Category: Turn-based strategy/world-building
System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.6.8
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM
Network Feature: Yes
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Availability: Out now
Journey with me back to the ancient past: 1999. Sid Meier, creator of the legendary Civilization game series, left to join Firaxis. Civ was (briefly) published without the magical name, and Meier (along with Brian Reynolds), did something rather genius—they didn’t make a new iteration of the game, they made a sequel. They made “Civilization in Space.” Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is a game of what happened after Civ, as the survivors of a colony ship make planetfall on a hostile new world.
Recently re-released by Good Old Games, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (and the included expansion pack, Alien Crossfire) will feel both familiar and strange to Civ players. All the concepts are there; you start with a single, small village, and have to build it to a world-dominating civilization by researching technology, establishing new cities, and fighting military battles with the other players. Other concepts are twisted; instead of barbarian hordes, you must contend with “mind worms,” part of the defense system of the planet itself, and xenofungus, which covers much of the planet, blocking movement and impeding growth. And then there is the technology. In the original game you studied horsemanship and bronze working, now you devote yourself to Centauri Ecology and Superstring Theory.
Once you get used to the new terminology, though, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri feels as comfortable as a glove. You build your cities, harvest resources, and wage war. The leaders, rather than based on historical figures, are centered around ideologies; the Human Hive seeks total control of its population, while the University of Planet is devoted to unfettered search for knowledge. The Peacekeepers claim to represent the original United Nations Mission, while the Spartans are devoted to military strength. In Alien Crossfire, these concepts are remixed, and two alien races are added.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri does offer two novel twists on the primary game concepts: city-building and combat. For the former, you can build cities on ocean tiles, and for the latter you can tweak your military units, giving them better weapons, armor, or movement (which takes longer to build), or, if you need more units quickly, downgrading them. There are, in fact, only a handful of unit types—garrisons for defending, squads for assault, rovers are land-based vehicles, etc.—but technological discoveries allow you to upgrade these frames with better/additional abilities.
If you’re a fan of the Civilization series who missed Alien Crossfire when it was originally released, I highly recommend picking it up. The game is over a decade old but still feels inventive in its concepts (if not its sprite-based graphics), runs great on older software, and is only $5.99. It’s a “missing” chapter of a phenomenal game series that deserves to be rediscovered.