Those dandy highwaymen of pop are back!

Sim Ant logo

Ocean * £34.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out now

Here's a question for you. Which species on this planet is stupid enough to wage war on its own kind, use chemical weapons, live in a fascist social hierarchy, use children as labourers and capture enemies to use as slaves?
Well, OK, it's a trick question. There's actually two species who do all of those things. One of them's us. The others are ants. What a lot of silly billies, eh? Mind you, even the ants don't have Simon Bates. Only we could be that stupid.
So, ants aren't quite the harmless little chappies you thought they were. And this game could show you exactly why. In it you'll take the role of a whole nestful of ants, and you'll have to waddle about being generally ant-like.

If you play a quick game then the objective is just to build up a nice big nest and kick seven bells out of the poncey red ants. In a full game you've got to take over a back garden, move into the house, drive the people out and take over the entire world. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Or, if you fancy a bit of Open University-style studying, then you can play an experimental game that lets you build a nest to your specifications and then watch it evolve.

Sounds a bit deep, doesn't it? Well, it is written by the same rock 'n' roll rebels who gave us Sim City and Sim Earth. Options and choices all over the place basically.
Whichever game type you're playing, the basic controls are the same. You're initially controlling one ant, who appears in yellow rather than the drab Goth black outfits of his pals.
You use this ant to carry out more direct actions, such as exploring and digging tunnels. But by using the menus, you can set all the ants not under your direct control to do other stuff like fetching food or looking after eggs.
If you click on your yellow friend, you get a sub-menu that allows you to recruit other ants who will then follow you around - handy for attacking red ants' nests - or switch direct control to another ant.

Your priorities are to keep your nest stocked with food, with plenty of room for all the other ants, and to keep the Queen ant alive, 'cos without her there won't be any more baby ants.
You can also leave pheromone scent trails for other ants to follow, so you can lead them home, lead them to food or tell them which bits of your territory to guard.
However, ants being what they are, things don't go easy. Despite your best efforts, attacks from predators are bound to occur. Great big spiders scuttle about and eat all the poor little ants.
Horrible lion ants hide in fake nest entrances and eat all the poor little ants. Plus, you get stupid people lawnmowering you to death, or spraying you with chemical insecticide. What a cheery life, eh?

Given a bit of luck and a lot of planning, you should eventually be able to get all your soldier ants to follow you into a do-or-die attack on the red ants' nest across the patio.

Charge into the enemy nest, find the red Queen and kill her and you've beaten the gits. If you're playing a quick game then that's it - if you're playing the full game, then you move on to a new patch of garden. And you keep doing this until you've achieved total suburban ant bliss.
Well, that's the bare bones of the game. But just how exciting can a game about ants be? Unfortunately, the answer is 'not very'. It's an incredibly brave and original idea, but I found it very hard to actually get involved in it.
It's great fun to wander about the game for an hour or so, discovering all the little quirks of ant life (hey! It's educational, kids!) but as an actual game it gets fairly repetitive. Dig nest, get food, reproduce, raise army, attack red ants. And so on.

The graphics are great, with all the different types of ant looking suitably, erm, different and the predators look really nasty, especially the gargantuan spider.
Even the sound is good, despite the fact that ants aren't known for their musical tastes. So you get bouncy tunes, including a fanfare if you take on the role of Queen, with some functional FX.

There's also a brilliant 'silly' mode, where all the ants, eggs, and predators keep talking in speech bubbles. So the spider walks around telling everyone how cool he is, while the eggs wonder why it's so dark. And in battles, all the ants call each other names. It's totally pointless, and of course, totally excellent.

This "silly" approach is mirrored in the stonking manual, which covers not only how to play the game, but also gives you a fairly detailed run down on ants in general, illustrated by cartoons and text book diagrams with silly speech bubbles.
This makes the 176-page tome a lot easier to consume, and gives the game a more approachable feel. And if after reading the manual you still feel stuck, then there's a step-by-step interactive tutorial to have a play with on-disk.

It's just a pity that the actual game is so uninspiring. Hardcore insect fans, or slightly eccentric strategy fans, will probably take it to their hearts, but I couldn't help feeling slightly disappointed.
At £35, rather than being bowled over by the ins and outs of insect life, I found that ants eat, have babies, have fights and then die. Just like us. Maybe that's the whole problem. A nice idea, but it just doesn't quite make it.


