Mention Populous to most folk and they'll instantly be able to tell you more about it than you actually know yourself - it's that sort of a game. Everyone's got a copy, everyone's played all four trillion levels and everyone's an 'expert'. Everyone, that is, except the thickies - those people who never quite manage to get their finger directly on the pulse of anything. This resumé is for them. (Oh, and also for you newish computer users).
FROM CREATION TO REVELATION
Populous, you stupid clot, happened about three years ago and was what you might call a computing 'event'... a totally original game, the like of which had never been seen before. IT actually created a new genre called the God Sim, and spawned a thousand imitations. (Utopia? Utopulous more like. Flag? Flagulous you mean. And there are plenty more).
The idea behind Populous was simple. You played a deity. A supreme being. You looked down over a landscape populated by loads of tiny plebians, and it was your job to make them worship you. All you needed to do to induce this grovelling behaviour was to create flat areas for your subjects to build houses on. Once the houses started springing up, the plebs could go inside, sing your praises, and then reproduce - bumping up both your 'powermeter' and their population.
Then, because of their increased numbers, you needed more flat areas for extra housing. And so on. It was a knock-on effect. But that wouldn't have been much of a game in itself, would it? So enter The Dark Forces in the form of an other God, either controlled by the computer or a friend (in two-player mode). This other God was up to exactly the same thing as you, flattening land, building up his adoring population and therefore his power. And that was the key to the game - the power (or Manna as it was known).
The more Manna you had at your disposal the more able you were to cause natural disasters. One after another after another. Floods, earthquakes, swamps and volcanoes. If your opponent's plebs were breeding like flies and you thought you might get attacked, then there was only one thing to do - hit one or more of his densely populated areas with a disaster. An earthquake for instance. Down would come the buildings while up would pop jagged bits of ground. Total carnage. He was jiggered basically, because his uprooted followers would be homeless until more flat ground was made for them to build homes on - and until they were given this flat ground, they wouldn't pray (losing their God valuable manna in the process and making a 'return attack' less likely).
After long protracted battles, one side would begin to flourish while the other diminished. A game would eventually be won by the God whose tribe had a population nearing that of China's, while the loser's tribe generally had the same population as Dixons in Croydon High Street. And that, in a very small nutshell, was Populous.
POPULOUS II - AS DESIGNED BY GOD ALMIGHTY
As Populous II seems to be the God Sim of the moment, we wondered just how realistic it really was. And there was only one way to find out. We popped to the local church and prayed a bit, eventually getting through to God. After a bit of apologising for our unclean thoughts, we asked how He personally would have improved over the original Populous... What would Populous II have been like if He, God, were in charge? When he'd finished telling us, we compared his design ideas to the actual game. Would they match?
ZERO: Oh Holy Father, er, hello. In the original Populous, nobody knew what you looked like. Did you mind?
GOD: (Clap of thunder). Yes! Most unfortunate that. It did annoy me actually. If I was designing the sequel I'd put in an option at the beginning where you'd design my face.
ZERO: Good idea. That's the opener, but what about the main in-game graphics your highness? What would you do with them?
GOD: Aha. Well, one thing that always struck me about the original game, good as it was, was that the sea didn't 'move'. I'd fix that for starters. I'd make waves. I'd probably even make it all tidal, with a sort of surge. I'd improve everything actually. I'd tart it all up like you wouldn't believe possible, with different types of buildings, rocks, trees - the works. And different types of people too - blokes, chicks, the lot. The way they walk, everything.
ZERO: That sounds excellent, Lord. But it'd still look similar to Popu......
GOD: It'd look similar, yes. The same no. It would be like comparing a Ford Cosworth to a Ford Anglia. I'm talking about different leagues here. Totally different leagues.
ZERO: Oh, sorry. What about the disasters?
GOD: The disasters?Now you're talking my kind of language. The disasters in the original Populous were fun while they lasted, but there weren't very many of them - and I wouldn't really have called them 'major league' either. I'd fix that for sure. And while I was at it I'd make certain that they were more 'graphic' too. Do you know what I mean? More 'graphic'?
ZERO: More exciting?
GOD: Yeah. More exciting. That original volcano for instance. Boooring! I'd keep it, but in this game I'd make it literally blow its stack, just like I did with Mount St Helens. Lava all over the shop - rivers of the stuff burning everything in its path. I'd make the lava turn into smouldering basalt once it reached water too - and I'd probably make it so you could build on it.
ZERO: Er. So you'd keep the volcano.
GOD: Yeah. And everything else I suppose - although it'd all be improved - like the earthquakes would wrench the ground apart and form crevices for the plebs to fall into. Actually, on second thoughts I would keep all the original disasters. I'd just make them much much better.
