SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Sid Meier, the man who came up with a PC gaming institution called Civilization, has managed to reinvent the strategy-game genre once again. Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, published by Aspyr Media Inc., begins where Civilization left off: your colonists, last seen blasting off into space toward the nearest star, are now building a new civilization on a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri. While this sequel superficially resembles Civilization, it incorporates such sweeping changes to its predecessor's civilization-building model that it feels like a completely new game.
Alpha Centauri presents a complex view of the future. The colonists, while en route to their new home, separated into seven factions based not on nationality but on ideology. The faction leaders would like to see the new planet developed along their own ideological lines; as a player, you assume the role of one of these leaders and work to develop the virgin planet to your satisfaction, all the while attempting to buy, cajole, force, or even beat cooperation from your neighbors as you compete with them for the planet's precious resources.
The game allows you to select government and economy types based on those in the world today, along with a few suggested in literature. You might have a free-market democracy, or you could have a centrally planned police state.
Dozens of distinct paradigms for organizing your people to face the threats of life on an alien world are possible.
Alpha Centauri has far more technologies and wonders waiting for discovery than the Civilization series offers. Many of these technologies come from science fiction, but others derive from contemporary philosophy or the most advanced speculations of modern science. As developments like self-aware machines and superstring theory become available to your faction, quotes from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard suggest ways to weave new discoveries into the social fabric.
As in Civilization, you can produce both combat and noncombat units to perform basic tasks for your faction. However, Alpha Centauri's method for pricing and creating units is very different. In Civilization, when you develop a new technology, a new unit becomes available at a fixed cost. In Alpha Centauri, you create units using all available technologies-no single technology produces a totally new unit.
Alpha Centauri is a full multimedia experience, with movies that play upon completion of secret projects, aural feedback (the game talks to you), and user interfaces designed to move and beep for your entertainment. All these features will slow down older Macs, but you can turn off most of the multimedia whiz and bang for quicker play.
You control the action with an easy-to-use on-screen console-quite a feat, considering the complexity of the rules and the number of features under your control. While not perfect and in no way Mac-like, the pop-up menu controls in the console window allow you to handle loads of data and options efficiently.
Additionally, you rarely need to leave the convenient console and go to any other menus in order to play.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Alpha Centauri gives armchair diplomats the opportunity to manage a society, with all the corresponding decisions about government, economics, ecology, and scientific research. It's also an extremely complex game; fortunately, it includes excellent reference material both in print and online, as well as tutorials. Alpha Centauri is the best take to date on the Civilization-style game.
RATING: 4.5 mice
PROS: Engrossing sci-fi plot; addictive game play; sophisticated social modeling.
CONS: Level of detail may be overwhelming; rich multimedia features can tax older Macs.
COMPANY: Aspyr Media (888/212-7797, http://www.aspyr.com).
LIST PRICE: $50.