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Posted on Mar 7, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Galactic Civilizations II – Game Review (PC)

James Lombardi

intro.jpg For months I found myself walking by the binder which holds many of my game CDs with my thoughts teetering on the edge of pulling out Master of Orion II for a play. In fact, I was so desperate to play a Space 4x game (4x stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate), that I almost gave the third in the series a try yet again. Luckily, I never grew desperate enough to try. All that time my laziness prevailed, and before I knew it a copy of Galactic Civilizations II came my way. Excitement was thick in the air as I watched the install push closer and closer to that glorious 100% level.

For the moment, let’s just say I was not disappointed.

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I’ll be honest; I never played the first Galactic Civilizations. I had no real idea what to expect, other than assuming it to be a Master of Orion clone. Technically it is, in that you colonize planets, design ships, research technology, wage war, etc. in a turn-based strategy setting. But to call it such belittles this game. It stands proudly next to its famed predecessor, not below it.

To fully describe the complexities of Galactic Civilizations II would take pages upon pages and is far beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot here to play with. Luckily, the game manages a strong balance between the need for micromanagement and the ability to just run things from the top and let the details work themselves out. Generally a player can choose the level of involvement they’re comfortable with and let the game automatically deal with the rest. And in rare form for a game of this style, it comes with both a campaign mode (involving a super advanced race from the past bringing war to the young civilizations) and the typical skirmish mode (where most players will likely spend the bulk of their time).

At random points you’re called on to make ethical decisions that effect your empire’s alignment between good, evil, and neutrality.

I’m man enough to admit, I lost my first game, but don’t worry, I came back with a vengeance.

For those unfortunate souls unfamiliar with a space 4x game, think of Civilization but instead of founding cities, you colonize planets. You manage every aspect of your empire including diplomacy, economy, military, and scientific progress.

The diplomacy in this game is interesting. Much of it is incredibly entertaining as well, thanks to some amusing segments from the designers. There’s a fair bit of unique dialogue (although much of it repeats) you get a good number of laughs out of the diplomacy screen (such as, "May all the hamsters of your world dance the dance of joy!"). While there are a few features lacking in the diplomacy system, overall it works pretty well. An option to ask what an alien race wants in exchange for something else would be nice (much like in Civilization IV) and while it’s great to be able to trade military ships, they seem to be undervalued by the computer. I’ll often want to give a dying computer a few advanced military ships to help them last a bit longer but they seem unwilling to trade much of anything for ships, even though the ships could give them a huge edge against their foes.

As is typical in this type of game, the economy is controlled primarily through a series of sliders. You can adjust the portion of your budget allocated to different areas (military, social – which controls the output of your planets essentially, and research). You can build various structures on your planets (along with starbases) which boost economic output. A final useful area in the economics of the game is establishing trade routes between your planets and alien planets. Trade routes can make the difference between a failing empire and a booming economy.

The military aspect of the game is pretty straightforward. The designers opted to not include the tactical battle option like Masters of Orion II. Instead, combat is automatically resolved (although you can watch the battles if you want, which will help you learn what equipment your opponent is using so you can build ships with the proper defenses). Thus, custom-designing your ships is necessary to remain competitive with the enemy. The ship design interface could use some work, as some tasks are a little difficult, but regardless the sheer customization available will lead you to spending hours alone just designing ships (and enjoying it).

I’m horribly outnumbered; luckily my technological advances mean I actually will still win this battle.

Watching space combat is optional, but you can pick up vital intelligence if you do.

The tech tree in this game is huge. Immensely so. It’s actually a little annoying just how big it is. It seems as though one could spend months trying to get through the tech tree in the game even if they did nothing but focus on tech and click end turn as fast as possible. While the amount of detail and complexity is great, I eventually had to enable one of the rule variations the game offers – allowing one to start with all the techs already researched, so I could see the final weaponry of the game…

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