Written by  :  Tomer Gabel (4642)
Written on  :  May 13, 2000
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars

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A terrific game with several annoying flaws.

The Good

This is actually my third review of this game, and every time I play it I tend to feel a bit differently about it. My first review was thoroughly negative, the second thoroughly positive and with this one I hope to finally describe the game to the best of my abilities.

So lets begin. What makes Alpha Centauri one of the best games I've ever played?
  • First thing to catch your eye about Alpha Centauri is its interface. Quite possibly the best interface ever created for a game, the huge amount of time spent perfecting the implementation is obvious in first glance. While the interface isn't overly simplistic, it is very simple to understand and control and makes a lot of sense for the beginner. On the other hand, an advanced player will find adequate control over the functions of the game, as well as automation features galore. While the original Civilization's interface isn't bad, Alpha Centauri's is almost perfect.
    Equally important is the visual aspect of the interface - slick design featuring small but very effective enhancements, effects such as pictures rotating about in the lower part of the screen and various other enhancements. These additions to the interface add a lot of realism and atmosphere to the game, and without them it would have probably been a lot more dull.
  • Good graphics. While not mind-boggling, the visual aspect of the game will please any viewer. The landscapes are, unlike most isometric viewpoints, easy to figure out and make a lot of sense as well. Unit displays look reasonably good as well, and the interface is generally very well designed.
  • Alpha Centauri features some of the best movies seen to date, and even if some aren't very interesting it does feature a few masterpieces (the Dream Twister movie comes to mind). The animations add quite a bit to the game. I also find the various historical quotes, as well as the ones from the faction leaders in Alpha Centauri, to be interesting and compelling as they add a lot to the general atmosphere of the game. There are also several in-jokes in the game which add a lot of flavor (the Network Backbone movie is a blunt joke on Microsoft, for example).
  • Alpha Centauri features a decent plot -- yes, an actual plot in a Civilization-style game, and a good one to boot. While not a literary masterpiece, Alpha Centauri's storyline would have made a decent science fiction book I would have enjoyed reading. The way the designers made the threat of the Mind Worms, combined with the several "Interludes from the Book of Planet" and other plot elements meld seamlessly with the game is astonishing, and one possible conclusion of the game (The Song of Planet) is the best I could ask for. What makes Alpha Centauri an amazingly interesting game to play is the endless little hints and pieces that abound throughout the game.

With all these features, Alpha Centauri is without a doubt of one the best games I have ever played (although I still consider Master of Magic to be the best game in this style.

The Bad

Unfortunately, Alpha Centauri is - while being an excellent game - not perfect. It does have some annoying flaws:

  • Diplomacy. Unfortunately, diplomacy has always been the bane of Civilization-style games. I can't remember even a single game of this genre in which the diplomacy was actually worth mentioning. The diplmacy in Alpha Centauri is no exception and is as weak as ever. Other leaders will be your best friends until they become bored, then attack you. So what else is new?
  • Drone Riots will drive you mad. Every few games, towards the end of the game several of your citires which - until the point - were perfectly contect, will "grow" drones all of a sudden and cease to function. There's not much you can do about this really - either change government (which isn't always a good choice), or move more units into the base (which isn't always feasible). This can become really annoying after a while.
  • Terrible music. Admittedly the menu music is actually quite good, but all other pieces are genuinely bad.

I most emphasize, however, that despite these flaws, Alpha Centauri is still a bliss for any Sid Meier fan.

The Bottom Line

The best game in this style since Master of Magic, and definitely another classic in the long line of Sid Meier games.