Sins of a Solar Empire Review
|Publisher:||Stardock (Online) / Kalypso Media|
|Genre:||Real Time 4X Strategy|
|Release Date:||June 20th, 2008 (UK Box)|
|Reviewer:||Joe Robinson (JustCommunication)|
The thing about space is that it's quite easy to forget the sheer size of it. Whether you're fighting over nearby planets, invading other star systems, or simply taking a trip to the next galaxy - space is big, and no game knows this better then Ironclad's debut title: Sins of a Solar Empire.
Using their very own Iron Forge engine, the rookie developer has managed to re-define 'space strategy' by using a delicate combination of control, innovation and sheer scale. Trying to make the physics of a game feel as real and as plausible as possible, whilst still making it fun to play, is a delicate balancing act - yet Ironclad does it oh so well.
Choosing from one of three races, Sins lets you build an empire from the ground up, using diplomacy, intrigue or pure dominance to achieve victory. Starting with a single planet and a factory, Sins unfolds all the different aspects of the game one planet at a time. Using a system of phase lanes to dictate movement within any given star-cluster, the game epitomises the very essence of strategy by allowing for frontlines, 'outer' and 'inner' worlds, and even choke points.
This is balanced out against the existence of 'Gravity wells' - the area around a planet where ships have to use normal engines - and the very physics of space itself. A skilled strategist can skirt his fleet along the edges of a planet's gravity well, and slip past to the inner worlds. Similarly, a player has to think carefully as to where to position planet defences because an attack could come from nearly any direction.
These two elements combine effectively to keep game-play interesting and it certainly keeps you on your toes, making combat in Sins is as good as it gets. Whilst the three races practically mirror each other in terms of ships and capabilities, there are enough differentials and customisation options to keep make you want to try out each race.
But with great power, comes great responsibility, and as your empire and fleets expand, another typical failing of the average space-strategy game rears its ugly head: micro-management. Normally, you would have to scroll in and out and deal with each fleet and planet on an individual basis, but no longer. Ironclad have come to the rescue yet again with a unique little concept called the 'Empire Tree'. With this handy tool-tip, you can select one end of your empire whilst staying in another. It also allows you to control fleets, planets and resources using a universal control panel. Micro-management has never been so easy, and coupled with an impressive zoom feature you'll feel almost like you're omnipotent.
The other great thing about Sins is that there's a lot of flexibility and choice when it comes to the type of game you want to play. Feel like starting out with just a single star system? Or are you looking for a clash of the titans as stellar empires go head-to-head over a dozen systems? Whatever sized game you want to play, Sins can help you play it, and with an extensive map building tool the only limitation, according to them, is your computer. Beware though, as the larger the maps you play, the more opponents you can potentially have, and the more opponents you have, the longer games will take.
Going online with Sins is relatively easy as well - Ironclad has supplied their own match-making and ranking system to make finding, hosting and playing matches much easier. There is also the option of playing against a small group of friends via a LAN connection and a private lobby. Games online are just as much fun as offline as the same amount of flexibility is available. It also comes with the added bonus of you being able to test out your custom maps or your strategic mind against a human opponent.
One of the few drawbacks this game has is the lack any real story, or, to be more precise, story progression. An opening sequence and supplementary material in the manual provides you with a brief run down of the story 'so far' - The Traders Emergency Coalition (TEC), a loose alliance of human worlds is facing a war on two fronts. Firstly, against the Vasari, an ancient race that used to rule an empire, but is now on a run from a mysterious enemy. Secondly, against the 'Advent', an off shoot of humanity who were exiled long ago and whose descendants, armed with an alien philosophy and devout belief, have come to claim back what's theirs. However, the lack of a single-player campaign or plot means that nothing further is explained
This goes part of the way to establish the three factions in the universe they exist in, and even does a relatively good job in explaining why the three races are fighting. It's almost a disappointment, as the lack of a plot somewhat deprives the game of a purpose. Never-the-less, as with most games of this type the level of control you exert over your actions allow you to create your own story, and the open-ended 'scenarios' are still a lot fun to play.
If one were to find a moral to Sins, even without a driven plot, it is that everybody does sin. In order to bring peace and stability, you must do terrible things. Arbitrarily bombing a population out of existence so that you can replace it with your own would make any Human Rights committee rise up in arms, and yet Sins makes you do it all the time. Lacking a 'planetary invasion' or ground tactical-battle mode means that players commit genocide out of habit. If there is one thing that Sins can teach you, it's that everything you do will come back to haunt you in some way, and you must try and face it.
For those who've longed to see a decent space-strategy game emerge from the depths of developers' minds, the wait is over. Sins is a true masterpiece, a golden child of its genre, and even though it isn't perfect, with an expansion rumoured to be in the works it can only get better. Ironclad's expert mix of large-scale empire building and tactical fleet engagements make this one of the best RTS games of the year.
- Streamlined micro-management
- Epic scale
- Great battles, and the zoom feature [lets you get right up close to the action]
Not so good stuff
- No single player story as such
- Matches can last a few hours