Mastering the universe
In the world of 4X games (thats eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate, for the uninitiated), there has always been one clear leader: Sid Meiers Civilization. Many have challenged the mighty Meiers throne but none have ever been its equal. Until now, that is.
Coming from Stardock Games, a lesser known publisher who sell most of their titles via direct download, Galactic Civilizations II takes the nuances of Meiers masterpiece and blasts them into the distant future, building empires among the stars and clashing shields and photon torpedoes instead of axes and arrows. As a pioneer for one of the games myriad xeno races (or plain old vanilla humans, if youre that way inclined) , you slowly build up a power base, infrastructure and economy in true 4X fashion, before turning an avaricious eye towards the colonies of your neighbours. From then you can either embark on an interstellar jihad, put an economic crunch on your foes or attempt to prevail through diplomatic channels there is an option to suit any type of player or style of play.
While Civilization has built up a large online player base, Gal Civ IIs focus is the single player, which would frustrate if the AI were not so devilishly good. Were not talking unfair advantages or early windfalls either, the AI here plays on the same footing as the player but (at higher levels) deploys Skynet-like strategy to outwit, outmanoeuvre and generally out-do all but the most gifted strategist.
The Ultimate Bundle comes with both the first Dark Avatar expansion and the new Twilight Of The Arnor release, which should be seen less as bolt-on content than the culmination of the titles development. Coupled with the first expansion, Arnor refines every aspect of the title from the graphics (the entire engine gets an overhaul here), to the game mechanics (the introduction of Death Star-like Terror Stars are a must for the arsenal of any self-respecting intergalactic despot).
If there's a criticism to be made it's that the game is not overly friendly to the uninitiated and the tutorials do little to help overcome the steep learning curve. Once you've puzzled it out, thouth, you'll be hard pressed to tear yourself away. If youve ever burned the midnight oil advancing through your own golden age in Civ or wondered what its like to rule the galaxy with an iron fist, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of Gal Civ II. It may not be one of the years most publicised titles but it is undoubtedly one of the best.