By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
big deal has been made lately over the fact that Populous 3 is finally being released, and this caused me to think back to one of my favorite games of all time, and a game I consider to be the first great deathmatch game…the original Populous. I’ll come back to why I consider it to be this, but first a bit of Populous history for the newcomer.
Populous was released during what could be called the first real time strategy renaissance, in which the genre got off to a really great start (other titles, like Sim City while technically still in the same general genre, showed little if any similarity to each other…compare this to the later revolution caused by Warcraft’s release). The really cool thing about Populous, is that when you first laid eyes on the game, you simply didn’t know what you were looking at. Nobody had ever thought of a game like this before.
Here’s the deal behind Populous. You play a god. You can be a malevolent, vengeful god, if you like (somehow I always opted for this route) but the goal is to make your people prosper and conquer the planet you’ve been given. Making this slightly challenging, is the fact that there’s another god on the world, who’s trying to dominate as well…so what develops is a sort of ethereal deathmatch, even in single player mode.
At your disposal are the usual bunch of godly powers…you can cause fires, floods, earthquakes, and all manner of other things. Plus, you can create a hero, a single guy whose job it is to lead your people to glory. A mighty cool addition, since these guys can clean up when they confront their enemies.
What made the game completely innovative at first (beyond its nutty concept which was so out there that you found yourself scratching your head) was the fact that the interface was nothing short of brilliant. The game world was contained within an open book. Just outside the book you had controls to move the camera around within the world (it was isometric-top-down style, but still quite brilliant for the time it was released) as well as your various controls for causing mayhem. To make your people flourish, you had to raise and lower land to give them ample space to build their towns. Unlike Sim City, when their towns grow, these people don’t really advance technologically (that would have detracted too much from the focus of the game) but instead the people go off in search of other places to populate.
Once the game really gets going is when it gets really fun. Once your population grows to a certain size, you gain the power to cause those Acts of God you’ve been hearing about so much. And hot diggity are they fun. Because you want your people to take over, a common trick in the game is to find a place where your opponent inhabited, and cause an earthquake. While his people are kicked out of their homes, you quickly get one of your own guys to go over there, and fix up the land so he can populate it. With some practice, you can get a huge colony up and running where your opponent’s one was within a few minutes, and while his guys are still running around like madmen. It’s incredibly fun, and carries with it a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
Which brings us back to why I consider it to be a fantastic deathmatch game. When the game was released, I didn’t know much (or really care much) about multiplayer gaming. Let’s face it…the days of the 2400-baud modem didn’t really lend themselves to many hardcore games being played online (and that was a concept that hadn’t really developed yet anyway). Populous (believe it or not!) worked perfectly using two 2400-baud modems connected together. And you know what? It even worked cross platform. Connecting an IBM style computer to a Commodore Amiga worked perfectly.
And oh, the fun. Seriously. It may be fun to cause mayhem against the computer, but that can’t even compare to knowing you’re torturing your friend on the other end. Populous deathmatch games would last for long periods of time, on certain levels as well. I’ve played one-on-one games of Warcraft that lasted for several hours at a time, but they can’t even touch Populous here. Just when you think you’ve got someone cornered, a single guy can escape and run off and start his own colony.
Populous was followed up with the lackluster Populous 2, and PowerMonger, which made the game far more complicated than it should have (a major let down). Fortunately, these sequels made the original a regular bargain bin favorite several years ago, and if you hunt around you can still find it. It’s a Windows 3.1 program, and will still run admirably under Windows 95…making it a must grab for someone looking for something a little different, and something that still has no equal.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Bargain Bin is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and like, in poor taste, dude.|