Mankind's last best hope, the Unity Mission, is in trouble. The UN sponsored colonization ship carries with it enough men, women and technology to seed a civilization. The ship is populated with experts and scientists from every field and contains an extensive payload of supplies necessary to outfit and guarantee survival until the fledgling colony can become self-sufficient.
It was a good plan, or so the sponsors believed, until an unforeseen and devastating accident aboard the ship caused the travelers to awaken from cryogenic sleep much too soon. A cataclysmic loss of communications with Earth exacerbates the situation, leaving the colonists isolated and awake until the ship reaches the still far-distant earthlike planet Chiron in the Alpha Centauri system.
Over time, the factions within the ship polarize into seven distinct groups, each with specific goals, beliefs and agendas. The leaders of each group build a following -- dedicated people who share their ideology and plans for colonizing Chiron. As a microcosm of mankind on Earth, the factions pull steadily away from one another until clear battle lines are drawn with each group determined to mold the future of mankind based on their own philosophy.
In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, designer Brian Reynolds has taken the Civilization ideas a step farther -- colonization of a planet in deep space. The game is turn-based with each turn representing a full year on Chiron. Gameplay follows the same pattern for every turn -- planet (native) and enemy faction movement, faction updates and then player movement encompassing defensive, offensive and tactical maneuvering.
As in many Sid Meier games, the player has multiple customization options. These include scenario challenges, random or customized map generation with choices of land to sea ratios, erosive forces on terrain (strong, average or weak), frequency of encounters with indigenous life forms and cloud cover and weather conditions (sparse, average or dense). There are six levels of difficulty ranging from novice (Citizen) to expert (Transcend) with progressively smarter and aggressive behavior by the AI.
The seven factions and their philosophical bent include Gaia's Stepdaughters, environmentalists attuned to and protective of the planet, the Human Hive embracing harsh collectivist and authoritarian principles and the University of Planet, elitists dedicated to knowledge exchange and research. The Morgan Industries group is an organized corporate-type that follows capitalistic and economic avenues and benefits from commerce between the other factions.
The final three factions include the paramilitary survivalist group, the Spartan Federation, with their deep and abiding doctrine of the right to bear arms and The Lord's Believers, consisting of those who follow the path of righteousness, prayer and worship. The last faction, the Peacekeeping Force, employs humanitarian principles and follows in the footsteps of the long-ago and far-away United Nations.
Each of these groups has distinctive, diverse and specific advantages and disadvantages when dealing with both the planetary conditions and other factions. Diplomatic concerns play a large role during gameplay and establish the basis for which of the five possible outcomes is eventually attained.
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is basic point-and-click with keyboard equivalents for many of the actions. The game has comprehensive in-game tutorials to help with the learning curve, a random 3D world generator to ensure unlimited replay value and supports up to seven people on a LAN or the Internet. Modem or serial link multi-play is also available.
Other features include the option to design and customize your own fighting units or accept those offered by the AI. More than 75 technological advances to discover and utilize, secret projects available to each faction, over 60 upgrades from which to choose for increasing base strength and 32,000-plus unit types for building your war machine are but some of the choices available.
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