April 10, 2008

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Sins of the Solar Empire, PC
Stardock Entertainment, Feb 4
By Glenn "clever witticism" Given production@hippopress.com

In space no one can hear you eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate with a dollop of Real Time Strategy.

Unless of course you possess a particularly smoking computer that allows you to zoom in from interstellar star maps right down to fighter sorties like Sins of a Solar Empire showcases.

The 4x space strategy has been ground to a razorís edge since its proper inception with 1993ís Master of Orion, and as with other former chart-topping genres (like adventure ala Maniac Mansion) it sees the light of the 21st century only at the hands of fanatic developers and hobbyists. The upside to this once-or-twice-a-year release schedule is that those that make it to the shelf are of an astonishing depth and quality. Sins vaults the refinement even higher. Smoothly combining 4x and RTS, players command one of three spacebound civilizations in their quest to conquer the stars and grind their enemies into a fine cosmic dust. The religious Advent, capatalist TEC and alien Vasari use tech development, trade negotiations, black market deals and diplomacy to colonize and grow their empire and civic achievements and choke out their rivals. Of course when more peaceful (and duplicitious) means fail there is always the option of searing hot barrages of laser fire and shield-bypassing phase missles to batter about the ships of your enemies.

Sins provides a staggering amount of control over your empire as you can manually direct each ship-to-ship clash and tweak the development of your colonies. Massage alliance negotiations and steer the research of your advanced technologies to your playstyle. It is a smoothly orchestrated experience that has learned a lot from its genre forefathers and avoids many of their pitfalls while streamlining the empire management process and UI. Despite its adjustments to form, Sins of a Solar Empire manages to retain the complexity of customization that is the hallmark of the breed. Running reasonably well even on older machines is a plus, and players can connect free of charge via Ironclad Online or LAN to one-on-one matches or as teams against other stellar tyrants or the AI. Sadly the single-player campaign pales in comparison to the dynamic play available online, but, seriously, who plays games alone any more? A ó Glenn Given