When I was playing around with the settings for World in Conflict, I chanced upon creating this error where all video cutscenes were skipping. I’ve asked for a solution from Massgate and the reply was to change the anti-aliasing settings. Funny thing was, I turned off AA, so the next logical reason was to change the Frame Rate limit to "No Frame Limit". And the resulting effect was the videos in the game returned to normal. Pretty strange occurrence indeed.
By the way, if you’ve installed SP1 on Vista by now (and I’m sure you all did), there’s quite an increase. In my configuration, I made the details high enough to make the vehicles, buildings and sceneries look detail, while keeping a decent frame rate (highest pre-Vista was 15/16 FPS). After running the built in frame rate test, I’m now getting around 23-26 FPS on the fastest, and around 8-10 FPS on the heaviest load (the pre SP1 test got me around 3-4 FPS). Pretty decent increase.
I finally got some of the new games from the Games for Windows Lineup I have previously previewed. And the first in the list is Sins of a Solar Empire.
First of all, I was surprised as to which company published the game….. Stardock, ring a bell? Well for those who’ve been dabbling with Windows Blinds in Windows XP (tired of the same old boring, yes admit it – Luna theme can get boring) would know that the premiere company that produced that wonderful (and processor intensive, but good eye candy) Windows Blinds and Object Desktop is indeed the same Stardock that published this game. And such a beautiful game it is (for its genre).
The game involves the player in trying to take control a solar system or solar systems through the 4X system of eXpand, eXplore, eXploit and eXterminate, similar to Civilization’s and Master of Orion’s offering.
There are three factions to choose from: the Traders Emergency Coalition (TEC), Advent, and Vasari. The TEC is a coalition of humans who have sought to combine their peoples’ resources for their war against the two other factions. TEC’s strengths lie in developing more efficient means to build new ships and structures. Their weakness lies in their weaponry in the early stage of the game but once built up, the Novalith Cannon provides a quick way for taking over/out enemy colonized planets (but leaves a nasty fallout before being habitable again). The Advent are exiled humans who have a belief on higher powers over technology, thus they are more focused on spreading their culture and using psychic weapons (and lasers, don’t forget the lasers) on their opponents (especially TEC). Whereas the Vasari, I actually have yet to play their units, but their units based from my experience combating them tend to be more alien/biological in design.
Each faction has similarly identical set of warships, from the lowly exploration ships to the mammoth heavy cruisers their similarities end there. Each faction’s capital ship has its own unique strengths, some have effective capabilities for colonizing planets, while some boast high attack power for taking down enemy ships, while others act as a carrier having a large number of support fighters or bombers.
Graphics - The game runs on a game and graphics engine named after Ironclad Games, the development team behind the game. The engine is quite light, letting older computers to run this without much of a problem, yet the graphics is quite detailed enough. The game lets us rotate, and zoom the camera to our liking, letting us see the fleet formation first hand, or look at the various structures we’ve added. However, the graphics seemed rather dated, hence the quicker framerate and gameplay. And just to add, I have almost a hundred ships divided into fleets at one time (same goes for the AI, and multiply it by the number of playing AIs…. or players) and there isn’t a noticeable slowdown in the game at all. (Though do note my system now runs with 4GB of RAM).
The game doesn’t have too much story videos, aside from the opening intro. Having just one opening video lessens the load on our computers, and letting it focus more on the aspect of playing the game, though having some short movies (like the impact of the Novalith Cannon’s shot on a planet could’ve added some flair to it).
Sound – The game has made use of nice voice acting for the units, none too over-top, and non under. Similar to the unit voices heard in Star Craft or Command and Conquer, each unit has its unique character/accent. There are voice cues or notices by the game for events that took place, though one complaint is that in the heat of battle, these audio messages by the computer can be drowned out. However, the accompanying background is quite nice for its orchestral "Space Drama" feel to it. It provides the right mood for playing the game.
Controls – The mouse and keyboard are well suited and while the keyboard’s flexible with key assignments, the mouse controls unit selection, unit movement/attack orders, as well as controlling the camera angles from zooming, panning and to some small degree, moving across the map. One slight problem with the mouse controls is that the panning and the command execute mouse key is the same. So we may at times accidentally move our units when the main point we’re supposed to do is to move from one part of the map to another. A quick remedy to this is to set the keyboard up like World in Conflict’s where the camera movement key is binded in the WASD keys. And of course, to un select the fleet/unit/units before panning the camera.
Gameplay - This is where Sins of a Solar Empire excels at. Instead of having a linear game, we’re presented with several scenarios (or a random or player created maps) where we can play alone, as a team, or against another player. Configuring a match is pretty straight forward – pick a selection if it’s single player or multi-player, then set the AI difficulty or count, or AI specialty (very flexible!).
As I’ve mentioned, the game proper lets us create our empire within the game based on our tastes. We can expand (we should in order to survive), explore (for more resources and planets to populate), exploit (use black markets to control prices of goods, or place a large bounty on our enemies), and exterminate (wiping out the enemy empire from the map… err galaxy).
The notable aspect in the game is to balance the growth of the empire by spending resources on updating the empire’s infrastructure, military strength, upkeep of planets, and to build up on an empire’s technological breakthroughs. A careful balance is thus needed in order to compete well in the game. Placing too much effort in building a large army w/o any improvement can lead to its own downfall. A small fleet of well armed (and armored, and supported) battle cruisers can take out much larger forces of frigates (with little or no armor and weak lasers). Or having relied too much on spreading the borders too great, too fast can lead to defense problems since the enemy can attack in multiple directions fooling the defender into splitting his/her small fleet of ships. Also by being able to enhance an empire’s infrastructure or technology, access to wormholes, long range jumps, or even access to highly unlivable planets will make or break an empire’s power.
But the game doesn’t stop there. Ironclad made the game modifiable by releasing map creators and other software to help in creating our own games. Not only would we like the actual game, but we can also expand on it, or even create an entirely new game, based on a series or something original) out of it. Here’s a few: Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Macross, Gundam, Robotech (to some degree).
Sins of a Solar Empire is such a wonderful game to play, it came up silently, and it succeeds not through flash and big names, but through genuine passion for the game. (Now, all I can wait now is for someone to make a Mod for Macross…. or if I do find time, I’d like to study the ways on how Mods are being made).
- 1.8 GHz Single-Core Processor
- 512 MiB RAM / 1 GiB for Vista
- 128 MiB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon 9600 / GeForce FX 6600 and above)
- DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card
- DVD-ROM Drive
- 3 GB Hard Drive Space
- Keyboard and Mouse
- DirectX 9.0c
- 2.2 GHz Dual- or Quad-Core Processor
- 1 GiB RAM / 2 GiB for Vista
- 256 MiB DirectX 9 3D Video Card (Radeon X1600 / GeForce 7600 and above)