Thomas More would have been proud...

Utopia logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

GREMLIN * £29.99 * 1/2 meg * Mouse * Out now

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-generating buildings, such as mines and chemical plants, must be built near appropriate resources to be effective, although power stations and similar electrical installations can be placed anywhere you like. In any case, planning is probably wise to maximise the efficiency of distribution of electricity to other buildings.
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-developed, making the colony vulnerable to a more advanced attack.

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-scale map mean that the game's system becomes almost second nature after a period of familiarisation.

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-consuming approach which has no definite answers. It doesn't have that many defiite questions to be honest. And it will provide hundreds of hours of brain-blowing to those willing to invest the time needed to be successful. They are both excellent games doing tow different thing.

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.


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?

The 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
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.


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

Highlights
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.

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.

Dystopia?
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.


PANEL BEATING, OR HOW TO CONTROL YOUR GROWING COLONY FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN DESK
Utopia: Icon explanation
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Pause on/off.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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'.
  9. 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.

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!

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)


Utopia logo

Take a large dollop of Sim City, add the 3D view of Populous, transport the whole thing to another planet, and surely the results must be out of this world?

Take four of the most popular Amiga games ever (Populous, Powermonger, Sim City and Mega lo Mania). Chuck 'em all together into a big cauldron and mix them up a bit, and a number of things will occur.

First, you'll come up with a strange effort where lots of sheep fly around in biplanes bombing enemy skyscrapers. Throw it away (or sell it to Jeff Minter, suit yourself). Next, you'll probably pull out a strategy wargame where city councillors cause earthquakes with tactical nuclear weapons.

Throw it away. After that, your next result is more than likely to be a kind of sports sim set in a large stadium, where teams of WWI generals race to be the first to pull heavy cannons up steep grassy hills (you may have seen something like this already in the Royal Tournament which pops up on TV every year just after some showjumping). Throw it away. In amongst the gooey mess that you'll now have left at the bottom of the cauldron, the chances are there'll be a game not a million miles away from Utopia...


It's Just Another God Sim, I'm afraid

A RAVING EGOMANIAC ON MARS
Utopia sets you up on a faraway planet, sometime in the fairly near future. It's an inhospitable place, with an unbreathable atmosphere, ground unsuitable for growing food plants in, and alien civilisations always lurking just off-screen, waiting to pounce on your new-found paradise just as soon as you get it looking half-decent. Not that any of this worries you, of course. As newly-appointed overall commander of the colony you have every aid imaginable at your disposal, from hydroponic plants which cultivate crops in an Earth-like atmosphere to ship construction yards which can build all sorts of spacecraft, from exploration vessels to huge warships to nuclear-powered fusion cruisers (there'll be more on them a bit later).

You also need to build and maintain power stations, life support systems and facilities to mine the planet for ores (for building spaceships, tanks etc) and fuels, and all the time keep up the colonists' quality of life by building homes and amenities for them, controlling birth rate, and so on. All this has to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible, too, because the aliens are coming and they're not going to listen when you go "Hang on a minute, I haven't built any tanks yet"...


Utopia is still appealing on a very basic egomaniac level

DOES IT GO ONE STEP BEYOND?
The whole thing is played out in a Populous-style 3D perspective (further Populous elements come from the various types of landscape you encounter), but as you've probably heard it plays like nothing so much as 'Sim City in space'. The modular design, the various types of building, the need to keep the population happy and the financial juggling are all reminiscent of Infogrames' classic of municipal planning, the only major difference being the fighting element.

Then again, this takes quite a while to manifest itself (more on that later too), so for the first few hours you'll hardly notice the difference. Okay, so far so froody. But what you need to know is, is this Just Another God Sim or does it rise up above the crowd and dazzle with ingenuity and brilliant design, enrapturing all those who play it and disrupting reviewers' deadlines for weeks on end?
It's Just Another God Sim, I'm afraid. Still, being no better than Sim City and Populous is hardly a heinous crime in the software world. Utopia isn't anything approaching a bad game and it has many things to recommend it, but at the end of the day I found myself just a little bit disappointed.

