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SummaryThis is NOT Civilization. It's a whole lot damn better!
The GoodThere are strategy games and there are strategy games. Alpha Centauri is the best thing that ever hit the strategy gaming world in a long time. How so? Well, I'm betting (of which I usually lose...) if your reading this review, you'd probably be well known to ol'Sid and his products, such as the acclaimed Civilization. Well, if you've played Civilization, you know the routine, build this build that until you have too many cities and they become to big and begin to die, etc.
Well, whoever made Civilization sure hell wasn't on the Alpha Centauri team. And thank the gods for that! Alpha Centauri is probably what you call "the PERFECT CIVILIZATION" (subjective opinion of course). I'll tell you why in a moment, but first I'd like to give you a description about what Alpha Centauri is all about (for those who have never played this game before).
Alpha Centauri started when Civilization ended (presumably), when you finish Civilization, well one of the endings anyway, you send a ship to outer space to conquer new worlds. Well, the blokes on Civilization (also presumably) landed on Alpha Centauri. They arrived safe and sound. Almost. Mankind always proved that they have the common sense of a warthog, and Alpha Centauri pointed that out by introducing the "Civilizations" in the game. Only, it not due to race. It based on ideology, each with multiple weaknesses and strengths. It maybe science fiction, but it sure hell was better than the real thing.
Now you have environmentalists, communists, industrialists and other ideologies of which I forgot, each have a unique way of handling problems. This can be seen from the technology tree, in a way it's similar to Master of Orion 1 & 2, except your only on one planet. Oh, you also notice that your not alone in this forsaken world. There are aliens...and they don't look friendly.
Enough said, back to the issue. What's so good about the game? Where to start... (In no particular order). The best way to compare this game is to compare it to Civilization, whom everyone adores so much (I got bored after Civ 3, same old same old...no Civ 4 please...)
Civilization had (and still I think) the worst diplomacy screen in the history of strategy games (Civ 3 got a little better). I recall in Civ 1 & 2, negotiation was not very interactive. In Alpha Centauri, the diplomacy is ALIVE! I felt as if I was playing AI with actual Intelligence! And the artificial intelligence of the computer players are really commendable. When they go to war, they really go to war! Civilization computer player always had an edge in expansion, but were mostly boring when it comes to battle. In Alpha Centauri, those guys (and girl) really know how move the muscle.
Like Civilization, every time you play a new random game, it's a totally different geographical map. But unlike Civilization, you probably wouldn't restart a couple of hundred times trying to find that "perfect" geographic location (not a desert again!). Alpha Centauri succeeded were Civilization was irritating. Geography doesn't matter. Even if when your surrounded by water, you can be as big as a city on land! What's the secret? Technology! Finally, the technology that actually makes a difference. You can even make cities on the ocean...there's no such thing as a "perfect" location in Alpha Centauri. Every place is a perfect location to build your city. There are also random events that may change the geography of the planet. One time a big volcano erupted and it was smack daddy in the middle of the map. Kinda cool actually, building cities around that hunk of molten rock.
What I like most in this game, is probably also what I liked most in Master of Orion. You can design your units. Weapons, armor, you name it, you can change it. You can make any kind of unit to fit long term or short term needs...this game was way ahead of its time...even way ahead of Civilization 3...how is that possible? Beats me.
The BadWell, geographical bonuses are random. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. There are a lot of unique geographical terrain that don't necessary show up in each game...it's useful at the beginning of the game.