of one-off scenarios, an eight-player multiplayer deathmatch or a massive, week-long epic taking in everything from the campaign, but without the movie bits.
The 3D Issue
All this wouldn't work, however, without a decent interface, and after a brief playtest in a very small room full of eager Germans, the interface seems to be shaping up well. Gone are the squeezed together icons of IG1 and instead IG2 has a tree-like menu system transposed on to a spinning 3D orb. It's all very flash. More importantly, it is easy to use, making a breeze of browsing the starmap, researching technologies and designing spaceships. In combat, too, the interface poses no major problems, for the simple reason that a stab on the space bar pauses the game, leaving you to browse the battlefield, issue orders and devise strategies without getting in a panic.
I mentioned to Gabor that Westwood (Tiberian Sun), Cavedog (Total Annihilation) and Ensemble Studios (Age Of Empires) had all dismissed 3D strategy games as having poor interfaces, saying that the gameplay suffers as a result of having to 'play' the camera. He was almost insulted.
"I think we have got the 3D camera just right," insisted Gabor. "Many RTS games don't have a pause feature where you can take time out to plan your attack. With the depth of Imperium Galactica II, you sometimes need to rethink your strategy or move the camera to get a better view. You don't have to move the camera for the sake of it - it's not a major part of the game, like many people think it should be. It's just a tool to help you play and see the results of your actions. If you don't want to spin the camera around, you can just use the pre-set views, like you have in football games such as FIFA. Top-down, third-person, three-quarter views - they're all there. We are giving people a choice. Whatever view you want, you can have."
Gabor added: "I play the game like I play any RTS game, by using the mouse to select my units and the cursor keys to scroll the map. It's the same with something like Quake. In fact, it's easier than Quake. It's pretty simple."
What is so impressive about IG2 is the scale of the game. Zooming from the starmap straight to a view of a massive fleet or planetary base is surprisingly quick. But once you see two fleets engage in combat, or the tanks that you designed make quick work of an enemy colony, you finally get a sense that Digital Reality have merged each part of the game into a convincing whole. The explosions are right our of an action game, the units intricate and packed with detail. If the original game was revolutionary in theory, the sequel promises to put those ideas into practice. Maybe 3D and real-time strategy can go together after all.
Download Imperium Galactica II: Alliances
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Let's be honest. Real-time strategy games have never been particularly hardcore have they? Your typical RTS is simply about erecting buildings and churning out units in greater quantities than your opponent while making sure you have enough resources to keep your war machine ticking along nicely. Hardcore turn-based strategy too, for all its supposed realism and anal attention to detail, is hardly the most accessible of computer game genres. Cramped 2D hexagonal maps, hundreds of illegible abbreviations and units that wouldn't look out of place on an air traffic control screen. And you could fall asleep just reading the back of the box.
So what does it take to combine the fast-paced no-brain action of real-time strategy with the thoughtful, more sedate nature of turn-based war? Surely, like mating an elephant with a hyena, it just can't be done? Or is it just that no-one has tried yet? From such early 16-bit classics as Supremacy and Imperium, up until Master Of Orion and Birth Of The Federation on PC, all sci-fi empire-building games have been turn-based and 2D, and - to many PC gamers -fairly inaccessible compared to the likes of C&C. Imperium Galactica 2 aims to change this state of affairs by letting you reign immortal and god-like over one of three alien races, indulge in research, diplomacy, trade, espionage, design and war, and watch events unfold in glorious 3D-o-vision.
Although the overall aim in IG2 is one of domination, there are various ways to achieve galactic supremacy, some more effective than others depending on which race you choose to control. The Solarians are essentially IG2s human element, bog-standard in every way but their handsome looks. The Kra'hen are the aggressive warlike race, able to produce warships and tanks quickly and at low cost, but unable to recruit spies or engage in diplomacy. Finally there are the Shinari, devious and secretive, they specialise in trade and espionage at the cost of a relatively weak military.
Whatever race you choose to head up, you're treated to some of the most impressive FMV yet seen in a virtual reality videogame. The opening sequences are worth the entry ticket alone. To appreciate it we'd advise cooking up a bucket of salty popcorn and pouring yourself a vat of pop. This is Hollywood-style stuff on a tight budget. And the up side is that there is the right amount of it. Not too much to make it feel too linear and enough to keep you up all hours, waiting for the next sequence - between which there are countless sub-quests to take on, from rescuing turncoat scientists, to evacuating colonists on unstable planets.
Pause For Thought
Having gorged your eyes on the cinematic introduction and worked through the excellent tutorial, you view centres on your homeworld and the single fleet around it. From the Starmap which greets you, navigation to each of the game's main screens is ridiculously simple. Within two clicks you can be zooming your camera across the surface of your planet, transferring tanks from factory to fleet, or redesigning ships and adding newly researched weapons to them.
With so much to do, some of you may be wary that, as a realtime game, the danger is that the enemy could be sneaking in an attack while you're poncing around placing factories. Well, worry no longer. Thanks to a very handy pause feature, pressing 'space' freezes the action while still allowing you to visit every planet, fleet or screen in the game. If there's nothing to do but wait for your next round of tax money to fill the coffers, just hike the game speed up to *3' and research, movement and building will become three times faster. With the amount there is to keep an eye on, it's surprising how easy it is to keep track of things. The only tricky aspect of the game is to monitor what all your colonies are up to, but as you can select autobuild on each one, you just have to name each planet 'Tankl, 'Trades', 'Research3' etc and the problem is solved. If for some reason, the citizens on planet 'Ship12' are getting seditious, building a hospital or stadium should placate them.