After hacking through the extensive manual for an age I finally felt up to tackling the game, but in play I found it all, of all things, a little simplistic. There's a fairly frantic period for the first couple of years when you try to build up some defences, then it's just a question of beating off alien attacks, clearing up the damage, and getting ready to do it all again.

This would be fine, except that the game doesn't initially seem to give you any chance to actually win. All you can do is slow the enemy down before their next attack, and this can really crush the game's addictive qualities. Still, devote the entire colony to tank-producing, and eventually you'll wipe out the rival city

The other big problem with Utopia is that it doesn't really offer any obstacles to successful development of the colony. You don't need the thoughtful planning of Sim City to keep your city functioning (i.e. efficient roads, railways etc), as the colony seems to operate perfectly well with all its buildings crammed together in big clumps. There's very little danger of running out of money, just bump up the birth rate and keep income tax at a reasonable level and the stuff'll pour in faster than you can spend it.

The only real bugbear is the occasional meteor collision which can wreck fairly big chunks of your colony, but a quick injection of cash into research soon comes up with a protective laser system which frees you from that problem. Now and again your workers will go on strike for 'better conditions' but there doesn't seem to be anything you can actually do about this (it isn't even mentioned in the manual) and after a few days they seem to cheer up and go back to work of their own volition.

This eclectic approach to labour relations, though, is just one of a number of slightly worrying buglets in Utopia. You might remember I mentioned fusion cruisers earlier on? After I increased their research budget substantially, my military engineers proudly announced that they'd come up with just such a craft, one which would never need refuelling. Deeply excited, I built a couple and made to send them off on a mission, only to be informed that 'That ship does not have fuel to follow your orders'. Although all my other spaceships were flying around happily the mighty fusion cruiser simply refused to budge, and a close study of the manual failed to reveal any special requirements it might have. Not that that stopped the scientists informing me for the next three hours of their wonderful discovery.

The most irritating bug I found, though, was a geographical one. Having funded my spying operation to a ridiculous level, I was informed of an alien city to the south-east of my colony. I built up huge defences in the south-east and sent off squadrons of tanks to attack the aliens, and they all duly trundled off in that direction. Minutes later, the aliens attacked in huge numbers - from the north-west.
Now maybe this was an example of their tactical acumen, but it seems plain unfair to me. There are other bugs, but these are the worst I encountered, and I don't want to go on about the negative aspects of the game too much.

Utopia is still appealing on a very basic (l)egomaniac level, the rewarding nature of building things providing a lot of immediate enjoyment. Despite the forbidding manual it's accessible too (much like Sim City was), but at the end of the day it seems to be dangerous lacking in actual game.
Building things up is all very well, but if they just keep getting knocked back down again time and again you may end up getting a little bored.


C.A.B. IT UP
I don't know what this collection of (ahem) 'friendly' faces is doing in a colony from Earth, but ugly or not, these advisers are always on hand to keep you up to date with sthe state of your affairs.
Utopia: Civil Engineer CIVIL ENGINEER - Kalrog Massimer tells you the numbers and types of every building in the colony. Sounds like a pretty tedious job to me, but then I suppose someone's got to do it. Utopia: Head of Research HEAD OF RESEARCH - Max Angrad is responsible for the scientific community. He'll tell you how many labs you're running and how well they're all staffed, as well as how much money they have to spend. Keep the cash coming if you want to see any real results from this area.
Utopia: Colony Administrator COLONY ADMINISTRATOR - Jav Xebris keeps track of the non-human resources (air, food, fuel, power, and ore), informing you of production, usage and storage levels. If the people are starving, this is they chap who'll tell you about it. Utopia: Financial Consultant FINANCIAL CONSULTANT - Robert Maien is the colony's accountant. He reports on the colony's monthly and yearly expenditure, and also its income from trading, taxation and support grants from Earth. You'll need his help to plan growth properly.
Utopia: Senior Psychiatrist SENIOR PSYCHIATRIST - Miss Belegere reports on the structure of the colony's population (Technicians, Medics, Scientists etc) and the statistics relating to them (birth rate, morale, population density and so on). She'll help you keep the colony happy. Utopia: Supreme Commander SUPREME COMMANDER - Well, that's you really, but Quarx is nominally in charge of all the armed forces. He'll tell you how many of each type of mobile or ground-based defence units you've got, and when you eventually encounter alien enemies, he'll keep tabs on how efficiently your forces are performing and what not.

