Sins of a Solar Empire Review

Strategy games are one of the more intellectual pursuits in the gaming world; as the genre is usually dissociated with the aim and shoot gameplay of titles like Quake, Gears of War, and other FPS games, or the more childlike and innocent gameplay afforded to us by things like Super Mario Galaxy and the Sonic the Hedgehog line, which are there to show the gaming world that you can save the world without guns or grenades or even a sexy female sidekick. Yes, for the more highbrow of the gaming community, strategy games are definitely the place to go, and Sins of a Solar Empire is one of the most highbrow of the lot…so brainy it doesn’t need a plot.

Well, that’s not quite accurate…Sins of a Solar Empire does have a plot, but it seems to only exist in the nebulous zone of the intro and forms itself as such. A galactic empire is being attacked by forces far beyond their galaxy and, due to their fleets being so far away battling other aliens, there is no one left to defend the homeworld but…The People! This story, as recorded by the gravelly-voiced narrator, doesn’t seem to match what goes on in the game. Instead of making you proceed along a variety of missions that take you toward the end of the adventure, ala Homeworld, all the missions of the single-player campaign are immediately available for play right from the beginning, which leaves the game somewhat devoid of the sense of urgency created by the intro.

Despite this curious lack of synchronization, Sins of a Solar Empire takes the nature of the space strategy simulation to a whole new level by expanding the infrastructure of the game. It’s not just about blowing your enemies into stardust, although naturally that is a factor, but there also a geopolitical focus to the game. Each map you play contains a certain number of planets, one of which is the origin planet from whence you come, and as you go through the game you can spread your influence by sending out ships to colonize and settle other worlds or asteroidsm which can in turn bring in more population, minerals, and other such niceties. But, once again, your responsibilities do not end there as each planet can be upgraded in a variety of ways both externally and internally.

Internal upgrading of your newly settled world, for instance, would include building emergency services, which has the effect of better protecting your planet from orbital assault. An example of external improvement is to construct a broadcast station which can pipe various kinds of media and information from between planets. These towers will have a positive benefit when built around a planet friendly to you, but will foster aggressive feelings in a planet who is not yet fully allied with you. The fine line between propaganda and information is a very thin one indeed.

In any case, as all strategy gamers know, the thing that can make or break a game is how the units are managed, built, and controlled and luckily Sins of a Solar Empire makes all this much easier on the player. Pretty much everything that be can be built, armed, or researched can be automated. Civillization improvements, structure and warship construction, military and civic research, all can be left up either to the computer or to you. You can even check on the status of your groups of units or individual planets by scrolling back the mouse: friendly units will be blue, hostile will be red and each planet will have two curved brackets surrounding it that represent it’s military, economic, and social status. It’s a fortunate setup indeed, for there is a great deal to manage and the player would be easily overwhelmed without the comforting cocoon of automation that surrounds you.

Another interesting facet of the game that raises the bar on the level of complexity is that it’s not only necessary to have the resources needed to build a warship, but you must also have the crew available to man it. It’s a nice attempt at getting away from the “magic crew” system that is seen in so many space strategy games. Indeed, the whole game itself tries to present as authentic experience as possible by adding such common sci-fi lynchpins as not being able to jump to hyperspace in a gravity well. All planets have a blue ring around them that emanates from the center point and all jump capable ships must clear this barrier before jumping.

The graphics are good and can be zoomed down to quite a high degree of magnification before there simply isn’t anything to see. The detail too is quite impressive: you can watch the individual shells blasting from the barrels of your warship, observe as an increasing level of orbital traffic surrounds your planet as population expands and gaze at the slow rotation of the orb as it goes from the day side to the night side as the game goes on. The player can scroll back the mouse to focus on groups of unit or even worlds that you have colonized for quick access. The careful thought and planning put into the graphical engine is quite remarkable and well-planned.

The other half of this one-two punch, the audio, seems to be a smaller but still crucial part of the game. As you play you will receive vocal alerts telling you of events in the local system, construction of facilities, upgrading of research, and the like which is a good way of indicating what you need to focus on next. The unit responses aren’t bad in terms of their delivery ,but they seem to be rather odd: the voice of the scout ship sounds like Clint Eastwood and the light frigate voice sounds like a California surfer dude. Still it carries its weight in the game well and, however unusual, is much more of a help then a hindrance.

When all is said in done Sins of a Solar Empire is a very fine example of the strategy genre, but it should be said that the game’s emphasis on strategy for strategy’s sake may turn off even fans of these style of games who may prefer more direction. For diehard strategy fans, especially space strategy games, Sins of A Solar Empire will make a fine addition to their collections.

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