Sim Ant logo

First there was Sim City. Then came Sim Earth. Next you'd expect Sim Universe (or at least Sim Galaxy). But no. It's Sim Ant. Instead of running a planet or even a megalopolis, you get to handle a bunch of insects in someone's backyard.
But before you wander off, bored, have you ever considered the complex world ants live in? They've got a well-structured society with workers, soldiers, nurses, efficient communication systems and Atari STs (they are only ants after all). And you can control it all.

It came from the dessert
The game is in the Sim Earth style. Plenty of graphs, windows, sliders and other devices give you the info you need at the click of a button. 'Earthies' (as they should be known) will instantly be at home.

There are two ways to play: a quick game, in which you have to wipe out a rival nest in the same part of the lawn, and a full game. This is more strategic, and involves your black ants waging a long-term Vietnam-type assault against the red ants. The action takes place in dozens of locations on the lawn, and, if you're doing well, will spread to the house. Here you've got to force the occupant and his dog to move out rather than face your well-orchestrated plague.

You control a yellow ant. This chap has the ability to muster armies, carry out raids and even tell all the others what they should be doing. Through him you can wipe out the evil reddies that keep nicking your grub-supplies.

You can move around above or below surface, and you can lay trails of scent which lead to food supplies, or warn of danger. If your yellow ant dies on his travels, it's no hardship. You should have hundreds of the blighters.

Slow, slow click click slow
All this is novel, good fun and educational in its detail. But the problems arise with its speed. Controlling the ants' movements slows the Amiga down terribly. Windows open and close arthritically and the action stops while the computer cogitates endlessly. This lack of speed ruins Sim Ant. If you click too quickly you can even crash the program.

Once the ant novelty wears off, you aren't left with a deep game, and it's possible to explore it pretty thoroughly in a couple of sittings (even with its slow update). Really for those who like weird sims, and love ants.


THE ECONOMICS OF NEST MANAGEMENT

Caste and behaviour (sic) are the two ways in which you can aid your nest. Three-way swingometers allow you to set the percentages of various aspects of your nest of ants.

Behaviour (sic again) lets you choose how many of the guys you wish to send foraging, nursing and nest-digging. Get it wrong and they'll have a lovely nest, but they'll starve (or vice versa).

Caste influences the type of ants born. Soldiers are your main strength, but if you don't have breeders and workers, you're likely to dwindle in numbers (and there could be ant riots of almost American-style proportions).


Sim Ant logo Amiga Joker Hit

Städteplaner haben den Einzug ins Sim-Paradies von Maxis ja längst hinter sich, jetzt sollten eigentlich die Planetenbastler an der Reihe sein. Weil aber die Amigaversion von "Sim Earth" noch in der orbitalen Warteschleife festhängt, kommen zunächst mal die Ameisenforscher zu Potte.

Als solcher darf man im Hinterhof eines Vorstadt Häuschens einem Stamm schwarzer Ameisen zur Vormachtstellung verhelfen. Sollte es gelingen, sowohl die lästigen Menschen zu vertreiben als auch die konkurrierenden roten Krabbelviecher auszumerzen, ist man am Ziel allen Strebens. Und im Gegensatz zur unlängst veröffentlichten PC-Ameisenfarm ist das hier keine leichte Aufgabe!

Das Schicksal nimmt seinen Lauf in Gestalt einer schwangeren Ameisenkönigin, die in der abgelegensten Parzelle unseres Gärtchens ihr Nest in den Boden gräbt. Der erste ihrer Nachkömmlinge, zur besseren Unterscheidung gelb statt schwarz, ist nun der einzige Gliederfüßler, der direkt gesteuert werden kann - das restliche Wuselvolk läßt sich nur über allgemeine Schwerpunkte dirigieren, z.B. mehr Nestbau, mehr Soldaten usw. Jetzt geht's an die Arbeit: Um etwa Futter aufzutun, rekrutiert man einen "Geleitschutz" für den Gelben und macht sich auf den Weg zur nächsten Chappi-quelle. Dort angekommen schlagen die Jungs (von selbst) schwerbeladen den Rückweg ein und legen gleich noch eine Duftspur, damit der Rest des Stammes weiß, wo's langsgeht. Auf ähnliche Art und Weise wollen auch die Roten gemetzelt werden; sonstige Feinde wie Spinnen, Menschenfüße oder Rasenmäher sind ebenfalls nicht ohne.

