Electronic Arts, Amiga £24.99
After releasing probably the biggest selling strategy game ever, namely the attractive if simplistic Populous, EA have now produced a more conventional wargame. It puts you in command of the human race just as it begins expanding out of the solar system, encountering four other alien civilisations aiming for interstellar domination. The battle is on military, economic and diplomatic terms with you as absolute dictator. But there are elections every fifty years and the penalty for losing is death!
Your first priority is to colonise neutral planets, using them to produce starship fleets for the coming battles. You can also use combat troops to invade enemy planets, but as your empire grows you must watch out for any revolts. Should they spread to Earth you'll lose your head, literally! This would be especially unfortunate since as long as you keep yourself intact, the drug Nostrum can prolong your life - à la Spice in 'Dune' - for as much as a thousand years. In fact, once the initial planet-gaining period is over the fight to gain and keep Nostrum becomes critical. The battle with the alien forces is a secondary concern to that of living through to the next election.
Driven entirely by a smart, smooth flowing icon system, Imperium is an authentic looking piece. The mixing of the classic Imperial look with future world conflict - and a suitably modern control system - creates a very believable game. Building space ships is nicely done with user-definable armour, engines, weight, and weapon levels allowing for a good variety of ship classes. It's a pity space combat isn't as good, being rather limited in flexibility.
Generally though, there's a wealth of detail. With the colonisation of planets comes disasters, unrest amongst the populous and increasing demands to cure overpopulation problems. Messages accompany each event and the influx of non-essential information can weigh you down - fortunately, a series of flag markers allows you filter out messages of minor relevance.
Despite a rather shallow level of strategy when it comes to fleet combat and planet conquest, Imperium retains a strong challenge in firstly surviving beyond the first 100 years (finding Nostrum is the first essential task) and then taking on the enemy empires. Unfortunately as your empire grows and fleets multiply, the game gets a little repetitive simply because the orders system is rather long-winded. Sending a fleet to explore a new planet can take up to half a dozen window accesses in order to enter the command. Imperium is certainly very slickly presented, but this masks the rather limited scope and flexibility of the wargame. The first fifty years can see you colonise planets, fight with fleets and then you've exhausted just about all the game has to offer. After this it's just a question of coping with the increasing number of planets in your empire and repeating the moves until victory (at least four alien empires with definable wealth, technology and size makes for a pretty long term challenge).
Nicely presented but nothing too demanding. All in all, a good game to introduce people to the world of strategy.
Zzap! Issue 65, September 1990, pp.24,26