Utopia. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
When you first see Utopia's main screen, you're likely to say, "Look! It's a combination of SimCity and Populous!" You won't be far wrong.
Add SimCity's creative city-building charm to the challenge of manufacturing and deploying weapons for an unavoidable war. Then present it onscreen in the Populous-style, one-square-at-a-time elevated view, and you have Utopia. Using proven principles from those two games, Utopia then carries the simulation several steps further.
As the administrator of a new planetary colony, you make all decisions and single-handedly create the colony. Select from two dozen types of buildings and place them on the map, one by one. It's already more complex than SimCity--on a new planet, you need life-support systems, hydroponics labs, mines, and refineries, as well as weapon emplacements and tank and spaceship factories.
Once the buildings are up, you staff them by setting employment quotas for the mines, labs, and factories. If you put too many into technical work, general construction slows. Throughout the game, you're balancing resources and needs.
If you lose the balance, all kinds of things go wrong. Your objective is twofold: Avoid destruction by the enemy and sustain a Quality of Life (QOL) of 80 percent or better. You need defense spending to avoid annihilation, but without social spending your QOL hits the skids, crime skyrockets, and, if things get bad enough, you may even face assassination.
Oops, the oxygen level is low, and citizens are dying. Build more life-support units. Food levels are low; build hydroponics domes. Morale is low. Build hospitals and hire medics, put in a sports complex and hold a few sporting events, and be sure to have enough living quarters for everyone. (They hate doubling up in their apartments.) And through it all, keep the tax rate down.
You get the idea. You must skillfully balance these and many other factors. As the colony grows, the citizen's demands come faster and faster. Eventually, you're doing nothing but responding to emergencies, building apartments willy-nilly on the nearest plot of empty land, and losing control in the rush to keep things from falling irretrievably apart.
Imagine your consternation when, in the midst of all this, the enemy attacks. If you've prepared well, you can handle it.
The number of factors to control seems overwhelming. (Did I mention setting research grant levels, trading commodities in interstellar markets, spying on the enemy, and keeping your mobile defenses in constant motion?) Surprisingly, it doesn't take long to achieve a satisfying degree of control. Once you gain control, it's exhilarating to master the planetary administrator's job.
This well-balanced challenge takes only about 1MB of hard disk space, a welcome change in a field dominated by 10- to 15MB monsters. Konami did this by resisting the temptation to provide unnecessary state-of-the-art graphics and sound. Instead, graphics and sound are simple but effective.
You won't build a true utopia--a place of ideal perfection in law, government, and social conditions--the first time out, but you may eventually get tantalizingly close. If so, move up to the next of the ten increasingly difficult scenarios. Utopia's challenge will bring you back again and again, seeking to make each new colony a little better than the last one. IBM PC or compatible (16-MHz 80286 or faster), 640K RAM, mouse; hard disk recommended, supports all major sound cards--$49,95 KONAMI 900 Deerfield Pkwy. Buffalo Grove, IL 60089-4510 (708) 215-5100 Circle Reader Service Number 352