Falls Euer Anführer bei so einer Begegnung der kämpferischen Art mal ins Gras beißen sollte, braucht Ihr nur seine postwendende Wiedergeburt abzuwarten - "Leben" hat man also unendliche viele. Das ist auch gut so, denn letztendlich soll ja der gesamte Garten Eden schwarz besiedelt werden, und das sind summa summarum 192 Einzelparzellen!

Das Insekten-Drama spielt sich auf vielen verschiedenen Screens (Nest in Seitenansicht, Oberfläche en Gros und en Detail sowie einige Überblicks-Darstellungen des gesamten Hinterhofes) ab; per Maus, Menüs und Icons ist es auch recht fix und bequem zu handhaben - soweit Ihr über zwei bis drei MB RAM und/oder einen A500 Plus verfügt. Gewöhnliche Amigianer könnten beim häufigen Nachladen allerdings Schimmel ansetzen. Wertung und Hit gelten dementsprechend nur für die optimale Konfiguration. Denn auch in puncto Sound und Optik macht der Speicher Klassenunterschiede, mit einem lumpigen Megabyte gibt's nur ein paar krause FX zu hören, während Memory-Monster zusätzlich ganz nette Soundtracks abspulen. Ferner dürfen sie auch im augen-feindlichen Hires-Mode regieren, doch ist die gröbere Normalauflösung so oder so erste Wahl.

Insgesamt ist Sim Ant eine sehr gelungene PC-Konversion die in puncto Langzeitmotivation ihre Vorlage sogar übertrifft - zumindest die technisch gut Gerüsteten unter Euch werden uns da sicher zustimmen! (jn)


Sim Ant logo

Well, it's no Sim City. Maxis continue to struggle in the shade of (arguably) one of the ten most original games of all time.

Dear oh dear. You have to worry about Maxis. With each new release it becomes harder and harder to avoid the fact that they're shaping up to be the archetypal one-hit wonder.
Consider: Sim City was one of the true originals, an immensely playable undoubtedly original product of the type that only comes along every few years - a game that seems so obviously right that you're amazed nobody'd done anything like it before. Even now it's still riding high in the AMIGA POWER All-time Top 100 - dodgy programming notwithstanding - goodness knows how many years later, and that's purely on the strength of the basic concept. With it, Maxis had well and truly arrived.

After it came Sim Earth, an even more ambitious project - imagine, control the entire history of the planet in one game! - which sounded brilliant, looked great, and proved (even on the fast PCs it was meant for) to be a real pig to play. The game was just too large, with too much going on, for anybody to get a reasonable grasp on - and a lot of people persevered, none of whom (to our knowledge) ultimately found it a rewarding experience.
Perhaps needless to say, it's caused untold problems in conversion to the Amiga, and when (or, indeed, if) we'll see it at all is a moot point.

And now we've got Sim Ant. Hmm. We'd hoped for quite a bit from this. 'It's much more playable', people seemed to be saying, 'there's much more of a game in there'. Well, perhaps. What they hadn't mentioned was how sloppy put together it all is. Not only are the icons used some of the most indistinct, crappiest little things we've seen in ages (intuitive? Get outta here!), making play very hard to get into, but there's a terrible two second (sometimes longer) delay between you clicking anywhere on screen and something actually happening.

Time and again we clicked twice on an icon (or clicked a second time elsewhere), thinking our first attempt hadn't registered somehow, when all of a sudden the display would go mad, the program finally getting around to responding to our first command. Very annoying. Worst still, our boxed, finished copy seemed to lock up more than once. Faith in the game was almost immediately undermined.

The other thing nobody told us was how unfocused it all is. Oh, sure, they've put a 'quick' mode in, which turns the game into a fairly simple ant-based strategy thing, but still the oodles of options, potted snippets of ant history and myriad different viewpoints available give the impression of lots of parts rather than a cohesive whole.


