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Utopia logo

Gremlin enter the god game arena. Is it just a version of Sim City in space or the beginning of a brave new world?

T Utopia he quality of life is as hard to quantify as it is to achieve. With thousands of years of historical luggage in tow it is nigh on impossible to reach Utopian standards on Earth. But when man moves into space and finds new worlds to colonise, lands with no established social or political problems, there is a chance to pushing up the quality of life to heights that are currently only dreamed of.

Building a Utopian space city is the aim. Starting with a deserted world, can you manage to construct a city that is safe, profitable and a pleasure to live in? Your success will be measured by the city’s Quality Of Life (QOL). This abstract concept has been defined and hidden deep in the game. The closer you come to the ideal balance of industrial and social facilities, economic stability and a strong military, the higher the QOL rating gets. It sits at the top of the screen reminding you of how poorly things are going throughout the game.

Quality Of Life is not about moral, but reflects the long-term happiness of the people you command, not their current gripes. Bitter tasting medicine can be prescribed in the short-term without affecting the QOL, but how short that term should be is up to you: the base commander. The ultimate aim is to push the QOL beyond 90 percent, to literally Utopian heights. Medals for outstanding services to mankind are given at 80 percent, but as you start the game at 50 percent, pushing it up that extra 40 percent takes long-term planning and a little bit of luck.

Bright lights
You begin each scenario with the bare essentials for a colony. There are a few living quarters, a life-support system, control centre, hydroponic farm, early-warning radar and warehouses. In the bank sit a huge pile of Grems (cash) and on the drawing board sit a range of building designs. Using these you must build, defend and improve the city. Labs must be funded, so that research can push up the tech level, folks must be found for productive labour and weapons need to be developed for its defence.

The first task of any colony is to build. Everyday utilities have to be constructed – factories, houses and power stations – as do superfluous structures – sports stadiums, emergency control centres, defences. How many and where is largely determined by the available cash and manpower. Even in Utopia everything still costs either time or money. Buildings do not just appear, they have to be paid for in advance and take up to three game months to build.

The building program is driven by two opposing motive forces, to satisfy the current demands of your people and to prepare for the future problems. Big ideas and experiments are continually held back by a mundane demand for more housing space, or more stores. The gaming test is whether you satisfy these short-term needs or pursue long-term goals. It is impossible to follow either course exclusively and win, but it is the balance you strike that determines your fate.

Industrial strength
Utopia There is more to life than construction work though. As colony administrator you must make the calls on the financial, industrial and military matters too. What the colony makes it can either use or trade on the open market with other colonies. Industrially speaking if all your citizens are out building there will inevitably be a manpower shortage and if there is no one in the factories, then no goods can be produced. Full employment also benefits the QOL, but only if it is in skill-based industry and not hawking bricks about.

Military goals are important in the short term, yet they do little to influence the QOL rating directly. The aliens will attack some time in the future and you must be ready, but the military angle eats cash and manpower. Victories against the aliens boost moral but do little for the QOL, while defeat can lead to catastrophe and the destruction of the colony.

These colony worlds are mouse controlled with the occasional instance of number typing into financial tables. Whenever the cursor runs over the isometric 3D landscape, a large yellow square shows its position. To initiate an action you simple select an icon from the right-hand panel and identify the square on the map you want affected. For example if you have previously specified a building through a submenu then scaffolding appears, if you have not selected anything then you will get information.

The relationship between the icon panel and the game’s screen is tight, with the city only slipping from view when the map or advisor screens are selected. At all other times the game carries on running, and you must pay continual attention if the visual clues of impending disaster are to be seen.

Spies like us
The major problem facing any Utopian colony commander is the alien threat. On the early low-level colonies you are given a breathing space before the slime suckers swoop in. This time can be used to develop a defence system or send out spies to gather information. Each alien race attacks in its own style and if you are to know which weapons to ready, then espionage is essential. There is always the option to launch a pre-emptive strike but this requires building of arm labs, tank factories, ship yards and considerable time.

Utopia The alien cities are never seen though, and this is a major gripe. You can send out the best spies money can buy or hordes of tanks and ships to attack, but you never see it! Spy reports show static pictures, while you are simply informed of any losses incurred on the battlefield. The resulting effect is that the cities do not feel like they are real and the pressure they should impose is largely frittered away because they just are not a physically obvious threat. If you could manage to scroll over to their neck of the woods and watch them then the arms race metaphor would be visually underlined.

In play, Utopia is a curious game, insidiously addictive but not gripping. The first burst is an enjoyable flurry of building and planning. Then the aliens come, first contacted via spies, followed by combat. The resultant war of attrition takes time, but once you are on the road to victory the focus can be shifted back to the QOL rating. After beating back the green guys you have an infinite amount of time to tweak the colony structure, pushing the QOL percentage even higher.

No win situation
The display and controls blend well together making it a game you want to toy around with, building here, sending tanks there. Yet the laudable aim of a high QOL is not given enough bite. The open-ended nature of the game blurs the focus because you never actually win; sure you beat the aliens but there is no final sense of victory.

