Space Age Empire Building - Distant Worlds PC Review

Space Age Empire Building - Distant Worlds PC Review
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Run Your Own Galactic Empire - Distant Worlds PC Review

As a big fan of 4X games – the type of strategy fare in which you eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate – I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Distant Worlds for some time.

With a similar premise to Swords of Orion and Galactic Civilizations, Distant Worlds ticks all the right boxes for me.

The premise itself is a bit of an archetype – you’re thrown in to the mix as the emperor of your own fleet of ships and collection of colonies in a huge galaxy over which there is a potential for complete dominion. Also occupying the galaxy are your competitors – alien races with their own technology and aims. Similarities with Star Trek, Star Wars, BattleStar Galactica and any number of popular science fiction franchises are manifold throughout – with the added benefit of some distinct cultures, Distant Worlds successfully presents its alien races as real as opposed to token.

Getting Started with your Empire

With a good-looking intro, Distant Worlds plunges you in at the deep end with little by way of an in-game tutorial mode. Instead, you’re left to remember what you picked up in the very tedious and badly presented tutorial.

Before starting a game, however, you can select a scenario – setting yourself up as the head of a fledgling galactic empire or into the middle of a galactic war. There are several scenario options, although if you’re using less than 2GB of RAM, you won’t be able to choose the large galaxy games. Each scenario has its own victory conditions, with each guaranteeing to be a very different experience.

User Interface and Controls (3 out of 5)

Distant Worlds PC review - GUI

Utilising the standard strategy mouse and keyboard combination, Distant Worlds throws you into a melee of space combat quite early on. While there are similarities with the classic K240 in terms of the mining/ship building economic model, there is little time to get to grips with the GUI without spending a long time in the basic and even advanced tutorials.

It’s not all bad – among the game’s plus points are the Galactopedia, a massive game spanning encyclopaedia that explains every game concept, unit, race and more. There are also genre-friendly screens such as the Civilization-style diplomacy screens and the presence of an intriguing galactic back story seeded throughout the game.

Ultimately, however, there are simply too many disparate oncreen commands which would have been better represented and organised around a single area of the display.

Compatibility - System Requirements (4 out of 5)

Suitable for installation onto any Windows XP SP2 machine or later with a minimum of a Pentium 4 CPU running at 1.5 GHz, the minimum system requirements for Distant Worlds are encouraging. Requiring at least 1 GB system RAM, a minimum of 1024 x 768 resolution and 32 bit graphics, the game also requires at least 500 MB of hard disk space and DirectX 9 compatible sound.

The entire game installs from the disk, so there is no requirement to have a CD- or DVD-ROM drive if you have installed via a download. Note that the game installs Microsoft .Net Framework 3.0 to assist with the running of the game.

As you can see, a modest system could run Distant Worlds without a problem, although as noted above 2 GB RAM is needed to play larger scenarios.

Combat and Concepts

There seems few opportunities in a Distant Worlds scenario to instigate combat between ships or other space craft – your advisors will see to it that you rarely need to send any commands. This is one of many frustrating elements to what should be a great game – a lack of control. Amongst the interesting exploration bonuses and backstories to some of the alien races, there are elements that are frustrating, such as the difficultly in trading even with friendly empires.

Combat meanwhile is a largely spectator sport, with no opportunity to accurately engage tactically – the difficulty in sending and positioning your craft where you want them is one thing – the lack of a third dimension is another.

Sounds and Graphics (2 out of 5)

Distant Worlds PC review - graphics aren’t up to scratch

In the old days, it was common for strategy/4X games to be conservative with graphics and sound – with modern PCs this is no longer the case – but no one seems to have told Matrix this. While the graphics are adequate, they in no way surpass or even match some of the great outer space vistas seen in Homeworld 2 or Everchron Legends (reviewed here on Brighthub).

Meanwhile the soundtrack and sound effects are at best passable, at worst embarrassing; if feels as though there is a lot of work still to be done on certain aspects of this game, although these are by no means my biggest complaints.

Distant Score (3 out of 5)

It’s easy to be negative about games that you don’t like. However everything about Distant Worlds, from the sci-fi novel style box artwork to the concepts and ideas within cry out and shout “buy me!”

The fact is, Distant Worlds could have been a much better game; perhaps if it had been released 10 years ago, it would now be considered a classic. Amongst the various issues I’ve cited above, the lack of engagement is the real let down.

With so much to offer, Matrix Games’ Distant Worlds fails in its promise. I’ve mentioned several games throughout this interview with which Distant Worlds could be compared. Sadly it just doesn’t have the vital edge that a classic game has.