Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Shock troops, orbital attacks, terraforming, nerve-stapling innocent citizens, planet busters and probe teams – if the sound of these makes your heart race, then you’ll love Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. Either that, or you really ought to repeat the mantra "No more Star Trek episodes ever" several times a day.Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (or SMAC to its friends) is a turn-based strategy game that takes up the conquest reins shortly after the end of Civilisation II – with the goal being to colonizie a planet in orbit around the game’s namesake. You’ll find yourself using cunning, lashings of diplomacy, intelligent resource planning, research prowess and – failing those – really huge weapons in your goal of establishing global dominance and SMACing your rivals around the head. For fans of Civ II, SMAC works exactly the same, only using spacesuits. Start by choosing a faction to control, build a city and start to exploit the planet’s resources. As cities grow, you develop other colony pods to send out and settle the planet – including marines and choppers to defend bases, and base facilities to speed research and economic growth. It’s war
Eventually you’re going to run into another faction – and that’s where the fun begins. In Civ II, each opposing nation has identical goals, but in SMAC factions are ideologically motivated. The Spartans have military superiority on the agenda and Agent Orange in their armoury, while The Lord’s Believers have visions of global Sunday services and God in theirs.All this makes working with, or fighting against, each faction more complex than simply swapping research notes or nuking their bases. Diplomacy and political maneuvering are the key to survival, with you often having to play one faction off against another. Each faction sits on a planetary council, that meets regularly to vote for a global president, repealing atrocity limits and so on. By working with other factions, or simply beating them into submission, you can gain votes and eventually become Supreme Overlord of the entire shebang. SMAC is advanced in other areas, too. Instead of simply upgrading your airforce from biplanes to bombers, SMAC lets you painstakingly design each upgrade, choosing weapons, armour and power. The research tree is cool, too, with polymorphic software and nanorobotics to discover – although it takes some getting to grips with. Luckily, the manual is a massive 267-page affair – there are a whole bunch of tutorials to kick-off with, and a poster-size technology chart to help your progress.

OUR VERDICT

As with any SMAC-type game, there’s always a downer after the high. The graphics are a bit ropey and numerous bugs mean you’ll need to download the latest update to enjoy it fully. That said, almost unlimited replay value, an involving story arc, and sheer depth of gameplay make for a gem of a title. Now, I’m a SMAC addict.

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