Negotiations with fellow humans of different nationalities can be tricky enough, when language barriers and cultural nuances get in the way. Let alone diplomacy with aliens, where you’re genuinely unsure if the ambassador is figuratively or literally talking out of his backside. There are twelve different races in Armada 2526, each with different goals and ambitions, scientific and economic bents, and of course a varying amount of brightly coloured, unidentifiable orifices scattered across their bodies.
This is a grand space opera, and an epic yet streamlined Civilization in space variant. It involves the usual exploration and expansion, as you develop bases on planets and research technology, subduing your opponents through clever diplomacy and trade, or via military might. Like classic Civilization, you also have to keep the inhabitants of your worlds happy by not taxing the spacesuits off their backs, managing pollution problems and so forth.
While the game looks pretty complex on the face of it, the passable tutorial soon settles the novice in, and Armada 2526 does a pretty good job of keeping the main mechanics sleek and simple. Computer advisor options are available to automate base construction or taxation on planets, and should you forget to begin research on a new technology, the CPU will pick something for your boffins to work on so no tech points are ever wasted.
Population is a key part of Armada’s tactical balance, as shifting people to thinly populated, newly conquered systems is vital to help them grow quickly. It’s quite tedious to manually shuttle folks around in transport ships, but fortunately repeated circular trips can be set up to run without further intervention from the player. Or you can even automate the process entirely, placing a fleet of transports at the AI’s behest to shuffle workers about as it pleases.
As is the rage these days, Armada 2526 is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time. The turn-based chin stroking happens on the galactic map which, it must be said, looks pretty aesthetically unappealing. The action switches to real-time when you enter combat, and while this introduces 3D visuals and explosions aplenty, it doesn’t actually fare all that much better in the graphics department. The ships look pretty pixellated and rough when zoomed out, plus there’s no option to change the graphics resolution. Zoom in more and matters improve visually, but you’re a bit too close to be able to get an overview and effectively direct the battle.
Tactics are very basic in the real-time battles, as well. To begin with, all you’re doing is clicking and moving a few ships around, and watching them fire at the enemy. As the game progresses, the bigger pitched battles become more involved, with units that have special abilities to trigger, and troops who land on the planet’s surface below, adding a second front to the conflict. So it does get quite a bit more interesting, but the downside to all the spaceship traffic is that our machine slowed down considerably, with jerky scrolling making those massed fights more painful to play through.
The stuttering scrolling didn’t help with the slightly fiddly combat interface either: we kept having to click on units several times before the click registered and they were selected. We should note that our PC was well above the system requirements, so the performance issues weren’t anything to do with our graphics hamster falling off his wheel.
Still, despite these woes we found ourselves reasonably entertained by Armada’s brand of space strategy, with a range of scenarios on offer, including several introductory affairs to get the newbie player eased into the game. One big plus is that each race has its own differing victory objectives: some are psychopaths who just want to eliminate everyone they meet, others are interested in money, or keeping their large population as happy as possible. These diverse goals, and the quirky bonuses the various races receive, make the game quite different each time you tackle a fresh scenario with a new race.
Company: Iceberg Interactive