Years ago, Populous stormed the gaming world with a bizarre blend of strategy and action. It's one of the toughest games to categorize - not a sim ala Simcity, not a typical RTS ala Dune 2. While some argue that it's the true ancestor to the real-time strategy genre, the fact remains that Populous rewrote the gaming rulebook.
Now some 10 years after the original, Bullfrog releases Populous: the Beginning. Although it is the third game in the series, this remake bears little resemblance to its ancient cousins. With a terrific graphical engine and innovative gameplay, it's a welcome return. That's right folks - God is back, and she's looking better than ever.
Populous: The Beginning is a 'prequel' to the original. You play a Shaman, the leader of a tribe and bent on becoming a god. Achieving this lofty goal requires the absolute eradication of all other tribes in the universe. No one said omnipotence was easy.
The first thing you'll notice is the graphical engine, which, in a word, rules. Taking a cue from the groundbreaking Myth, Populous uses 2D sprites in full 3D worlds. The coolest thing here is that you're playing on a globe, which leads to some amazing camera rotation. The sphere also provides for some neat landscape effects, like a horizon and some truly impressive terrain deformation. With full D3D and 3Dfx support, this is a real treat for the eyes and pushes the limits of the genre.
Of course, graphics only go so far. The gameplay follows the basic RTS theory - highlight units, order 'em around, build stuff, and do whatever it takes to kill everyone else. But Populous does some things differently.
This is not a resource based RTS, and places less of an emphasis on management and more attention on action. Since you're not dealing with mining for gold/spice/metal, Populous never really degrades into a 'war of attrition;' you can't just choke out your enemy's harvesting plan and slowly hunt them down. Your tribe acts as your major resource (though buildings require wood, which is always plentiful), and the best way to ensure success is to allow your people to flourish. This directly affects your Mana level, which is depleted as your Shaman casts a bevy of offensive and defensive spells. Again, this is not your standard real-time deal.
The Shaman is really the crux of the game. She has a wide range of spells to use, though only certain ones are available on each level. There are 26 in all, many of which are aimed at the terrain. What better way to get rid of your enemy than with a well-placed volcano? Take that, stinking pagans!
However, with all this new ground comes some old concerns. For one, there are only really a handful of unit types, and with the uber-powerful Shaman really running the show, there isn't much of a need to diversify. Plus, the unit AI can be irritating. At this point in the progression of the RTS, I'd hope that my units would figure out some of the more basic ideas on their own - like attacking the enemy when he starts pounding on my buildings. Too often warriors are just standing around watching their houses burn to the ground. Stupid peons.
There are also a few problems with the difficulty. The first few levels are pretty easy and allow you to figure out how to navigate and command troops, but later levels get very hard and frustrating, often requiring little more than sheer numbers to overpower the enemy.
Multi-player, on the other hand, solves many of these CPU problems. The game runs smoothly through the free 'populous.net' server and is plenty of fun and relatively lag-free. Few things are more satisfying than eradicating other tribes and achieving online divinity.
Populous: The Beginning is a stylish and solid game. It utilizes current graphical technology beautifully and delivers a very interesting gaming experience. While it still falls prey to some of the more irksome pitfalls of the genre, it manages to break through the haze and shed some new light on the masses. Both the heretics and the faithful will get a kick out of this one.
When Populous first hit the shelves all those years ago, it nearly ruined my life. I spent countless hours in front of my monitor spellbound by the little men who existed only to do my bidding. Several years later Bullfrog released Populous 2, more of an update than a sequel, that added better graphics, a few new attacks and more levels to what had been offered up by the first title. Although I was certainly happy with the improvements, I couldn't help feeling that more could have been done to improve the game itself. Now, almost a decade later, I've finally gotten a chance to play the game I'd wished for. With Populous: The Beginning, Bullfrog has not only expanded on the mechanics of godhood, but also helped to explain what got you there in the first place.
Populous: The Beginning takes place before the events of the first two games. In this title you begin as a Shaman, the mystical leader of a tribe who has realized her potential for greatness. In order to win each level, you must use your magic to help your people wipe out any others on the map. Once you've managed to gain control of all the planets in the solar system, you'll be able to focus your powers on yourself and become a god.
Gameplay is very similar to the other games in the Populous series. You use your mouse to select different members of your tribe and you order them to do your bidding. There are two major differences though, that change the entire feel of the game. First off, you now have a body to worry about. As your shaman is one of the on-screen characters, you must make sure that you are close enough to enemies to use your powers on them without getting close enough to be harmed. Although dying in the game is never permanent, on most levels killing your shaman will give your opponent enough of an edge to take the win. The other major difference in this game is the level at which you must control your workers. In the original titles, your people would automatically build houses whenever they found suitable ground to live on. In Populous: The Beginning, your workers are not so ambitious. You must decide the type and placement of every edifice that is constructed on each of the worlds. This requires not only a significantly greater amount of time, but also requires some basic resource management as well. Oh well, no one ever said that becoming a god would be easy.
