Quality of life is one of those nebulus ideas that is very difficult to quantify, let alone try and maintain at a high level for any period of time. You try being a Prime Minister and see how you get on. Attaining a high quality of life is the main aim behind Gremlin's first foray into the world of God games.
The approach they have adopted pitches the game somewhere in the land between Sim City and Populous, fighting an opponent while you attempt to develop a viable city with all its attendant problems of taxation, population control, crime and who cleans up when the neighbour's dog craps in your garden.
You begin your life as commander of your first planet with little but a command centre, a few solar panels, a load of cash, a group of advisers and very little else. The Quality of Life begins at a meagre 40 per cent, and it is up to you to try and develop the city to a large bustling hubbub of parties and orgies, and organise an efficient workforce in between - sounds remarkably like being the editor of Gamer.
All sorts of things affect the QOL, anything from the view from the living quarters to taxation to how much food is available. Just hints are given in the manual, so only through playing and experimentation will you find out all the answers.
The first action you will probably wish to perform is a wee bit of construction. You have a choice of 24 different buildings, too many to list individually, which fall into loose categories. Resource-
The next general category includes manufacturing installations. These make use of the resources to produce crucial items like tanks or food, vital to the survival of the colony and if neglected, guaranteed to send the QOL figure plummeting.
The final category includes those installations that actually improve the QOL as opposed to maintaining it. Food stores, stadiums, life-support systems, hospitals and fixed defence units like laser turrets are included here, and must be placed and used judiciously to maximise their effect.
For example a large event at the stadium will improve morale, an important factor in the QOL equation, but because everyone is off watching the games then the work rate will drop. A hospital is not essential but it will allow you to directly control the birth rate, and it will allow the population to recover more quickly from the effects of a virus, for example.
For the installations to be onf any use, they must be manned by colonists up to the maximum allowed - usually around ten per installation. You are perfectly at liberty to use less than this number should you feel that maximum production is not essential at any particular time, but it is also crucial that production levels are monitored so that you can up levels at any time should they be required. Not only do the installations need manning, but construction will also occupy the colonists. It is entirely likely that a large number of fully-manned installations could mean that construction will not be possible, because all the available men are busy elsewhere.
Juggling manpower is one problem, but so is juggling your budget. Taxation levels must be set, but an eye must be kept on the long-term effects on the QOL - nobody likes heavy taxations, no matter what the reason.
Also, grants for civilian and military development must be closely monitored. A high grant to the military will provide fast development of new weapons, but it may not make the population too happy if they haven't yet got a sports stadium. Of course, too low a grant will mean that the military is under-
Control of your military is just as vital a part of the game as constructing a well ordered and shiny, happy city. Organising the static defence systems, such as laser turrets and missile launchers, is only one part. The other is the construction, control and deployment of the mobile forces.
Initially, the decision will lie in how much manpower you are willing to commit to the factories producing the equipment, and which type of vehicle you want to produce - the more advanced, the longer it takes and the more resources it will use.
Once you have built up your stock-pile of equipment, decisions have to be made as to where it will be placed and how it will be maneuvered. At your disposal you have eight markers which can be strategically placed anywhere on the map and used to guide the tanks and aircraft around the play area, by sending one or a group to any one of the markers. They can also be guided to attack an enemy city, although the location of this will not become known to you unless you sponsor spying activity, another demand on your stretched budget.
There is no way of individually controlling the tanks or aircraft. The only control you have is of general movement patterns, as all of the attack responses are automated. Defence may seem an unnecessary burden on a budget which cold be better devoted to improving the QOL, but it will never be very high if the colony is overrun by aliens.
To help you make these weighty decisions are a panel of advisers. The advisers give information about each of the different aspects of the colony - population, budget, number of manufacturing installations, morale etc - and will occasionally give recommendations. Simple things like "We need more food ya bugga!" will not appear, but more succinct hints will be apparent.
It all sounds very complex and it is, but this is the next generation of God-games and will appeal to those who have successfully met the challenge of Sim City and Populous and are looking for something more challenging to take them on to the next level of gameplay.
It skilfully combines both the constraints of building a city that can be happily lived in with the problems of trying to defeat a malevolent opponent, and all the time you have to try and keep everyone happy by not overspending and leaving everyone to starve.
There is no fixed objective to aim for, no time-span across which your efforts are measured. The only target is a Quality of Life which reaches above and beyond 90%.
But its complexity does not make it difficult to use. Simple point and click systems and an isometric large-
Don't make the mistake of comparing this game to Image Works' Mega Lo Mania, one of last issue's Gamer Golds - they are very different to one another. MLM is far less complex and geared to fun and humour, while providing a large amount of challenge and a fabulous game.
Utopia goes for the more involved and time-
The crisp and colourful graphics are easy on the eye and the sound is quite simply superb - a dramatic tune couple with stunning effects make it worth turning the sound up. Quite simply Gremlin have produced a very slick package which takes the notion of controlling and developing a city or planet one stage further than anything before.
Be warned however - it may be easy to use, but it is anything but easy to beat. If you can't invest the time needed, think carefully before purchasing. This isn't a criticism, merely something to be aware of. But whether you have the time or not, this is a game worthy of Thomas More's legacy.