Graphically it functions well, providing a clear shorthand guide as to which buildings are where, and which are active. The isometric perspective becomes cluttered in bigger cities, making small objects hard to access accurately behind taller buildings. As the display cannot be turned to get a better view it is frustrating when you accidentally trash your command centre. The information screens, used for trading, industry and adviser’s reports convey the stats but are reminiscent of spreadsheets. These look untidy and rely on keyboard input to change figures. While far from a catastrophic flaw, it feels odd in a mouse-driven game.

Utopia is a fascinating concept that has been well implemented, providing a stern test of planning and crisis management. It is let down a little with the untidy-looking information screens and occasionally confusing perspective, but these cannot disguise the game’s depth and complexity. The overriding aim (Quality Of Life) is continually subverted by threats and crises, so managing anything above 80 percent is quite an achievement. Its open-ended nature encourages continual play but detracts from the pace once you have beaten the aliens.

Utopia stresses balance, and equilibrium does not easily translate into victory. To achieve a high-powered life style you will need an intuitive understanding of the QOL equation. This can be won by experimentation and evaluation of the game’s responses. This won’t appeal to all players but to the truly curious it will prove enthralling.
Trenton Webb

Amiga Format, Issue 28, November 1991, p.p.52-54

"A fascinating concept, well implemented, providing a test of crisis management"

Utopia icon explanation
01. From here you select the next building you want for the colony. Each will take between one to three months depending on its size and the available manpower.

02. Everybody makes mistakes, even big-gun space-city controllers (you). So to remove unwanted structures click on this icon and then on the offending building. It will then disappear.

03. Your financial decisions, trading surpluses and official grants, must be taken here. Most of the functions can be set to and left on automatic, freeing you from the bookkeeping.

04. Keeping a tab on what is being built and how many people they are building is essential. From here you manage all the recruitment and manpower allotments.

05. Pause on/off.

06. This is your overall tactical view of the game. It can be altered to show how you stand in terms of fuel, weapons, radar coverage or ore. All action is frozen while you are looking at the map screen.

07. All vehicular movement is controlled using ‘markers’. Once placed on the map, click on the vehicle and you will be asked which marker you want the craft to move to, the rest is automatic.

08. These guys keep you on the straight and narrow with helpful hints and cutting comments. They can be accessed at any time with a quick press of keys ‘F1 – F6’.

09. These guys may be spooks but they can supply vital early warning of incoming attacks and the nature of the enemies you will face. They cost the earth but can be real winners.

10. Disk options.

Gremlin * £29.99
  • Vast strategy/planning game with a neatly hidden secret.
  • Spreadsheet figure screens look untidy.
  • Open-ended nature means you never ‘win’.
  • An excellent example of a ‘crisis’ game.
  • The playing style manages to evolve in parallel with the game.
Verdict: 84%

Utopia logo

Man nehme „Sim City" und „Powermonger", so verrühre das Ganze mit „Second World" und würze mit frischen, bösen Aliens. So hat es jedenfalls Gremlin gemacht – das Ergebnis ist eine strategische Simulation vom Allerfeinsten!

Utopia Wie jedermann weiß, ist es ohnehin nicht ganz einfach, fremde Welten zu kolonisieren – aber wenn die kosmischen Siedler auch noch auf ordentliche Lebensqualität pochen, mutiert das utopische Bauherrenmodell rasch zur beinharten Nervenprobe! Denn unsere Weltall-Sims sind nur dann mit ihrem Los zufrieden, wenn ihr Städtchen genügend Fabriken aufweist (Sims wollen Arbeit), wenn ausreichend Nahrung und Sauerstoff produziert wird (Sims wollen essen und sogar atmen), wenn Wohnviertel und Krankenhäuser existieren (Sims wollen wohnen, Sims brauchen Pflege), wenn das Rohstoffproblem ebenso im Griff ist wie Forschung, Kriminalität und Außenhandel (Sims wollen und wollen und wollen...). Kurz und gut, die Sims bestehen auf einer Lebensqualität von satten 80 Prozent!

Da bei Amtsantritt des Spielers noch alles arg im Argen liegt und die interplanetarische Sanierung nicht so ganz billig kommt, werden sich auf dem langen Weg zu den angepeilten 80 Wohlstandsprozenten wohl auch Steuererhöhungen nicht vermeiden lassen (geschieht ihnen ganz recht, den unersättlichen Sims!). Und ist das Ziel endlich erreicht, wartet die „Beförderung" zum Chef des nächsten von insgesamt zehn Planeten in Wirtschaftsnot. Wer jedoch nur wirtschaftliche Aspekte im Kopf hat, wird kaum jemals soweit kommen – oder habt Ihr die Aliens aus der Anleitung schon vergessen? Wie nicht anders zu erwarten, verstehen die aggressiven Fremdlinge nur die Sprache der Gewalt: Für Radaranlagen, Panzer, Raketenbasen und Raumkreuzer muss die Kohle daher auch noch reichen! Um Überfällen vorzubeugen gilt es das Alienzentrum zunächst aus- und in weiterer Folge niederzumachen, wofür Spähtrupps gute Dienste leisten. Gesteuert werden solche Auseinandersetzungen (wie überhaupt das ganze Spiel) rein strategisch über vielfältige, auf diverse Screens verteilte Icons.