ZERO: But you were saying you'd add disasters...
GOD: Yes. What I'd do would be this. I'd give the player the chance to control six elements. There'd be People, Earth, Air, Vegetation, Water and Fire. I'd make it so that if you clicked on, say, the Fire icon you'd be given several sub-icons. These would be your disaster icons and they'd pertain to the main element. Fire in this case. But you'd need plenty of experience and plenty of Manna before you could use them all.
ZERO: You're being a bit cagey though, what sort of disast...
GOD:(Flash of lightning). Being cagey? You dare to accuse me of being cagey?
ZERO:We beg forgiveness your worship. We just want to know what sort of disasters you could do with the power of fire. We are just squashy grapes in your supreme presence. Squashy grapes who humbly asks forgiveness for being worthless and stupid and ugly.
GOD: That's more like it. Right. How do columns of fire sound? Vertical jets of the stff? They'd spread through populated areas like a hot knife through butter. And how about firestorms - burning rain falling from the sky? You know about the volcanoes of course, and there'd be more besides.
ZERO: What about the other elemens? Would they be as devastating as fire?
GOD: Is Jeremy Beadle a slimebucket? Of course they'd be as devastating as fire. With air comes the hurricane and the whirlwind - not to mention the electrical storm.
ZERO: The electrical storm?
GOD: I said not to mention the electrical storm. Boom boom! The old ones are still the best!
ZERO: Er, yes... What about the element of water then, Lord? That doesn't sound very dangerous.
GOD: You'd be amazed what you can do with water. Tidal waves. Solid walls of unstoppable devastation. Bung in a few whirlpools as well and you're laughing.
ZERO: What other disasters would you include?
GOD: Plagues - plagues which actually spread from person to person if left unchecked. And fungus - moving fungal growths which follow strange biological laws. And how about strange pools, which switch the allegiance of any pleb falling into them.
ZERO: Sounds good. Very good. Any more?
GOD: Several more, yes, but I'm not going to tell you everything you want to know. Gods don't operate like that.
ZERO: What about pleasant things then Lord? Would there be any of those in your sequel?
GOD: I suppose you could plant trees and gardens for your plebs. If you wanted to, that is. They'd like it, and they'd worship you all the more for your troubles. You could make them little roads as well - they'd be able to get around better that way. I suppose I could include some city walls too. Indestructible city walls. Once they're up they don't come down again.
ZERO: Smart. What about the knights? Would you be able to improve on that part of the first game?
GOD: (Rumble of thunder). You dare to ask? The original game offered a paltry one knight. My game would offer six - one for each of the elements. Each with his or her own special powers. They would make the original knight look like Ronnie Corbett.
ZERO: Any more ideas, Lord?
GOD: How about this one, which has just occurred... If you were to win a battle I would award you points on your performance. You could allocate these points to the six elements within the game. Build up your fire skills, or your water skills, or your earth skills. Whatever. Build slowly on all six or quickly on a chosen favourite. The choice would be yours: Jack of all trades or master of one.
ZERO: Brilliant. Is there more?
GOD: Yes, there is more. But begone, fleas. You tire me with your nothingness. Begone or I shall smite you.
THE ZERO COMPARISON VERDICT
Blimey, they match perfectly. Populous II is exactly what God would have wanted.
Dunc: What a seriously skill game Populous II is. I could end the review there if I wanted to, but I'll continue anyway. Where was I? Oh yes - what a seriously skill game Populous II is. The original game was brilliant three years ago and this game is equally brilliant now. Some games date and some games don't. This one hasn't.
I was poised and ready to slag Populous II off for being too close to the original - but the trouble is that it isn't. It's not just more of the same. All your original playing skills can still be used, but they won't get you very far alone - before you make it to the twentieth landscape you'll be thinking, "Oh dear, what can I do to him now that he's done that to me?" There are all sorts of new tricks to learn. Ah. It's a joy. It's like meeting a much-liked old chum again. (You pseudy bast. Ed.)
You've seen a bit of Populous II for yourselves of course, seeing as there's a demo on the coverdisk - but just in case you didn't read the instructions properly, I'd better explain again that the full game is different to the demo. (A) There's no time limit, (B) there are about 200 trillion zillion levels, and (C) there are loads more disasters available - the demo only gives you one icon per element, where there are actually five. Got that? Good.
Hmmm. This is the paragraph that normally tells you whether the graphics and stuff are up to scratch. But you've seen them on the demo, so what's the point. Instead I'll say this - "Hey, the graphics and stuff are pretty good, aren't they." We've got a mutual point of reference you see. So how do I sum up when you know what you're going to expect anyway? I know I won't bother - I'll just repeat what I've said twice already: "What a seriously skill game Populous II is."