At last! A distant-future strategy game with a halfway believable premise. If that alone were enough, then I'd say run out and buy Imperium Galactica. Alas, it takes a good deal more to really make a game in this genre. Consider the undertaking, though: a real-time strategy game coupled with a Civilization-style mission and scope. Then consider how many games in just one of those genres come up short. No wonder Imperium Galactica ultimately fails. But in the process, it deserves some accolades and perhaps the attention of the true diehards in the take-over-the-known-universe crowd. I say that Imperium Galactica fails because I have played the likes of the original Master of Orion and Star Control 2, and I know that to follow in those footsteps and succeed would require something to match the awesome depth of those titles while at the same time retaining their simplicity of play. Imperium Galactica does not do this for two basic reasons: 1) by placing so much emphasis on lengthy and laborious colony building and micromanagement, it necessitates a margin for player error and survivability that simply is not there and 2) rather than allowing for a free-flowing player-directed game, Imperium Galactica insists on breaking in every 5 minutes to give you a new directive -- save this colony, rescue that ship, etc., so there is never a real feeling of being in control -- it's really more like a deep-space civil servant sim at times.
On the other hand, if you have the patience of a saint and don't mind long odds and a quick exit the first time you slip up, then there is in fact much to like in Imperium Galactica. For one, the mix of gameplay between long-term and real-time strategy coupled with lots of economic, political, and diplomatic wheeling and dealing make for an intriguing and very challenging game. For another, the progress from lieutenant to admiral with ever-widening ranges of influence, responsibility, and power makes for a novel approach to game progression that for once has real implications to the play; not only do you get more forces to command, the very nature of your role in the game changes over time. Again, while I joke about it being a civil servant sim, in some ways Imperium Galactica is a very ambitious attempt at figuring out just what the career of a 5th-millennium space officer might be like. It's a heck of a lot harder than on Star Trek, I can tell you that.
The gameplay in Imperium involves a wide variety of activities, from setting tax rates for your colonies to repairing damaged buildings after a battle to managing your fleet or armies in real-time combat. The most difficult thing, though, is enduring the full motion video TV-phone calls from your superior officers and your smarmy wife. Imagine your wife and your Gerber-carrot-stained son popping up on your viewscreen in the middle of a tank battle in, say, Red Alert. "We just called to say we love you and we're proud of you." Call me crazy, but for some reason this is really distracting and not a little uncalled for. "Say honey, would you mind calling in an air strike after you get little Johnny cleaned up?"
Mostly, though, the balance of the game is spent waiting for things to happen (I think that's why they felt the need for the FMV clips). When things do happen, they're usually cataclysmic -- a single failed space or ground battle can, in 30 seconds, end a four-hour game of agonizing building and economic fine-tuning. In fact, the very first battle you face is a 6-on-6 tank battle. No way to build reinforcements, no ground troops, no surface defenses -- just six tanks for you, six tanks for the invaders, and a winner-take-all battle. Lose your six tanks and you lose the game. Period. Can you say "Aaarrrggh!?" I thought you could.
Colony building is pretty straightforward: click on what you want built and it gets built. Ditto for repairs. Colony management is also easy and dovetails with what you already know from the likes ofCivilization, Lords of the Realm et al. Set the taxes low, keep 'em well-fed, build plenty of bars, sports stadiums and churches, and you can pretty much count on the populace to keep on keepin' on when the aliens invade and nuke a city or two.
Space fleet building is a bit more challenging, as you must rely a lot more on how much your scientists have researched, ala Master of Orion. Not much new here, just different names for disruptor beams, hyperdrive engines, etc. Make sure you have lots of pesky little fighters, though, as even though the dreadnoughts are expensive and impressive-looking, a swarm of cheaper and more maneuverable fighters can often win out. Didn't you ever see Star Wars?
Finally, when it comes to combat, whether in space or on the ground, it is imperative that you attack in groups. That's it ... the only real strategy tip you'll need to succeed. One-on-one you'll almost always lose to the AI, but gang up on the stragglers and you're home free. I did a little test with this and found that single unit against single unit will put you on the losing end with a roughly 3-to-2 casualty ratio, but swarming the enemy units one at a time will get you about 3-to-1 win ratio. In other words, it's almost 500% more effective to attack in groups. Sure, while you're picking off a tank here or a frigate there, the enemy will be picking away at your colony, but it takes a while for them to destroy many buildings, and in the meantime you will have divided and conquered the enemy forces. Just make sure you keep track of your units, as it's easy for them to end up as stragglers themselves if you're not diligent about making sure they all have their marching orders.
Pretty standard interface for building and fighting, but there are a couple of big beefs about the level of control you have: 1) not until several hours into the game do you have the ability to build any new units and 2) you cannot select a group of ground units and command them all at once. You can do this with your spaceships, but not your tanks or infantry. Why? All I can guess is that maybe they're confused by simultaneously being in battle and trying to talk to their wives over their two-way wrist radios ...
Some of the graphics in Imperium Galactica are truly excellent, especially the ground terrain and buildings. Why more of the same design effort was not put into the star maps and space combat is beyond me, because the star map and the ships represented thereon look like something out of a 1980s TRS-80 game ... ok, not quite, but they're not up to par with the detail and sophistication of the colony graphics by any stretch of the imagination.
Required: IBM PC & compatibles, 486DX4 100MHz or higher, MS-DOS 5.0 or higher, 8 MB RAM, minimum 550K free conventional memory, SVGA video card with 1 MB RAM (VESA 1.2 compatible), SoundBlaster 2.0 and 100% compatible cards, 4X CD-ROM drive, 65 MB uncompressed hard disk space, mouse with driver loaded
Recommended: Pentium processor, 16 MB RAM if using Windows 95
Imperium Galactica tries to take the best of several genres and combine them into one mix. It's terrifically ambitious, but tries sohard to please that it ends up tripping over itself and leaving out many of the basic considerations that make the difference between average and excellent. It rates a 68 for a solid storyline, good-to-excellent graphics, several innovations in gameplay and game progression, and a challenging strategy/economics/exploration combination. Despite all that, I can't in good conscience rate it any higher, given the glaring omissions of forethought in the pacing of the game and the sudden win/lose branchings that negate the very concept of a strategy game. In a 3D shooter, you might expect to die a quick death if you make one mistake, but you will not likely have invested 3 or 4 hours just looking for a single deadly adversary. So if you really love this genre, Imperium Galactica is not an awful choice, assuming that you're already tired of Master of Orion 1 and 2 and the Star Control trilogy; it's just not a particularly stellar choice.
Download Imperium Galactica
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