Each of the different buildings in the game serves a specific purpose designed to turn your workers into more useful tools. The most basic structure, the hut, serves as a place for your followers to live, and more importantly, a place for them to breed. As long as tribesmen stay in a hut, they will work slowly towards creating more tribesmen. As you continue to play the game, you'll get access to more complex structures that will help you in your attacks against the enemy. A few of the more basic examples are the training camp where you can turn tribesmen into warriors, and the temple, where you can turn tribesmen into priests. Like the original two titles, Populous: The Beginning does an excellent job of giving you access to new abilities (in this case buildings and spells) as you go along, so completing each new level gives you a feeling of power and control.
Speaking of powers, this new game's got 'em in spades. By forcing your way into the enemy's Tower of Knowledge, you can uncover any special powers that that tribe has. Early spells include the fire bolt, which sends a small ball of flame to smite one enemy, the lightning bolt, which sends a large surge from the heavens to lay waste to an enemy building or a group of threatening warriors, the tornado, which spins its way around enemy camps sucking up people and buildings alike, and the swarm, a vast cloud of insects that sends any enemies in its way running for cover. Each new level carries with it the discovery of new spells, and by the end of the game, you'll be able to make the earth open up and swallow our enemies or send hot lava to destroy their homes. While many of these spells were also available in the earlier titles, seeing them in 3D makes all the difference in the world.
Not only is Populous a lot of fun to play, it looks great as well. Every action that the little people make on screen is displayed and animated well. The spell effects are often breathtaking (I kept using up my tornadoes on my own cities just to see them slowly tear apart the huts again and again) and I never seemed to get tired of them. Even the interface is designed with fantastic primitive icons that are easy to understand, but do a great job of bringing you into the spirit of the game. The only real beef I have here is that many of the buildings look alike, and it's often hard to tell in the heat of battle which structures do what. Still, this is a very minor complaint, and doesn't ever effect the overall enjoyably of the game. The game's sound is similarly impressive and features fantastic screams and battle noise as well as loads of little effects for whatever your people are doing at a given time.
Once you've gotten a handle on how to play the game, you'll want to jump on-line and take on some other players. While the single player missions are plenty challenging, there's nothing better than fighting it out with three opponents while all of you are wielding the awesome forces of nature. Most of the games we played here in the building ended up being Pyrric victories with the winner becoming lord a nickel sized land mass that looked like a marshmallow that someone accidentally dropped in the campfire. Still, 'tis better to rule in Hell and all...
In the end I found Populous to be incredibly entertaining for about two weeks. Unfortunately, even with the multiplayer options, I just didn't find myself returning to it that often. Now that your followers are dependant on you for every move they make, you don't get the enjoyment of just watching them live out their lives that was so much a part of the original two games. Still, if you like real-time strategy games, this is one of the most innovative and well-designed examples of that genre to come out in a long time.
You've probably heard of the original Populous game. It was one of the very first 'god-games.' Created at a time when other games only let you fly, fight, or just forget reality for a few moments, Populous put you in command of an entire world. In the years since its introduction, aspects of Populous have appeared in almost all later god-games and it could be credited with creating a new genre of computer games.
Populous: The Beginning follows in the excellent tradition of its predecessors. It's a 1998 prequel to the other games in the series, with the plot occurring before the others start. In other words, you haven't become a god just yet but you are still a force with which to be reckoned. You'll begin dealing with small tribes, rather than whole races or planets. Be patient, though, for soon you will be moving on to a series of 3D globes as the game progresses.
Populous: The Beginning is, in fact, based upon a series of spheres all the way through. You have control over these globes and the ability to visit any of them. This lends the game a feeling of open space, rather than the enclosed linear feel of many strategy or simulation games.
The object of the game is simple but limitless. You start off each world with a small selection of little people, organized into tribes who worship a shaman under your control. You can use these folks to build up your settlement by directing them to create houses and other, more specialized buildings. You can also train them to be soldiers and warriors, who help you conquer the rest of that planet. Your 'pet' shaman will acquire more and stronger spells throughout the game, all based on natural events or phenomena such as lightning, tornadoes or the creation of an active volcano.
People who downloaded Populous: The Beginning have also downloaded:
Populous 2, Populous, Pharaoh and Cleopatra, Railroad Tycoon 3, Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates, Railroad Tycoon 2: Platinum, Caesar 3, Powermonger
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