Utopia logo CU Amiga Superstar

How can you create an original game these days? The answer, according to designers Graeme Ing and Robert Crack, is to take out the best bits of previously successful titles and incorporate them into a new experience. Using the urban simulation concept of SimCity, they've added a Populous isometric-3D view of the proceedings, injected elements of wargaming and trading, and set the whole thing in space. Utopia is the result... in almost every sense of the word.

As commander of a new space colony, you have complete control over the people and resources of a distant planet. Build a laboratory here, start a mine there, trade your goods with other worlds, arrange sports events, and so on. Don't get too confident, though. Do a bad job and you could get assassinated by the disgruntled colonists. That's if they haven't all been wiped out by a virus, food shortage or outright war!

There's always something that requires your attention in Utopia. The art of the game is balancing all the factors. It only takes one aspect to get out of control and things seriously start to go wrong. Thus, you must keep an eye on the 'Quality of Life' percentage rating which gives you an indication of how you're managing the colony.
Disasters can also occur, like viruses and collapsing mine-shafts, so warning messages and flashing icons keep you informed of the latest crisis.

Your colony begins with about one hundred colonists, ten buildings and an average amount of cash. The world of Utopia> is controlled through a selection of icons and 'spreadsheet' screens where you fiddle the financial and personnel figures. These may seem daunting at first, but they're extremely easy to master and manipulate via the mouse. Your colony is made-up of a variety of buildings, each one providing a specific service or product.

The Chemical Plant, for instance, extracts fuel from the ground while hydroponic pods grow food. Construction is simply a matter of selecting the appropriate building and site, then waiting for the colonists to strut their stuff on the scaffolding. Building is just a part of the whole picture, you'll also have to manage taxes, recruit technicians, prevent over-population and generally indulge in megalomania.

Unfortunately, not everybody is out to help your dreams of the perfect place to live. The inclusion of an aggrieved alien force is where Utopia fundamentally differs from SimCity and more recently Moonbase.

It's all very well and good building your very own Utopia with fancy sports halls and hospitals, but what happens when an enemy assault force suddenly pops up and kicks your ass? Further employment is pretty unlikely, unless you've properly prepared for this eventuality.

Firstly, you should place priority on tank construction yards because they're quicker and cheaper to make than spacecraft. You can also defend yourself by constructing laser turrets and missile launchers around the outskirts of the colony. Radar building forewarn of imminent attack and fully-fledged military dictators can even found a secret surveillance unit to spy on alien activities. Your defences will soon be put to the test when the enemy strikes with their unique weaponry and tactics. Will it be a short skirmish or a drawn-out war?

As you can probably tell, life as a colony commander gets complicated real fast. Helpful advice can be gained from a group of experts, including a civil engineer, financial consultant and psychiatrist. The latter reports on such things as population density, crime rate and morale of the colonists.

The real beauty of Utopia, and what really strikes you about the whole affair, is the open-ended nature of the gameplay. Players can take it where they want without being restricted to a set of preprogrammed goals. The only limit in this game is your imagination. There are no strict rules to follow and nobody actually 'wins'. You simply select a path to play and the simulation then reacts to your decisions.

You're free to trundle down a military route or be a friendly colony commander. A total pacifist would be blow to bit by the aliens of course, but you could go for a defensive stance instead of creating a huge army. Get the idea? The basic game comes with ten different scenarios, complete with specific aliens, modes of attack and terrain. Gremlin is already planning an add-on datadisk with more extraterrestrial challenges to conquer but co-designer Graeme Ing refuses to reveal anything about them at this stage.

Utopia has something for everybody. Even if you normally stick to shoot-'em-ups or trip on text adventures, go grab yourself a game. You'll be hooked in minutes and absorbed for months. Who needs originality with software this good? Not me, that's for sure!


