Utopia (Third Review)

Title		Utopia (Third Review)
Game Type	Management Sim
Players		1
Compatibility	All (See below)
Submission	Joona Palaste (palaste@cc.helsinki.fi) Profiled Reviewer

The first thing one notices about Utopia is its broadness and sheer
ambition. Getting past the lovely artwork on the cover, the blurb on the
back of the box reads "Can you create Utopia? Now's your chance to find
out." With a claim that impressive, you expect the game to back it up.
  And back it up it does, in a way. Utopia is a colony simulation blended
with an action strategy game. You, as the colony leader, have to manage
first hundreds, then thousands of colonists, providing living quarters,
sufficient food and air, and amusements too. Not a trivial task by itself,
but there are also a malevolent alien race on the planet, and they are
intent on your total destruction. You have to retaliate in order to
  The game is scenario-based. There are ten scenarios on the disks, with
ten new, more taxing scenarios provided on a data disk, which is a
separate product. You start a scenario with practically nothing: a command
centre, a launchpad, the bare minimum of living quarters and food/air
production, and little else. You have to start building up defenses quite
early, or else you are in danger of being obliterated by the aliens. Your
first priority is to start production and get it rolling at a steady rate.
Then you must build your defence forces, and expand the colony to provide
room for the ever-procreating colonists.
  Visually the game is impressive, while not exactly breathtaking. The
isometric graphics are colourful, but while they are realistic enough to
make the game addictive, don't expect photographic quality. A uniform
style of purple buttons with yellow images has been used throughout the
game's many GUI panels, which is a nice touch. The playing experience is
improved further by offering a choice of four background themes: a
classical piece, two modern tunes, and the game's main theme music. Sound
effects are sparse, but well done.
  Initially, the game is extremely addictive. If you get it going right,
expect to be hooked for months, trying to survive against the aliens. I
remember playing the tenth and most difficult scenario on the original
disks, frantically switching between active command centres to keep the
aliens from cutting vital functions of my colony. Of course it was a
futile effort, and this was in the very beginning of the scenario. The old
cliché "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master" fits, mutatis mutandis.
  However, after you've got the best of the aliens, you may become aware
of how irregular the game's difficulty curve is. Finally exterminating the
alien race eases the game way too much, because then there is nothing
whatsoever left to pose a threat to a colony. Some random attacks by
another race orbiting the planet, or just simple natural disasters, would
have been a nice touch. Also, the difficulty slope between the scenarios
is way too steep. I beat the first race in less than a decade (game time),
which left me thinking "that was way too easy, I didn't even get to use
the warships". In contrast, the sixth or seventh alien races never fail to
kick the living daylights out of my forces and lay waste to my colony.
  Also, even though the game had the broadest scope in the time it was
released, it looks a little simplistic by today's standards. Why aren't
there more buildings to build, more varieties of tanks and spaceships to
construct? Why is the map too small? Most importantly, interplanetary
flight is impossible. When you play the game, the reason for this is
obvious, but it would have added a whole new element to the game.
  While the aforementioned things are a pity, they don't greatly affect
the quality of the game. It had me playing for years in the beginning of
the 90's, and I stopped only because I upgraded to a new Amiga, on which
the game had a few minor compatibility problems. Now this has been fixed
with the arrival of a WHDLoad-compatible hard drive installer, and I'm
hooked again, for months at least. In my mind, Utopia is a genuine classic.

 While Utopia loads and plays fine with most, if not all, Amigas, it has
a minor compatibility problem with KS2.x or KS3.x computers. It can't find
the necessary memory addresses to store the music, making the music option
unavailable. The WHDLoad installer fixes this.

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