[Review] Armada 2526/Supernova – Maximum Micromanagement
I really like the Sid Meier’s Civilizations series. Watching an empire grow and flourish because of decisions I made is a unique brand of exhilaration for me, like a simulation of if I were a responsible person. The first Sid Meyer game I played, however, wasn’t one of the Civilization games, but his Alpha Centauri game, which holds sort of the same narrative interest as Armada 2526; when Earth becomes too small a pond for the thrashing aquatic Human fish, a leap must be made from our star to the next, where our spawn will grow to thrash again. The major difference between Armada and Alpha Centauri, though, is that space travel is not a big deal in Armada, nor are the social concepts of living on a different planet a concern to any degree. No, you are in space, and you have to fly your guys to the other stars and make them fight alien spaceships in real-time and blow them up for glorious victory. It is pretty rad.
There isn’t a lot of narrative or goal developed for the player in the game, which I should mention now is a turn-based strategy game. After fumbling with the sort of awkward but eventually manageable interface, the evidential goal is to navigate your growing empire through the stars, settling on planets and harvesting the rich bounty of money-units to support your fleet and bureaucracy, and eventually become too huge for any other alien race to menace. Victory seems to be based on having as many planets under your control as possible in exactly 500 turns.
The game is designed to accelerate the player into a position of interstellar strife. A new game equips the player with three Ark Ships, units used to populate planets with colonies, which expand the range of space possible to explore. By exploring, you will find your nearest alien neighbor, who you will quickly decide to befriend or obliterate to smithereens (the choice is yours (!!!!)). Being able to develop a large empire quickly is pretty nice, but the amount of micromanagement increases exponentially, such that managing an empire fatigues your magnificent, leaderly shoulders. Of course, deciding what sort of bureaucratic structures to construct on a planet and counting your space dollars is half the fun of the game. The other half being the real-time combat simulator that you can play every time you lay siege or are being sieged by an alien force.
The combat phase of the game, handled via graceless but usefully aggregative pop-ups, can be handled in two ways. The first option permits the computer to calculate using math the appropriate resolution to a battle between your units and the computer’s units. The second option is the ostensibly more exciting option, in which you command your units in real time combat situations across a top-down 3d view of the “air-space” above the planet you are attacking, or maybe just in the middle of space. At this point of the game, I became disappointed. Maybe it is just because I am not a decorated veteran of RTS games, but watching my ships advance toward the enemy in straight lines, without any degree of AI to assist in finding useful ways to not clump together or become disorganized in really dumb ways is pretty disheartening. Obviously I am supposed to make my ships go around certain things so that they don’t get blown up like chumps, and clearly I am supposed to attack with the correct ships to blow up the correct things, but I tend to find myself watching my guys sit in a single spot and shoot the enemy with artless, mechanical rhythm. It is like their hearts are not really into the whole space combat thing.
Armada has a game structure that demands quite a bit of attention from the player. As your empire grows, the amount of micromanagement becomes sort of a chore, though the game does provide useful menus to help you know where things are and what is happening. Perhaps this is the downside to accelerating the speed of the game as mentioned previously: by about turn fifty the player will have about seven colonies to adjudicate, and way more than that by about turn two hundred, not to mention all the simulated threats from your CPU enemies to pay attention to.
Armada 2526 is improved in critical ways by it’s expansion, Supernova. I mean critical in the way that your system may occasionally shut itself down for critical updates. It felt like the features added by the expansion were actual parts of the game that were left out, making the game suddenly feel whole and complete. I enjoyed the game way more in the expansion when the game in general actually appeared to be better thought out, like a sentence that was not cut short or an acrobatic maneuver uninterrupted by an errant pole. I’m not too sure what else to say about that, except I guess thanks to the developers for revising and finishing your work.