ARTISTIC AWARENESS
Creating Utopia's futurevision was the responsibility of Berni, a long-time graphic designer at Gremlin who strongly feels artists don't get the recognition they deserve. His past credits include Venus, Toyota Celica Rally and Shadow of the Beast on the Spectrum as well as the PC Engine adaption of Impossamole. It took Berni roughly six weeks to produce all Utopia's graphics. It's hard to estimate the time exactly because he was simultaneously working on a multitude of titles.
There were no specific influences to Utopia's look, it just came straight out of his head. Perhaps the most difficult part of his job was keeping the detail on the smaller objects. Many of the buildings are only about twenty pixels high, so there was no room for little computer people.
Berni is particularly proud of the backdrops. So what's the best thing about being a pixel perfectionist? 'Seeing my pictures come to life,' he says. Utopia was the first time Berni used an Amiga running Deluxe Paint 3, and with this new found confidence he wants to tackle a Super NES console game in the near future.
JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH? 'I think Utopia has got a lot more to offer than either Sim City or Populous', confirms co-creator Graeme Ing. 'I just hope people don't write it off simply by looking at the screenshots and saying "Populous in Space". Sim City was a good game but we thought you needed something to react against. Utopia is full of what ifs? A sequel is now on the cards. I like my games to get bigger every time...'
PLAY TO WIN Just how would programmer Graeme Ing go about building Utopia? 'I'd get the colony growing, because a lot of things rely on you having the people available to work on them. You've got to prepare the essentials first. Construct lots of living quarters, increase food production and set a high birth rate by building a hospital. Then start investing in some scientific research and defence measures. Wait for the inevitable alien attack, learn from their mistakes, build an army, find their city and trash 'em. If all the alien's forces are destroyed, the quality of life rating will shoot up by 25%'.
MULTIDIMENSIONAL MUZAK Like Wing Commander's instant aural feedback, a specially composed soundtrack in Utopia alters as you play the game. Successful gamers are treated to a nice lively tune while lesser mortals suffer a slow depressing death march. Barry Leech at Imagitec produced both the music and sound effects.

Utopia logo

'Fatherly dictator' Ben Caudell struggled to forge his ideal society in Gremlin's Utopia. "It was all very simple," he said, "everyone can be equal as long as you all do as I say."

This is wat one of those Open University bods with the sideburns and silly glasses would say about Utopia: "That's odd. Why are we being presented with a simulation of a command economy when such socio-economic structures have been proved outmoded by the recent collapse of the Soviet Union. Even more odd is the presumption that such a centralist economy can lead to a utopia or a society of equals when in practice it leas to the rise of an authoritarian dictatorship."
What normal people will say: "Clear off, boffin, and take your nylon slacks with you. This takes the building bit from and the isometric graphics from Populous."

So a difference of opinion here (Geoffrey). But who's right? Both are, in their own sweet ways. Utopia puts you in command of a small colonisation project from Earth. Your main task is to construct various buildings for your colony with the aim of giving your population the highest possible standard of living. So, relying on that old Roman adage of bread and circuses, you might want to knock up a few food-growing machines and a sports stadium.

But all is not so simple, because there are aliens (or an indigenous population) who don't take kindly to you coming and having sports days on their planet without so much as a by-your-leave, and plan to attack you. You, cast as the typical colonist, must wipe them off the face of the planet. So you need to build some missile launchers, some tank-building factories, and more importantly, some laboratories to develop some super-horrible weapons. But of course, all these buildings are useless without three things: (a) money, (b) people and (c) some raw materials. You can deal with the money by giving grants for military and civilian research, the people by building some hospitals and then altering the birthrate (quite how this works I don't know, but then this is a Brave New World) and the allocating workers to certain tasks, and the raw materials by tracking down ore and building a mine.

In fact to tell the truth there are really a load of extra factors (d) to (z) that you have to consider throughout the game but I'll just have to give you a quick sample. Factor (j) is that you can't build too far away from a 'flux pod' that stores electricity, and factor (q) is that you must make sure that you've got enough people to build the buildings.

