Saturday, February 17, 2007

Galcon Review

Galcon, developed and published by Imitation Pickles.
The Good: Uncomplicated rules and controls, lightning fast pace and very quick games, multiple viable strategies, random maps keep games interesting, easy to make and join multiplayer games
The Not So Good: Fast pace requires quick thinking and swift reflexes, novelty may wear off after a while
What say you? A streamlined approach results in one of the most addictive, and definitely fastest, multiplayer strategy games: 7/8

As you can probably tell if you read this site (and who does?), strategy games are my favorite. From Europa Universalis III to Galactic Civilizations II to DEFCON, I love to order troops around and blow stuff up. But a lot of these games take a long time to finish: how are the attention-deficit supposed to fulfill their strategy fix? Galcon has answered the call by featuring complete games that take no more than two or three minutes to finish. Seriously. But does fast mean good?

So Galcon features completely 2-D graphics. So Galcon ships are triangles. So Galcon only has a handful of sound effects. So what? The game will obviously not win any awards for its presentation, but there is some sort of odd attraction that Galcon puts on you. It’s similar to the minimalist approach seen in DEFCON, where simplicity wins over flash. Galcon looks and sounds like a game that was developed by one person over a long weekend, but that’s OK. Honestly, I’m just as impressed at watching hundreds of little triangles on the map than hundreds of troops moving at five frames per second in Medieval II: Total War. Flashy graphics may work on some people, but not on me, especially if the game doesn’t need flash graphics in order to play correctly. Plus, some of the effects are funny: I think the explosion sound effect was made by someone imitating an explosion sound effect. You won’t find that kind of rawness in big budget games! I don’t mind the minimal graphics and sound of Galcon, as the gameplay more than makes up for those shortcomings.

In Galcon, your objective is to take over the universe by sending enough ships to outnumber your opponent’s ships docked at their planets. There is a tutorial, although the game doesn’t really need one. You select a planet, choose the percentage of ships to send with the mouse wheel, right click to choose a destination, and watch the assimilation begin! You can also box a number of planets and send ships from all of them at once, or select specific planets with the control key. And that’s it. Each planet produces a certain number of ships per minute depending on its size, so the beginning of the game is spent sending out ships to eliminate the native population in nearby (or large) planets. Galcon is like a 4X strategy game, but with only time for two of the Xs. The game proceeds in real time and each game is very quick, especially by strategy standards. You need to make really quick decisions, and the user interface is simple enough to make this possible. Some might say it’s twitchy like a first person shooter, but the game is deeper than that. You need to choose which planets to colonize first, and how to strike a good balance between offense and defense. You need to send more ships than your opponent, but you can’t leave your own worlds undefended. It’s an interesting dynamic that allows for multiple winning strategies, and you need to adapt your gameplay to the style of your opponents. I’ve encountered conservative players and overly-aggressive rushers, and both of these approaches (along with many others) can work against vulnerable opposition. The game features single-player action against the AI, who is a much better opponent than I would have thought. Each scenario utilizes a different AI strategy, so you can learn the type of action you will encounter when you start to take on human opponents. Galcon was made for multiplayer, and joining a game is extremely easy using the game’s matching software (no stinky, buggy Gamespy, thankfully). Since the games are so fast, you can get four or five in a ten-minute period. Teams can be set, which allows for some crazy, fast paced gameplay. Galcon also features Internet rankings to see just how bad you are. I’ve honestly felt exhausted after an extended session, as the game is fast, fast, fast. All of those warnings in game manuals about taking a break every 15 minutes were true after all!

Galcon is the epitome of straightforward, speedy strategy gaming. It may lack the depth and staying power of more complicated games, but Galcon works better in small doses anyway. Despite its simplicity, Galcon still features a good number of viable strategies, which is more than what can be said for a lot of games with set build orders and linear paths to victory. Although the graphics and sound are frugal to say the least, you probably won’t even notice as you send 300 triangles after the last enemy planet. The game mechanics are simple and well designed, as I have yet to encounter a stalemate game (a common problem of strategy games). Plus, Galcon works on Linux and Macintosh in addition to Windows. Galcon is fits the two-minute-long-strategy-game title we’ve been clamoring for with its frantic but fulfilling gameplay.