Ever Play Imperium Galactica?Posted: May 28, 2012
Did you ever play Imperium Galactica?
Released by Digital Reality in 1997 (yes, 15 years ago), it is a 4X game set in the future. You are (ostensibly) the Good Guy, a good ol’ boy from the Galactic Empire who is given a small command — a single sector of three planets — to defend against the nasty pig-faced Garthog Empire. As time goes on and you prove yourself your rank and command increase, from having a small ship and three fighters to commanding a massive capital ship and running the galaxy as Grand Admiral. While you’re training, however, the other alien and human empires are fighting wars of their own, meaning that if you spend hours and hours working your way up, you may find that the whole galaxy has been conquered by a mysterious and pretty deadly race of aliens.
You do have a pretty busy career ahead of you with unknown planets to discover and colonize, aliens to fight, weapons and technology to research, and colonies to run. You need to manage everything from the nitty-gritty (such as housing on a certain planet) to things on a literally cosmic level like managing wars and running fleets. This level of control is also existent in battles, and often the difference between a rout and a bare victory is based on how you run the battle. Running ground battles is also key to success, and a careless battle could lead to a loss or even the damaging of key structures on the ground. It isn’t uncommon in fact for your enemies to launch ground attacks just to attempt to destroy a few of your structures, essentially griefing you. You are also in charge of system-by-system taxation, allowing you to affect planet-side morale as well as revenue. You’re also in charge of research which is in turn directly affected by the capabilities of your various colonies, and so, in this regard, you dictate what you are best at researching. As you might expect, you also need factories to build vehicles (and spaceports to build larger spaceships). Every ship comes with standard equipment and it is up to you to re-equip larger and better ships with larger and better equipment, such as hyperdrives, cannons, missiles, and shields. And, while you have little diplomatic control in the very start, as time goes on you do run diplomacy for the Galactic Empire, which is pretty cool, and you definitely feel the power. You can walk around your ship — kind of — in the game, going to various parts of the vessel, including the mess hall or your own stateroom. At the start of the game, your stateroom is tiny and the places you could go limited to just a few, but as you gain control of a prototype capital ship, you gain better stuff and more places to go– it’s pretty cool.
The story is driven by two types of cutscenes: those that are computer animated and those that feature live actors which, while a thing that totally dates the game, is very cool. Most of the cutscenes are you interacting with Command; basically you being told you could or couldn’t do something along with the occasional promotion. Your origins are a huge plot point, with various cutscenes between you and Command and you and your wife helping to develop it. The storyline itself is pretty incredible (“epic” wouldn’t be a stretch), with your role in the Galactic Empire — and the GE’s role in the universe — becoming hugely important. You could, however, be relieved of command if you were too incompetent in battle, which is as embarrassing as it is funny. About halfway through the game you’re forced to take an aptitude test as well which could also cost you your command if you answer incorrectly / psychotically.
The game is a very complex and very in-depth game with, as I mentioned, you having to run the entire operation from the ground up. You have to focus on every aspect to make sure that your Galactic Empire was a well-oiled machine; producing the wrong (or not producing them at all) types of factories and doing the wrong kind of research could mean that your empire is doomed to failure. This (along with a bunch of bugs) is one of the things that can make the game frustrating: its difficulty. Key to the plot is a great galactic menace which is slaughtering every enemy in its path. Their presence forces you to close the gap by conquering enemy planets between you and them (or uniting with them but, as any 4x-game player knows, you’re typically a better strategist than mid 1990s-AI) and taking the fight to them, lest they sneak a fleet in and take out some of your vital planets. They’re brutal and I can’t recall facing a tougher enemy in a video game that has almost no trouble taking advantage of any mistake you make. They’re pretty lethal.
Imperium Galactica is a very tough, very in-depth game. I don’t think I’ve mentioned my love of Civilization on this blog before, but that kind of game is kind of my thing. Imperium Galactica is a great game if you like having top-down control of everything. In addition to the great gameplay there is also a very compelling storyline, which is interesting; the game kind of feels like a real-time version of Civilization, yet there is a storyline to follow and the game is not as big a sandbox. The game is tough, of course, but if you like it then, well, it’s awesome.
Good news, bad news: unless you’re a bit of a champ with DosBox, the original Imperium Galactica is pretty tough to get going. Even if you are you need to deal with an awful resolution and a sluggish interface as well as the game’s love of crashing. The good news is that folks are working on an open source Imperium Galactica which is interesting; Atari still owns the copyright on the original game, making the legal status of this thing pretty questionable (no, actually, it’s just illegal). They’re recoding and remaking the thing in Java and are fixing a bunch of bugs along the way and making it a better game by cleaning up the UI and so on while retaining the original feel (by reusing a lot of the original source material, of course). Like I said, it’s not exactly legal, but odds are if you were going to play IG you’d have to torrent the thing in the first place, so pick your poison, I guess. The project is fairly well along and almost in beta, actually, and unlike a lot of open source projects this one hasn’t completely stalled and died, yet. Definitely check it out because it’s my understanding they were set to go beta a week or two ago and it looks like they might have it done pretty soon.