Oh, and the little-known factor (x) is that you have to play the complete game dressed as a member of Roxette.

Amiga reviewBen: Having said that there are lots of factors to bear in mind while playing Utopia. You shouldn't get the impression that it's a mind numbingly complex game to play. It's fairly quick to get into, with everything done via the mouse; click on what building you want to build, the click on the place where you want to build it. You pretty quickly get gripped for hours as you build up your colony and grapple with all the decisions concerning the workforce and money allocation.

But it's in comparison with that hardy perennial Sim City that Utopia really needs to be studied. While it does have the added prospect of military action, for some reason it just fails to have that magic X factor that makes Sim City such a pleasure to play. Utopia's a dead good game, it's just that it doesn't quite grip you in the same way.

It's got plenty going for it, with some neat graphics, but there's this feeling that you don't really have to plan what you build as much as you do in Sim City. Also, you don't get the satisfying feeling of actually having built a working city. Many will love it in spite of this - many will love it because of this. All sim games are equal, but some are more equal than others, it seems. Stop


Utopia... ... The New Worlds logo

Gremlin Graphics * £14.99

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.


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?

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)


Utopia... ... The New Worlds logo

Oh good, a data disk. The real test of a reviewer's mettle is the data disk, because there's absolutely nothing to say about them that wasn't said about the game - they are, almost without exception, simply an extension of the original game rather than an improvement or a correction of any flaws which might have been present, and as such reviewing them is a bit of a dubious activity.

Why? Because the only people reading the review are the people who already have the game and are interested in the data disk. There now follows, for our more trainspottery readers, the only slightly relevant piece of information in the whole review - The New Worlds contains 10 - that's 10 - new, er, worlds. Thank you.


Utopia... ... The New Worlds logo

Utopia has been the subject of some very high praise indeed. So much so that in September of last year CU posed the question 'is Utopia the perfect game?', to which Rik Haynes answered 'It's the best game Gremlin have ever released' giving it a massive 94% in the process. Here we are, six months later, and creator, Graeme Ing, has completed the Utopia Expansion Disk, a set of ten scenarios designed to tax the minds of even the most seasoned players.

The ten scenarios don't introduce anything radically new to the game, but merely enhance the strategic features of the original, whilst bringing in tactics that players may not have been called to employ before. For example, on one of the worlds, the map is composed of a series of small islands, surrounded by swirling smoke, rather like the view you would find if you were standing on top of a mountain just above cloud level.

From here, the only way the player can reach the other islands is to build spaceships, a facet employable on the original scenarios, but never actually necessary.

Each of the ten scenarios is set across a different landscape, and involves facing different races of alien, ranging from bugs creeping across a dark, muddy landscape to robots on terrain that could have been created from scratched mirrors. As before, a great deal of time and effort has been spent on the graphics, and some of the backdrops are, as Douglas Adams would say, enough to make you want to burst into spontaneous applause.

The standard way to create an add-on disk for this sort of game is to simply set progressively harder tasks. In this case, however, the approach is different. 'We had a lot of people telling us the original was too difficult,' explains Graeme, 'so if you can imagine that the ten scenarios of the original game were levels 1 to 10, the scenario disk has levels 3 to 13.'

This ensures that even someone fairly new to Utopia won't have too much difficulty with the first few scenarios. However, they do become incredibly hard, and if you can wipe out the enemy on the last level you deserve a medal.

Utopia - The New Worlds is really only a must if you are an avid fan of the original and fancy stepping up the odds. It doesn't make the game any better, but gives you more choice when playing it. Fifteen quid seems a little steep for what is in effect a few more levels, though, and that's why I can only recommend it to die-hard addicts.


UTOPIA 2
Utopia - The New Worlds isn't Utopia 2, as most people had hoped, but the sequel has been in production for four months, and is looking set for a Christmas release. The game will take a more military slant, moving slightly away from the Sim City style of the game, although all the colony buildings will still be included. Graeme Ing isn't giving too much away yet, but one feature he is including is having the enemy base visible on screen, allowing the player to watch the enemy at work, and attack it before it comes for you. We wait with baited breath...