For the 4x gamer of yesteryear, stuck with the game selection of today. What MOO3 would have been if it didn’t suck so much.
If you’re an older gamer, you might recall with fondness the 4x genre of space strategy games including Master of Orion, Master of Orion 2: Battle at Antares, Stars!, Imperium Galactica II (sorry never played the first), etc. Unfortunately there have been a number of, in my opinion, very bad followups to the genre including Master of Orion III (you can win either by going nuts with micromanagement, or sending out two ships and hitting End Turn repeatedly until the senate votes you in) and Hegemonia. Stardock’s earlier Galactic Civilizations II (again, sorry didn’t play the first) was a nice return to the roots of the style, and with Sins the little developer that could finally succeeds in blending the 4x strat game effectively with realtime.
From a game design standpoint, there are a number of things to absolutely love about this game. First, it scales to older hardware very well, though you may have to turn down your GFX settings a bit. I used to play it on my old AMD 2600+ with 2GB RAM and a Radeon 9800 Pro (yes I was using this as recently as a month ago) until it finally died. I only got a little bit of chunking when zoomed way in on a space battle; otherwise, smooth as silk. Stardock has wisely foregone the absolute bleeding edge in effects in order to bring this great game to a way broader audience who don’t all spend a month’s gross income on a gaming computer. It still looks beautiful though, and the ability to seamlessly zoom in and out from a single ship external view to a several solar system view with the mousewheel is great.
In addition, there is no code-based DRM. AT ALL. No SecuROM hiding null entries in your registry chugging down your computer with useless tasks, no Starforce spinning up your optical drives until they self-destruct, no insane new SecuROM limiting your activations a la Spore, which I understand several people on Amazon might have heard about. All there is is a simple license key required for online matchmaking and to access patches/updates. In light of recent events in game development, it should get 10/10 on that alone.
Fortunately, the game is also a lot of fun to play. One of the big hurdles in trying to bring 4x to realtime was the amount of complexity and micromanagement players would get into on each turn, which also made multiplayer games a bore. (I used to play hotseat MOO2, and forced the use of a chess clock on my friends to keep them from burning half an hour making pointless decisions.) Other efforts like Hegemonia tried to get around this by making management so simplistic as to be totally meaningless. Sins strikes a perfect balance between a pace that’s manageable enough to allow some occasional micromanagement if you feel like it, just enough combat options to actually reward you for taking a personal hand in your battles, and a procedural AI strong enough to make reasonable decisions on its own if you just want to relax and let the computer handle the details.
The one downside to this great solution to the realtime 4x game is that games can take a long time, if you are used to the 5-pool pace that modern "strategy" has devolved into. You can still rush if you think it’s the right way to go, but you can also easily spend hours on a match. If you need to break it up, you can save in the middle of a multiplayer game, which is a great option for long games that stretch on and on, or if the game crashes. (Never happened to me though.)
I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed the 4x genre, to anyone who likes RTS games with a little more depth to them, hell I’d recommend it to anyone really. Stardock quietly turns out winners. I even bought a copy for Shad, and I’m pretty cheap. Now if only he’d get a PC that didn’t explode so he could play it.
Mu rating: 8/10. A good balance between the micromanagement-fest that was MOO2 and realtime, for those of us old codgers who came up in the 4x genre.