So, you?ve found yourself with a boring Saturday afternoon and plenty of time on your hands? What could you do to pass the time? Well you could always become a Viking, travel to 9th century Europe, build villages, plunder others, and explore the countryside looking for a mythical creature of destruction. Yeah right? Well in JoWood?s new Real Time Strategy game Cultures 2, that?s exactly what you?ll do.
Cultures 2 is not a game for everyone. It?s not a quick game to play nor is it big on action. You will spend hours managing your cities and preparing for battles which will last, at most, only a few minutes. You will be responsible for managing every activity within your cities. At times you will have to monitor more than thirty resources and goods at once, while making sure you have workers assigned to keep these goods coming in smoothly. You will need to travel great distances into unknown areas as you scout for your objectives. In short, you will need a lot of patience, a good attention span, and a good bit of time to get into this title. If you?re still interested and willing to take the time to learn the game, you will find an incredibly deep game with a unique style, which really helps you to feel connected with your villages.
Graphically, this is a pretty run of the mill and almost outdated take on the RTS formula. There is nothing really wrong with the graphics; the look is consistent throughout and unique. However, it appears to be true 2-D sprites (as opposed to 2-D images of 3-D rendered models) and unless I?m missing something, you can only view it at an isometric angle from one direction at three levels of zoom. The game was tested on a P4 1.7 with a GeForce2 64meg and there were several instances in which the high number of sprites in close confinement made for frame lag and jerky scrolling. This was particular nuisance when running the game at its highest speed. However, the style of the characters and buildings are affectionately cute and although most of the newest wave of RTS games are using rendering in full 3d, the graphics here are solid and pleasant if not stunning.
The sound effects are for the most part ambient enough to not be noticed. Sounds are clear and of good quality. The stereo mixing is done well enough to help track down the source of the sounds. But beyond that the sound effects as well as the music are fairly generic and although appropriate for a game of this type, they are nothing special. The music sounds synthetic, but seems to fit well with the style of the game. There?s nothing too catchy here, but nothing that will drive you insane. It?s all just droning enough to make you forget about time as you waste away more hours than you meant to.
Cultures 2 is based on the standard formula of acquire resources, build villages and military, and conquer the rest. However, the level of control you have over your citizens reminds me most of Black and White. You have the ability (or the chore) of assigning duties to all of you villagers. Duties include carrying resources from place to place or converting resources into goods (weapons, armor, food and buildings), serving as military, scouting and even birthing babies. The resource chains are reminiscent of Stronghold, but unlike Stronghold you won?t be able to just assign citizens to any task needed. As usual, you assign each citizen to a duty and let them go at it, but in Cultures 2, your workers will begin to gain experience in their field allowing them to eventually learn new trades. For instance, in the wheat food chain, you will need to start a worker as a farmer raising grain. When he has enough experience, he can move over to the mill and begin turning the wheat into flour. This leads him to become a bread baker and from there, he can learn to bake cakes, which are apparently more satisfying. Of course in order to bake cakes, you?ll need an upgraded the bakery (as well as a farm, a mill, and the level one bakery. You?ll need builders to make those buildings, and extractors to get the wood for the buildings. But where do the extractors come from? Well you?ll need to find a single male and a single female citizen, have them get married, make sure they have a home, and then instruct the wife to have children (you?ll also chose male or female). Phew!!! I?m getting tired just typing about it all. Oh, don?t forget you will also need to assign more citizens to fill the spots emptied as your workers move up through the ranks of their chains.
There are a few downsides to the way the game plays. There were several times I would find workers napping around or just chit chatting while there was work to be done ? seemingly unexplainably. However, in these situations there is always a reason and it usually turned out to be a lack of resources somewhere. The problem in that there is no obvious indicator of which resources were running low before a stoppage in work occurs. Once the resources run out and the work stops, you?ll have to wait while you assign workers to a new work area and get things rolling again. Also the technology tree can be a bit confusing as all but the most basic buildings require specialized goods such as tile, marble, and brick to be completed. If you try to build a building out of turn or run out of goods while it?s under construction, it will just sit there unfinished and your builders will either leave it to work on another project or decide to take an indefinite break. Also, anytime you need a new worker and don?t have an idle citizen around, you will need to instruct your women folk to birth and raise one while you wait. This can all be very frustrating and time consuming.
The only chance you have to manage all your workers and their functions is to use the games extensive menu system. There are menus tracking literally ever function of the game. You have menus for all of your citizens showing their experience levels, current jobs, marital status, housing status, and much more. You can access menus for your economic and military stats. You can view an overhead map color coded to show different topics of interest (much like in the Sim City series). You can also view timelines. It would seriously take all day to list all of the functions that you can control and monitor in this game. Unlike many games though, you will actually need to monitor all of these things to efficiently run a larger village.
You?ll find the standard RTS options within Cultures 2. However there is no large network support, so for now you?ll have to find someone with the game to direct connect to. That is never a good thing and with the lack of unique or innovative multiplayer options, it?s even more frustrating. However if you manage to get someone to play with, you?ll find that the game is much more replay able against someone with true intelligence rather than the easily manipulated game AI.
Ultimately, this is a game of micromanagement and ultimately this is what will either make you love it or make you hate it. Either way, you have to respect the work put into this title. JoWood continues to put out solid games in many different genres and while this game isn?t groundbreaking, it is another solid addition to their line. While the cartoonish style and time consuming game play are definitely not for everyone, I don?t think the game was made with everyone in mind. I think this game was made to appeal to fans of RTS games who want a more interactive and in depth experience. When I first started playing this game, I didn?t like it much at all. I was overwhelmed by all that I was going to have to do. It didn?t take long for me to pick up on things though, and once I got rolling, I found myself losing track of time and telling myself I?d play for just fifteen more minutes again and again.