A Call To Arms
Now matter how happy your citizens are, the time soon comes when alien races are at your borders and a forceful expansion is your only survival. Posting spy satellites to gauge enemy strengths and sending secret agents to cause civil unrest will help to give you an advantage, but the only way to expand quickly is to build a fleet and invade. Move your mass of ships to engage the enemy's, and the view scoops round to show the ships facing off, the game paused for you to plan your attack.
Though not as visually attractive or as tactically fully featured as Homeworld, IGZs 3D battles are more the icing rather than the cake itself. Though you can choose formations for your ships, fire off special weapons or set your fighters to defend or attack, space battles are decided purely on firepower and strength of numbers. If you upgrade your ships with the latest weapons and send them in en masse - you're virtually unbeatable. With defenses neutralised, the planet's ripe for a surface attack.
Here tanks are landed outside the enemy city perimeter, the aim to destroy any defensive units. Again, planetary battles are nowhere near as gripping as those you'd find in say WarZone 2100, but then again, IG2 has so much else to offer. The battles are usually over in a few minutes, then it's back to the cycle of crushing civil disobedience, building up production, research and finding more planets to add to your empire.
Master Of The Universe
It's difficult to fault Imperium Galactica II. Using Master Of Orion and the original Imperium Galactica as blueprints, adding a full-3D interface must have taken some doing. Glitches are few and far between and it's hard to fault the alien intelligence. The only criticism you can levy at the game is that after a while, the 3D views kinda get in the way. Before long, you'll use the top-down view for most things, especially the Starmap and on planet surfaces where units easily get lost. Being both beautifully presented and instantly engaging IG2 is a game that expands boundaries that most developers are content to stay behind. Colony building in may lack the detail of Sim City 3000and combat the edge of Homeworld, but as a game that combines the two styles of games with relative ease, together with a visual story neither possess, IG2 is something of a triumph. In short, IG2 is an excellent game, easy to learn with hours of enjoyment to be had. Which is as high an endorsement as you can get.
Okay, so you’ve conquered your enemies in ancient times while playing Age of Empires and Age of Kings, you’ve created the ultimate empire playing Caesar III, but how do you think you’ll fare in the 26th century trying to rule the whole galaxy? If you think you're tough enough, strap on your space suit and let’s find out in the new epic space empire game from GT Interactive Imperium Galactica II: Alliances, the sequel to the strategy game, Imperium Galactica. In the 26th century, genetic engineering has come so far that among the many research goals was the creation of a super-human race. When the ruling Military powers saw the success of the research they stepped in and turned the resulting super-humans into the finest killing machines known on this world. A lead scientist rebelled and sent various research information randomly throughout space. As the Human Race in the game, you must try to recapture this information which is held in four crystals. As the hostile Kra'hen race, you defend your crystal and try to kick the living snot out of the rest of the galaxy. And as the political Shinari, you must be suave and cunning. You can also build, manage and defend colonies on 80 different planets. If that still isn’t enough game for you then you can hook up with a buddy for a friendly Internet space whoop’n.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The game really does start off with a bang because of the three awesome opening movies, then it puts you in the main screen of the game which is called the Star Map. There are eight other screens you use in the game -- the colony map, which lets you look at the progress of the planet you are colonizing; the research map; the design map which lets you design ships and weapons; and then there is the diplomatic screen. The last three screens contain your trade information and message screens. You will definitely get the feel of running a huge empire, as there is so much to do with so little time. At times I found myself feeling overwhelmed because of all the screens, but hey, who said that running a galaxy is easy! One thing that helps out in a big way is the tutorial, due to the large amount you have to learn -- once you get the hang of the interface, though, you will find it really easy to get into the game.
I’ve got to tell you that GT Interactive busted their butts when it came time for the graphics. Every aspect will really make you feel as though you are controlling a vast galaxy, but at the same time you can go down to the planets and see the small details such as how individual each planet is, particularly in regard to the environment. Another cool section is on the design screen where you get to tweak guns and spacecraft -- they have been broken down to 3D wire frames. Very Schweeeet! The main screen (Star Map) gives you that "In a galaxy far, far away" feel as you gaze at small planets and stars. Overall, I have to say the graphics are very pleasing to the eye.
If there is a drawback to Imperium Galactica II I would have to point to the audio section. I found that I was constantly changing the volume up and down, especially during the talking sequences. There were other times when I found the audio to be a bit muddy. But once I got into the game I found that I really only paid attention to the speaking parts anyway because I was concentrating so hard on making my empire run.
Minimum: Pentium 233 Mhz Processor, Windows 95 or 98 Operating System, 32 MB RAM, 4x Speed CD-ROM Drive, 3D Accelerator card, Direct Sound compatible Sound Card, and Network play via TCP/IP
Recommended: Pentium II or faster, 64 MB or more RAM, 8x Speed or faster, and a second or third Generation 3D Accelerator card.
The in-game tutorial has got to be one of the best I have ever seen. It is very easy to follow though it does last about an hour.
I’ve never been one for space exploration or empire games but Imperium Galactica II really made me change my tune. With so many routes to take in the game, replay value is big. Another thing that makes it so nice to play is the great movies and cut scenes when talking to an alien race. On a final note you get a whopping four CDs for your hard-earned cash so it is also a great value, so I’ll give Imperium Galactica II a score of 86/100. It would have scored higher but I’m an action type of guy and this game doesn't seem like it would have a broad enough appeal to warrant a score in the 90s, but don’t let that keep you away. Enough said!