Space Empires IV

Snap681Deep, minimalist space.

Space Empires 4 is a classic case of substance over matter. If you’re the type who enjoys strategy games like Tiberian Sun or StarCraft – walk away, this isn’t for you. But where Space Empires 4 lacks in visual flair, highly detailed cutscenes and fast action, it more than makes up in raw strategic depth. Hence this complex 4X game will typically appeal to the space wargame grognards among you.

The first version of Space Empires was a one-man labor of love by Aaron Hall, a passionate fan of the genre first pioneered by SSG’s Reach for the Stars (1983), and was released as shareware in 1995. It quickly attracted a loyal following, and eventually a commercial publisher, Shrapnel Games, released the game as Space Empires IV in the summer of 2000.

Space Empires 4 offers a staggering array of customizable elements — everything from galaxy sizes to species’ traits to hundreds of spaceship components. Research permutations are simply enormous, especially when you factor in the “lifestyles†of the 20-odd races that come with the basic game. The Terrans alone can research 60 types of technology with more than 325 levels of development.

Snap687Given SE4’s complexity, plus the exponential rise in the amount of micro-management chores that occurs when you reach mid-game level, it’s a good thing you can assign competent AI “ministers†to control individual fleets, planets, and global tasks. In fact, a good way to master the game’s daunting intricacies is to turn everything over to the AI for a dozen turns, then take a long pause to study what it’s done and how it prioritizes stuff.

New players will initially struggle with the intricacies of the game, will need to comb through the manual and the heavily text-based tutorial. Then again this is the sort of stuff 4X-strategy players enjoy, and while not for everyone, the scope and depth of the game is admirable.

System Requirements: Pentium 75 MHz, 8 MB RAM, Win95

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