I’ll say right from the off, strategy games aren’t usually my thing. Sure, I’ve played many, and some were even pretty good (Dungeon Keeper 2, although it’s not really hardcore). Generally, pass me good first person shooter or a football/cricket game and I’ll be hooked for days. So I found myself wondering why, after I loaded up Sins of a Solar Empire and played my first game, I had lost three hours of my life.
There is something beautifully addictive about this game; the time just disappears as you construct your galactic empire in glorious 3D. I think the game’s primary asset is the simplicity of the interface. Everything is so easily accessed. The GUI combines classic elements from strategy games (reminiscent of Star Trek: Armada) with magnificent ease of use, allowing the player to zoom out from a ship to an entire solar system in a matter of seconds. Not that zoom is new to the genre, but I have never seen it implemented so smoothly. It’s been a long time coming; we’ve been waiting for immersive 3D graphics to become friendly and pleasant to manipulate, and Sins provides. Features such as the cinematic mode (again reminiscent of Star Trek: Armada) prove that final polish that makes the interface so intuitive.
The graphics are nifty as well, particularly the use of colour in the game. So often space strategy simulations rely on cool blues and neutral/dark greys – not here. Sins displays the universe in technicolor glory, with multi-coloured stars and starfield backdrops. Not unlike the systems in EVE Online, the universe is a pleasure to play in.
The ease-of-use I mentioned earlier carries over easily into the gameplay. With just a quick run through the first tutorial, I threw myself into a full-scale game, and found the point-and-click interface tremendously easy to get the hang of and the zoom and movement were all simple and intuitive again. I found the resource system in the game fairly basic, but it seemed to spawn many possiblities. The three main resources in the game: credits, metal and crystal are all accessible from the get-go, yet it still takes some time for you to develop your civilization. This is actually quite refreshing, as I have seen in other games rare, vital resources that create strangleholds in star systems as players vie for control. Not here, you’re given everything you need and yet the research and development costs ensure it still takes a reasonable amount of time for you to advance.
Another of the game’s strengths is how easy it is to manage large fleets of ships, up to 50 in a fleet. The game handles your actions intelligently – for instance, when you drag a box select your fleet it will automatically leave out all the civilian ships such as colony ships, assuming you need the military ones for attack. If you do need the colony ones, you can select these manually or cycle through the different types of ships available from the system overview which appears as you zoom out.
It’s nice to see the use of the diplomacy system (a la Age of Empires) here, and particularly one that works in Single Player. You can forge alliances and improve standings with other races by carrying out missions for them. It gives the Single Player mode that added dimension that other games lack. Similarly, the use of the pirate bounty system (where you can offset pirate attacks by raising the bounty on another race, thereby encouraging an attack on them) is another refreshing way of changing the flow of the game.
Also important to mention is the audio. The quality ambient music changes smoothly depending on the situation, and the voice-overs (whilst sometimes a little annoying) add the professional polish that makes this game stand out. The weapons sound professional and the audio effects are of high-quality, for instance nuclear weapons detonating on a colonised world. So often games are let down by soft audio effects; not here.
Sins does not suffer from the over-complexity that I have seen so many other RTS games fall into. As a result, the game is just fun. It grabs you, hooks you, and leaves you wanting more. I’ve had it for three days now, and I’ve spent the good part of twelve hours exploring it. I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to designing my own star systems, or seeing all the possibilities the rare artifacts hold.
If I had any qualms, there would only be two. One was that the game took some convincing to actually work. I had to upgrade both the game to the latest version and upgrade my nVidia drivers before the game played without crashes. Also, the graphics are very pretty, but they are not quite of the highest standard yet reached by the likes of EVE Online. This is a minor qualm, as I would still take gameplay over graphics any day, but I think the bar has been set by EVE and its a standard that hasn’t yet been toppled. Nonetheless, it allows the game to run on lower-end systems, so for many users this may be a blessing.
Overall, if you’re an RTS enthusiast (but maybe more suitable, if you’re not particularly) I heartily recommend Sins of a Solar Empire. It’s frighteningly addictive, tremendously fun and more than a little refreshing. If you don’t want to buy it, Sci-Fi Heaven are giving away 5 copies so feel free to try your luck on our competition page. Otherwise, the game rolls out into the UK on 20th June from Ironclad Games and Kalypso Media.
Grade: 90% (A)