The first thing that hits you when you launch into Sierra's new space-strategy game, Outpost, is undoubtedly the graphics. The 3-dimensional rendered animations of various spaceships and robotic helpers is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunningly done. Add some original gameplay, a cleverly designed user interface, background music from Gustav's Planet suite, stick it on a cd, and it certainly has me interested.
Outpost is a strategy/simulation centring on the human race's fight for survival somewhere in outer space. Whether the human race actually deserves to survive isn't clear, but if the mind-bogglingly complex problems we came up against in the beta version are anything to go by, it probably won't.
Hell for weather
The game is set 50 years in the future with the earth about to be hit by a large solid object, one hundred miles across. Presumably, the Volvo owners amongst us stand a good chance of survival but the rest of us will have to face environmental disasters, such as 100-foot tidal waves, firestorms, intense heat and, of course, nitric oxide pollution.
Everybody with half a brain has climbed aboard your nuclear fusion-powered mother ship, now orbiting the earth and awaiting your decision on where to settle. Your mission, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to send long-range space probes winging their way around the known universe looking for likely planets to settle on. Once you've found one it's off you jolly well trot to set up a new colony.
Under offer! Des/Res planet
Naturally, you can't just set up a colony on any old planet. You have to be a bit more scientific than plonking the precious remnants of the human race on that big red planet on the right; the one next to the cute looking asteroid belt. Your probes will feed you all the information you need to make the decision, but there's no turning back if it's the wrong one. While you're orbiting around the planet, you can send down as many probes as you have stocked up with to determine the best place to start. Then in goes the shed factory: an automated landing unit that sets up the first few buildings using robots.
Once on terra firrna, or whatever firma you're going to call home from now on, it's up to you to send out explorer robots, keep up with the building, get more power going, knuckle under to a bit of research, start some agriculture to keep the humans fed and, if I know my humans, start polluting the bloody place. Oh, and you might need to think about oxygen too, as the inhabitants of Red Dwarf Two, or whatever affectionate nickname you give your craft, don't seem to do very much without it.
You can set up more and more colonies and allow trade between them - flattening and generally lousing up the surface of the planet in the name of progress, but don't be surprised if you get the occasional rebel who thinks he (or she) could manage things better. You're always going to be unpopular with someone, especially when you've been travelling together, deep-frozen in space for 50 years and your automatic deodoriser failed shortly after take-off.
Who needs neighbours, eh?
Naturally, all this is far too easy for the Sim City-hardened strategy fans, so there are random events thrown in like meteorite strikes, plagues, 300-mph wind storms and blistering temperatures, not to mention visits from other life forms. I haven't come across any yet, but the giant crab people of Formalhaut Four don't sound like the people you'd choose for neighbours. Unless you live in North Wales where most of you would probably exchange them for the present incumbents quite happily.
Outpost looks good from every angle. The concept is good, the gameplay is there and the graphics are simply the best I've ever seen on any game. However, a strategy game like this depends on its long-term playability - it's no use going through all that work setting up a colony only to find out that life after earth is pretty boring and that you'd rather have collected your life insurance and disappeared to Alpha Centauri. I've been looking for a game that would get me off that blasted Civilisation, and Outpost certainly looks like it's the one to do it. At least I'll stand a better chance of playing with those lovely nukes when I get my hands on the finished version.
Science Fact Or Fiction?
Sierra claims the game to be a science fact-based colonisation strategy game. Apart from putting it squarely into a category all of its own, it begs some explanation.
Fortunately, that's present in the shadowy shape of the designer and producer, Bruce Balfour. According to the PR bumf, Bruce is a space boffin par excellence, having worked on NASA's space program as a systems manager and written a few sci-fi books. Apparently, while at NASA he carried out some detailed studies on proposed martian and lunar colonies, orbital labs, terraforming, robot factories and artificially intelligent computers. No wonder the American public is moaning about the squillions of wasted dollars. Unless, that is, they haven't told us everything, of course.
Actually, the simulation element isn't as far fetched as it sounds. The scientific details have been thought through in some depth and clearly someone knows what they're talking about, even if they've never actually landed on Beetlejuice 3 or been anywhere near it. For example, the initial actions involve sending out Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) and Ultra Long Baseline Interferometry (ULBI) probes - music to the ears of Star Ttek fans, but just plain enjoyable, believable bunkum if you live in the real world.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP