Retro Gaming: Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

being the right sort of dictator can make all the difference.

Feature by Graeme Strachan | 12 Dec 2006
Sid Meier - a name that should send a shiver of unadulterated bliss through any hardcore gamer, for it was Sid who gave the world turn based real-time strategy in its purest form: Civilization.

The Civ series has now reached its fourth incarnation, each following the same concept: build an empire and conquer the world over the span of human history, culminating by launching a spaceship to colonise the Alpha Centauri system. You win. The end. Finito.

That was until 1999 and release of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Taking cues from the Civ design, Firaxis Games made a spin-off which continued the story of the colonists. Things have gone a tad pear shaped on the spaceship, with the crew divided into seven factions and each having bagged an escape pod and shot off to a corner of 'Planet' (or Chiron, if you stoop to reading the manual). The goal is to pick a side and build bases, conquer enemies, make treaties and expand your knowledge and technology, before transcending to Godhood.

What makes SMAC stand above other RTS games is the intricacy which is built into it. Randomly generated maps mean that no game is the same twice, and with seven playable factions, each representing an alternate philosophy, there isn't a shortage of play-styles. Opting for the warlike Spartans might help out with weaponry at the start, but woe betide you should you need to use diplomacy. The other landmark idea allows you to choose how your culture works, and trust me, being the right sort of dictator can make all the difference.

The voxel graphics, while dated, are still detailed enough to convince the aesthetes among us, and the music and effects have, like this game, stood the test of time - even eight years after release, it can still soak up whole days of your life.