A confused and frustrating experience

If Sim Ant meant to be a sort of modern executive toy - to be called up for a few idle minutes on your work PC, mucked about with for a bit, and then forgotten - it might be reasonably entertaining. There are, after all, lots of different bits to look at. (Indeed, in the manual Maxis themselves call Sim Ant not a game, but a 'software toy. Toys, by definition, are much more flexible and open ended than games').

For your average Amiga owner, however, used to sitting down and burying himself in a big game like this for many hours at a time, with a fixed purpose in mind, it offers a confused and frustrating experience.
There is another problem too. Unlike Sim City, where there really wasn't an end to the game - it could go on forever - this does have finite borders, effectively limiting the thing's lastability. I've not managed this yet - truth be told, I just can't bring myself to persevere for that long - but people I know have apparently completed Full Game mode (the central section of the game, where you're asked to take over an entire house and back yard, killing off rival ant colonies and driving the human residents out) on the PC in about four hours.
This doesn't seem to offer the endless gameplay possibilities you might have hoped for. Basically, if you get the impression that I didn't enjoy Sim Ant much, you're right.

Of course, it's perfectly possible I'm being completely unfair about all this. There are, indeed, people I know and whose judgement I generally trust who say either "yes, the game's OK, not brilliant, but OK" or, in some extreme cases, "yes, it's an absolute cracker". You may find you agree with them and not me.

After all:
a)   I don't find ants fascinating (as many people do), I find them intrinsically very boring and limited creatures. A game featuring them would have to go some to entertain me.
b)   I find 'software toys' - lacking, as they do, fixed set purposes and regular gameplay rewards - all too often dull and unsatisfying. My attention span isn't all that long - I need to be teased and manipulated by a game, not given room to move around doing what I want (what I want will invariably be to switch the game off and go and watch telly instead).
c)   I tend to get very frustrated by sloppy programming, particularly the sort that results in long loading breaks during gameplay or delays between telling a program to do something and it actually responding and doing it.

All of which - you could say - makes it unlikely I'd go a bundle on the game in the first place. So fine, ignore what I say, if you love ants, like not just the idea of software toys (I think they're in theory a fabulous idea) but the practice too, and can put up with frustrating delays/sloppy programming, you may just love Sim Ant.

You may even find you're hooked on it, as many people have become hooked on Sim City or Railroad Tycoon. But I'll promise you one thing - there aren't going to be all that many of you. There are just too many things wrong with Sim Ant - much of it in the execution, though the design's far from perfect either. As it is, it's an often mysterious, occasionally intriguing, constantly annoying and - ultimately - strangely unsatisfying way to spend your time.


WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR MAXIS?

As Sim Ant and the upcoming (on the Amiga) Sim Earth - would seem to indicate, Maxis have lost their way rather, and it doesn't look like they're out of the woods (or, in this case, soll) quite yet. Indeed, you could make a strong argument for the second best 'Sim' game of all (Sim City being a all-time great, of course) not being a Maxis product at all, but Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon published by MicroProse, which took one small section of Sim City, and zoomed in on it, rather than (as Maxis themselves seem determined to persevere at) trying to do simply far too much all at once. It wasn't too shoddily programmed either.

Happily though, things seems to be moving in the right direction again. A real 'Sim Train' is on the cards, and future products seem to be more along those sort of tightly-focussed lines, which sounds promising (God forbid a 'Sim Universe', which was where things were heading). We await with interest, as they say.

THREE WAYS TO PLAY:

When you first start the game you'll be presented with three playing modes to chose between. They are:

QUICK GAME
The most arcadey way to play it, if you can imagine that. You control a black ant colony, faced with natural hazards (getting crushed by human feet, getting eaten by spiders etc) while competing with a colony of red ants for control over a patch of back yard. Fairly simple strategy stuff with interesting ant bits thrown in.

FULL GAME
Pretty much the same thing on a (much) larger scale. You have to take over the entire backyard and house, section by section, while facing tougher adversaries (especially humans and their insecticides).

EXPERIMENTAL GAME
This is probably the bit you'll play around with most - it puts you, as a God-like human, in a position where you can muck about with the ants, building mazes for them, adding food, putting rival ants together or whatever.