Today I’m taking a look at one of the games that caught my attention as a kid. After weeks of trawling the internet to find ‘Populous: The Beginning’ I finally found a copy last week and have been playing it solidly ever since. The game was released in 1998 and I picked up the game in late 2003, ever since then I’ve been a huge fan of the Populous franchise. The series was founded by Peter Molyneux in 1989 and coined the phrase we all know and love ‘God game’. Personally my favourite type of game is a good world management game, and Populous is a nice example of what are the early management games.
The game is set in a solar system dominated by three tribes, these tribes stand in the way of the player’s tribe which is situated on the planet furthest from the solar system’s sun. The player takes on the role of the shaman of this tribe, and commands the tribesmen to either collect resources, create new buildings for the town, train as warriors (or many other combatant jobs), or finally the tribesmen can be directed to their huts to make lots of little baby tribesmen. Once the shaman has created an army strong enough to mount an attack on the enemy tribes, the onslaught can begin. This may seem very normal for a ‘horde, build, fight’ kind of strategy game, and it would be just that if it weren’t for the inclusion of magic spells that can be accessed through worship at ancient stone heads or vaults of knowledge. These spells can turn the tide of a battle if the shaman uses them in the right way. An example of this magic may be the lightning spell which can be used to kill and disperse a tight group of enemies or set fire to an enemy tribe’s huts, meaning that they will be unable to create new tribesmen to fight off the player’s shaman and her warriors. The aim of the game is to take control of every planet by wiping out the indigenous tribes, once this has been achieved the player’s shaman becomes omnipotent and is able to ascend to godhood, when she can help her people in one final battle against the three enemy tribes. The game afforded me roughly ten hours of casual gameplay on my last try, but bare in mind that I have previous experience with the game so you may spend longer getting to grips with each of the levels.
My initial thoughts on the game were ones of absolute awe, as a child there was nothing I liked more than telling lots of tiny little people to go and beat up lots of other tiny little people, and sending a nasty swarm of wasps at the man that was shooting me with fireballs. Obviously since then my views on the game have changed a little, but I can safely say that I still get a warm sense of satisfaction, after conquering a solar system in my name. I have played the game through several times now and have stored my copy of the disc safely away. I did this so that one day, I may bring it out and show my grandchildren what exactly their grandfather got up to while all the other little boys and girls were off eating mud and shoving chewing gum in each others hair.
The Populous series has been seen as a revolutionary step into god games and real time strategy, and in my opinion, no game can show this better than Populous: The Beginning. This title really brought together the two ideas, eliminating the slow play style of the first two games in favour of a more fast paced battlefield.
The AI used in this game was a massive let down at times, with warriors trying to climb hills and mountains only to get stuck half way up. Another great annoyance for me was that if I sent a large attack party into an enemy base, that party would immediately dispurse and attack each tribesman they could find, usually in one to one combat rather than the all-on-one aproach that I had had in mind.
The graphics are dire compared to modern day masterpieces such as Skyrim or Battlefield 3, but you must remember that this game is fifteen years old and so is naturally a little shoddy looking. Molyneux and his team have still managed to make Populous: The Beginning into a pleasant enough game to play while I’m in a relaxing mood, and for that I am very grateful. I would love to see a remake of this game, with new textures and perhaps a nicer navigation control, but as Molyneux is currently working on his new god game, I don’t suppose I should be expecting anything soon.
As I have briefly mentioned, I found the navigation controls to be a little difficult, they seemed clunky and unrefined. I found the controls especially difficult to use on the playstation version, this game was most definitely not designed for console.
No matter how much I love this game, I have to admit that it isn’t up to modern standards. This is why I have given Populous: The Beginning the rating I have. Alas, I would recommend checking it out, it’s a good laugh and it’s such a solid pillar to modern god games that its nice to just stand back and admire it from time to time.