Die aufwendige 3D-Grafik reicht zwar nicht ganz an „Powermonger" heran, Übertrumpft aber beispielsweise die Archiktektur-Disks von „Sim City" bei weitem. Die futuristischen Gebäude sind echte Sehenswürdigkeiten, und Scrolling gibt's obendrein. Mit der Maus klickt man sich durch alle Bau- und Handelsaktivitäten, Screens und Datenblätter, aber bitte ohne Trödelei: Utopia will in Echtzeit aufgebaut sein. Und der Sound? Nun, ohne Speichererweiterung machen nur ein paar Effekte von sich hören, ab einem Megabyte gibt's ganz nette Musik dazu.

Da Gremlin hier das Kunststück gelungen ist, Komplexität mit Übersichtlichkeit und Bedienungskomfort zu verbinden, wollen wir Utopia ausnahmsweise sogar die recht hohe „Abkupfer-Quote" nachsehen. Aber nur, weil es halt gar so schön ist. (C. Borgmeier)

Amiga Joker, November 1991, p.?

Der Amiga Joker meint:
"Utopia macht Städtebauer-Utopien wahr!!"

Amiga Joker
Grafik: 73%
Sound: 59%
Handhabung: 82%
Spielidee: 56%
Dauerspaß: 82%
Preis/Leistung: 71%

Red. Urteil: 78%
Für Fortgeschrittene
Preis: ca 99,- DM
Hersteller: Gremlin
Genre Simulation

Spezialität: Zwei Disketten, Formatieroutine für Save-disks im Programm. Zusatz-szenarios sind bereits angekündigt. Spiel komplett in deutsch erhältlich.

Utopia...  ... The New Worlds logo

Gremlin Graphics * £14.99

Utopia - The New Worlds The first thing you should know about Utopia – The New Worlds is that you need a copy of the original Utopia to play it on. The New Worlds disk is basically just another bundle of scenarios to play with – the actual gameplay mechanics of Utopia haven't really changed at all.

There are 10 new scenarios and each has its own distinct graphic changes but the new graphics aren't all that amazing, and occasionally they're downright bland. We expected to see new buildings, but sadly, they're the same – only the ground-patterns and the objects which form the terrain are different.

On the game-plot front, things are a little better. There are 10 new alien races to meet, destroy, and moralise over later. New problems beset your weary colonists on each new mission, and things are generally tougher all over. Not bad, as add-on scenarios go, but it doesn't quite pack the same punch as the original.
Neil Jackson

Verdict: 74%

Amiga Format, Issue 39, October 1992, p.85

Neue Planeten - neue Probleme!

Utopia...   ... The New Worlds logo

Seit Gremlins „Utopia" wissen wir es ja: Auf den Außerirdischen Kolonien ist im Jahre 2090 die Welt alles andere als in Ordnung. Oder habt Ihr sie zwischenzeitlich etwa schon in Ordnung gebracht? Dann kommen die zehn neuen Szenarios doch gerade recht, oder?

Utopia - The New Worlds Wie gewohnt übernimmt der galaktische Städtebauer vor dem Monitor die Leitung einer Mini-Kolonie, um in Echtzeit deren wirtschaftliche wie militärische Probleme zu lösen. Zu diesem Zweck steht eine überwältigende Vielzahl von Möglichkeiten zur Verfügung, die sämtlich über ein bequemes Iconset am Screenrand zugänglich sind. Dabei ist die Errichtung neuer Gebäude nur eine von vielen Facetten: Von Wohnvierteln über Fabriken aller Art bis hin zu Sportstadien ist nichts unmöglich – jedenfalls, wenn die Siedlung über das nötige Kleingeld verfügt.

Um die erforderliche Kohle ranzuschaffen, dürft Ihr Handel mit Mutter Erde treiben oder auch die Steuern erhöhen. Letzteres wird freilich nicht gerade die Lebensqualität steigern; und mindestens 80 Prozent einer solchen sind doch jeweils Euer Ziel! Auch die benachbarten Aliens stellen mit ihren ständigen Angriffen eine ernst zunehmende Gefahr dar, der man wohl nur mit einem Spionagetrupp samt nachfolgender Militäraktion abhelfen kann. Dabei könnten sie doch froh sein, daß wir ihre Welt zivilisieren...

Tja, und was ist denn nun neu an den neuen Welten? Nun, beispielsweise sind andere Planeten-Outfits im Angebot, die wie bisher im scrollenden Iso-3D gezeigt werden, auch die Außerirdischen sind außerirdischer denn je. Zudem harren ein paar Extra-Probleme der Lösung: so dürft Ihr Euch etwa mit einer Kolonie ohne Bodenschätze oder mit heruntergeschraubter Produktivität der eigenen Einrichtungen herumschlagen. Alsdann, bereit für einen interstellaren Nachschlag für Fortgeschrittene? Mit 49,- Credits seid Ihr dabei. (jn)

Amiga Joker, May 1992, p.?