11At the time of its release, Ascendancy was one of the best 4x games around. The tutorial, a feature you don’t usually see in these sort of games during the 90s, is quite good. It divides a truly huge game into seven digestible learning segments, then leads you gently through each. Every interface function is clearly explained; the consequences of every mouse-click are demonstrated; and you can back up, start over, or replay isolated segments any time you like. You don’t need to constantly comb through the manual.

The game-elements are traditional for the genre: exploration, technological development, diplomacy, war. If you’ve played Master of Orion, the basic system will be familiar, although Ascendancy is much deeper than even that classic. Each game begins with user-chosen parameters: how big and dense the galaxy; how many alien species you want to interact with (as many as seven); how volatile is the political mood; and, finally, which species you want to be. Homo sapiens is not an option, but you can play as 21 varied alien races.

As you send out your first exploration and colonizing ships, you’ll gain greater knowledge of the star-lanes connecting the various systems. The galactic map is constantly updated as control of vital lanes passes from one species to another, and it can be rotated, enlarged, and customized to present just the information you need.

Once you’ve got colonies, you can set them on “self-management,” and they’ll generally develop in a logical and balanced way. You’ll want to check on them periodically, however, because incompetent management does occur, resulting in wasted resources, lost time, needlessly vulnerable defenses, etc.

7Research progress is shown by means of a branching-tree diagram; each new discovery leads to several possible new projects. The game’s designers have really out-done themselves here, coming up with some cool conceivable — weapons that “jumble reality” inside enemy ships, or “nano-twirlers” to supply energy. Of course, sooner or later, war breaks out. Both spaceship battles and planetary sieges are depicted with colorful animated sequences. When you knock out an enemy ship, it vaporizes in a spectacular sequence, supplying a real rush.

The amount of detail packed into each element of Ascendancy is wonderful: every game is different, and each is full of gratifying little discoveries. Moreover, each major element is balanced against the others with an incredible combination of force and delicacy, making one of the finest 4x games around.

System Requirements: 80/486 33 MHz, 4 MB RAM, DOS

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