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Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Developed by: Firaxis

Published by: Elecronic Arts

Price: $50 CPU RAM Hard Drive CD-ROM Sound Video Misc
Requirements P133 16MB 100MB 4X Direct X6 compatible 4MB SVGA N/A
Reviewed On PII266 64MB 6.4GB 5x Creative DVD Sound Blaster 16 Matrox Millenium G200 N/A

Reviewed by: Dave Moore

A Introduction

I feel compelled to point out that I have never played Civilization. I know, I know, I'm not a real gamer. I'm glad I haven't though, because if the Civ series were as addictive as Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (SMAC) then I would have undoubtedly been kicked out of school for low grades…. caused, of course, by playing just one more turn until the sun came up. As it stands, I can't imagine a better strategy game then SMAC.

Gameplay -- 9.5

My philosophy with strategy games is, "A minute to learn, a lifetime to master." Perhaps I need to rephrase; it would take me several lifetimes to master the intricacies of Alpha Centauri. The game is so rich and complex that it's simply impossible to set it aside out of "been there, done that" syndrome; even winning a game is no guarantee that you've learned everything there is to know about Planet.

The first worth mentioning is the seven factions on Planet. For starters, the seven aforementioned factions each play differently with well-developed strengths and weaknesses. The game strikes a nice balance between outright militant factions (The Hive, the Spartans, and the Believers) kinder, gentler empires (the University, Gaiaens, and Peacekeepers) and the wildcard (Morgan Industries). Each of them plays appreciably different than the others, which is refreshing. Most of the time, strategy games that boast replayability are a cop-out; replaying through the game as a different faction gives you the same game with different looking units and flavor text. In SMAC, playing as another faction requires focus on different areas of empire building and completely new outlooks on combat and diplomacy. The ability to generate random planets and a scenario editor are also in SMAC. This extends the replayability tremendously. The technology tree is also a joy. Unlike the Master series (i.e. Master of Orion), you are not given a group of technologies that can be researched and then asked to choose the "best" one. Rather, there are different areas of technology and you can focus on one area more than other. Choosing which technology to develop next is critical to your strategy. Do you go for the powerful Chaos cannon and ignore your base infrastructure, or do you try to increase your wealth and hope that another stronger faction doesn't knock over your pathetically outdated armed forces? Most importantly, the faction with the most tech does not necessarily dominate the game, which is a real change from most earlier strategy titles that feature research. Yes, technology is helpful, but so are diplomacy, base management, and leadership abilities.

Speaking of diplomacy, the computer does a good job of emulating a human opponent. Sure, it's a little spotty at times (I once had Morgan Industries threaten to annihilate me if I didn't pay him a tidy sum when he was down to one base surrounded by a dozen powerful units) but, for the most part, it "knows when to fold 'em".

Is the gameplay perfect? Well, no. The combat system is a little weak; not only does a grossly overmatched unit occasionally win a battle, but it's hard to factor in all of the effects of terrain and terraforming on combat. The end result is that battles that look like The Sure Thing can sometimes blow up in your face. Also annoying can be the early game spawning of computer-generated Mind Worms right next to your base. It's even worse when they get to killing all of your defenders or terraformers, which can be a ridiculous setback (not to mention that it's a random event that cannot be turned off). Other nigglers include running large numbers of bases, as there is no handy way to chart all of your bases onscreen simultaneously. When assigning bases to computer-controlled Governors, they will occasionally make incredibly stupid errors (I told one Governor to focus on base growth and ended up with legions of tanks). And although the technology tree is large and varied, the names of the technologies sometimes offer no clue to their actual purpose (try figuring out what exactly Doctrine: Mobility or Centaur Psi does the first time you discover it). With a little practice these minor flaws can be overcome easily, but nonetheless I feel compelled to shave off half a point for them.

Graphics -- 7.0

The graphics are adequate, nothing more. The cities look like cities, the topographical map looks like a map, and you can easily tell which unit is which. Movies play when you research certain "secret projects" (such as The Space Elevator or the Virtual World) and they convey the scope of the project well. However, don't expect any eye-popping visual splendor in SMAC. The focus is on utility, not bedazzlement.

Sound -- 5.0

The sound is weak. The music that plays is dry and repetitive (and, ye gods, it's MIDI! Hasn't that died yet?). You'll quickly find yourself turning it off. Sound effects are limited to the usual beeps and boops when you press a button, plus voice warnings when certain events occur (I learned to hate the voice message "Drone riots in progress."). Once again, the focus of SMAC is on strategy, not bells and whistles. A low rating in this category does not effect the game as heavily as it would in say, a first person shooter.


Sid Meier's Alpha Centaur is the new king of the strategy hill. Forget wussy games like Total Annihilation and Starcraft; if you really want a gray-matter workout, I can think of nothing better than Alpha Centaur. Fans of Sid Meier will not be disappointed. In other words, get this game.

Our rating out of 10:9.5

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