Armada 2526 is a turn based strategy game and upon first view this appears to be ‘Civilization IV in space’. The premise being to colonize different planets whilst managing research and diplomacy before engaging in warfare against other races.
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There are seventeen different races that can be played each with their own slight differences giving different strengths and weaknesses which gives it an ongoing playability factor with each game having a slightly different feel. However unlike Civilization the number of scenarios that you can play in is quite limited, there are only 4 one of which is the tutorial, which reduces the scope for different tactics to be employed which damages the re playability of the game.
As with Civilization the game starts with a bit of a gold rush where players attempt to grab as many of the free star systems as possible to give them better opportunity for resource. Unlike Civilization the resources available at each system are limited in their scope which reduces the tactical element of which systems to go for first. Some are more hostile than others making things more expensive and some have asteroid belts that can be mined but there is none of the complexity that Civilization delivers. For example which resources you have managed to obtain as no effect on the tech tree and what units you can use or technologies you can research.
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In the same way as in Civilization there is a trade off between routes through the game depending on choice of buildings and research options. For example you could place emphasis on mining to generate cash or technology that speed up growth, or you could research weapons and build ships with a view to warfare against your neighbors. This choice matters and has a marked effect on the game as concentrating on one area to the exclusion of the others will come back and bite you as you start to run of cash of planetary populations start rioting.
The game is quite absorbing whilst not being up to the standard of Civilization however there are a number of things that less this game down of which the primary one is the interface. The various pop up screens that are activated by selecting radial buttons for research and construction are not movable on the screen and only one can be opened at a time. Which means there is a lot of opening and closing as you move backward and forward from the research screen to the map screen and back and similarly with the system view where buildings and ships can be created. These screens are all interlinked and the game can get quite complex in the same way that Civilization can and not being able to compare the contents of these screens at the same time means that you’re constantly having to try and remember the content of one screen whilst flicking to the next. There were also some graphical glitches on some of the buttons when you hovered them which made the game feel a little unpolished. the other issue with the interface is that whilst it is functional it is not particularly pretty and fails to make you want to play the game. Due to the nature of the game you spend a lot of time staring at this interface and it could do with being cleaner and better designed.
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Another issue is the tutorial, this is quite a difficult game to just pick up and play out of the box and as a result needs a good tutorial to lead you into it. Whilst the tutorial does cover all the major areas of the game mechanics it doesn’t allow you to do things as you read often a tutorial box pops up which can be several pages which gives you a lot of information. You have to remember quite a lot of content before you can get back to the game-play and try out what you have just read which means that you are constantly have to refer back to the in-game advice as you have forgotten something in the three pages of tutorial blurb you have to just had to try and remember.
Lastly the warfare mechanism is a bit pointless. The game loads a separate battle arena around a planet in the same way that the total war series does but unfortunately the comparison ends there. This could have been used to give the game a different dimension to make it something special. Unfortunately the tactics are limited to what formations you have you ships in (a choice of 3) and how you group your ships, other than that it is purely a matter of which types of units you bring to the party and how many. There is little opportunity for clever play resulting in you beating a more numerous opponent. It would have been nice if the system you were fighting in had some sort of effect on the battle itself, possibly the planets magnetic field effecting different ships in different ways. This area of the game seems pointless and I quickly resorted to just auto completing the battles I fought as to do otherwise just results in additional load times as the battel arena is switched to. The other thing which lets this area down is it is quite poor graphically, again if this was better then you may enter the battle scenes purely for the spectacle but this is just another factor contributing to the pointlessness of this area of the game.
Overall the game is quite absorbing and once you mastered the tutorial, started auto completing the battles, and have got to grips with the interface is enjoyable. However the down sides to this game hinder the enjoyment. Never the less if you enjoyed the Civilization series and are looking for something a little different then you will probably get some mileage out of this game. However if you are new to genre then I recommend waiting for Civilization V due out next month as it is likely to be a much better game given that Civ IV which is now quite an old game managed to better in may areas than Armada 2526.
Sudogamer scores it 6/10.