Galactic Civilizations is one of those 4X games where the player gets the opportunity in a turnbased set-up to conquer the universe, kick E.T.’s ass, make alliances, set up trade routes with other aliens and explore the resources/oddities of space. That’s pretty much (and complex) for a game so it gives publishers more reasons to ignore this genre with the consequence that we haven’t seen a lot of classics the last years in this genre. If Stardock will change this situation with their Galactic Civilizations is something you’ll find out in this review.
The story is as follows: humanity makes a revolutionary discoverement in the future called the hyperdrive. This invention allows them to travel much farther than anyone could have imagined. Since researchers suspect there are other intelligent lifeforms in the galaxy, they send the hyperdrive-design throughout space in the hope that aliens would pick it up and make use of it so the contact with humanity could come earlier. At this point the game begins and you don’t need to expect much more storywise since your fate lies entirely in your own hands now. In order to survive you’ll need to specialise yourself in an certain field of expertise (war, diplomacy, trade, technology, …). By chosing the political party which has the same interests as you have you receive extra’s in your speciality. These extra’s only count when your party has the most seats in the senate or otherwise put when your party gets the most votes with each election (which you can lose if your civilization disliked your decisions in the years before the election).
As you may start to realise, in this game you can only play with the humans and not with another alien race. Because of the different ways you can go out in Galactic Civilizations and the fact that there aren’t much differences between the races this isn’t the ‘end of the world’. What does irritate is the fact that there are ‘only’ five other races in the game which are different from each other only by the look since they can research the same technologies as humanity does. Sure, while you are playing there appear some other minor races but they aren’t powerful, aren’t described as much as the ‘big five’ and usually don’t exist long. Despite this you can set some more differences between the five major races in the beginning of the game while chosing their alignment and intelligence. Together with the possibility to adjust the size of the universe, the presence of good quality planets you can inhabit and how close the star systems are situated from each other you can also determine some extra abilities for your civilization.
Everything is set? Alright, then we can start playing. The first thing that’s remarkable are the 2D graphics which are quite aged but they do offer a good overview and that’s necessary in this kind of games. Further we see star systems on the map (the player begins with the star system Sol where good old Earth is located) in which you can colonise the planets. Once you have colonised a planet in a certain star system that star system is yours. A planet has to have a quality of at least 15 in order to be ‘livable’/comfortable for your colonists. The quality can be raised by soil enhancements, habitat improvements etc. in order to have a better planet for your people to live on. Planets with less than 15 can be colonised too but you can’t call them really interesting because of the morale drop of your colonists in the beginning then. At the start you also receive a Survey ship with which you can study and explore the oddities of the galaxy. Sometimes you discover a wormhole which transports your ship to the other end of space while other things can give bonusses to humanity (or to the Survey-ship itself) or even deliver a new ship.The exploring and gathering of these oddities alone is quite addictive. On the other hand there are also resources in space where a civilization can build a starbase in order to exploit that resource (which gives even more bonusses).
With special events like the first colonization of a planet or a civilization which is totally vanquished you’ll notice some CGI-movies which really contribute to the atmosphere (though I liked it if there were even more). The number and variety in normal events is large (f.e. a primitive society is discovered on one of your newly colonised planets). You are offered three choices then and depending of which choice you make (in the example exterminating the society so they are no burden to your colony or moving them to another part of the planet or just let them stay where they are with as consequence morale drops etc.) you’ll receive your own alignment (good, neutral, evil). The interface (and music) will even adapt itself to your alignment (it gets f.e. a darker look when you play as evil). An alignment shift also has consequence with race relations. Once in a while you also get an overview how strong humanity is, though you already can see a lot of statistics all the time when you want to. Aspects like morale are shown then and especially this morale has a large impact on your people. To keep morale high on the overall you should have not too high taxes, morale can also differ from planet to planet (f.e. a planet that is far away from the center of your civilization normally isn’t too happy). When morale is too low in a star system that star system will join another (minor) race. This will happen too if a planet thinks a nearby race is culturally seen more advanced as humanity.
There is a big piece of diplomacy present in this game, being one of the major races you will seat in the United Planets association where the other ‘big five’ also gather. This council doesn’t meet that often but there are important decisions to be made here (f.e. are races allowed to build Death Star like weapons?) where you can vote what you think is best for humanity (the importance of your vote is measured by your influence). When you speak to a race apart (if you have first done the right research to do this of course) you’ll see a screen where you can make all kinds of proposals like trying to convince a certain race to go at war with another race. The adding of voices could have enlarged the atmosphere quite a lot here but too bad you’ll have to do it with text and a barely moving alien render which doens’t express feelings at all. The music is good and changes when your civilization is in another situation (f.e. when you change to an evil alignment). Qua soundeffects we don’t get to hear much different things, especially not from the spaceships. Then again very positive is the fact that the AI never seems to cheat or never does something unlogical. The AI-races approach you with their proposals/threats and react appropiate on attacks.
The research-possibilities are definitely one of the better and most worked out features of Galactic Civilizations. Although you can only research one thing at a time which means it takes a while before you’ve seen everything. On the planets you can build a variety of buildings but unfortunately there is no way to take a look on the surface. Also planet resources are absent or it must be an event which only influences the population or a tradegood developed on a planet. I had the feeling this could have been done better. But there are still many other possibilities with this game and it’s great to see an interface which can give you a good overview of it all (only when the number of planets you have colonised becomes very large it’s becomes a bit confusing). Another ‘bad thing’ about this game is the combat: there is no extra screen where you can control your ship/fleet or something like that, no, just on the main map a cheap laserbeam/rocket or two between the two fighting ships/fleets and then there is the end where one of the two explodes with every time the same explosion. Tactics aren’t available here as is also the possibility to tweak your own ships with certain modifications. Other games in this genre have clearly shown that this could be done a lot better. Don’t look for the multiplayer option because it’s simply not there (only a ‘Metaverse’-option where you can compare each others empires). Though when you do have an internet connection there is already a bonuspack available which removes some irritations from the retail version of Galactic Civilizations. There will even come a free expansion for the game (for all these you should check out the official site).
Conclusion: Galactic Civilizations is despite the shortcomings a decent game. Very addictive also, it’s just a pity that certain things were overlooked, that the diversity in soundeffects was a bit lost and that certainly the combat part was somewhat neglected. But on the other hand there are all the different ways you can take with this game and which add a lot to the replayability. I believe this is one of the better remakes I’ve ever played (10 years ago Stardock had already a hit with Galactic Civilizations). If you are a fan of games like Master of Orion 2 or Imperium Galactica then you really should try this one out. Something you already don’t need to worry about is the support. In the end I can say this isn’t a ‘real’ classic but it’s definitely the one of the better games in this genre I’ve played in years.