Format reviewed: Amiga 500
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Submitted by: Darran Jones
Following up Populous was always going to be a difficult, if not impossible task for Bullfrog and Peter Molyneux. Indeed, this spiritual successor to the land-altering divinity of his previous game was a matter of deliberation for critics and gamers alike.
First and foremost, the visual similarity between the two games is incredibly apparent – though once gameplay begins, the two titles quickly drift far apart. It was only natural that players were going to compare these two games (and it seems I can’t stop myself even now), though it’s ultimately unfair to do so. Powermonger is very much the thinking man’s Populous. While easy to criticise for the apparent lack of direct control over the environment, it’s technically very impressive and a renowned coding achievement for the time. All aspects of life are accounted for, and a careful balance has to be achieved between a brutal campaign and environmental awareness.
It features a genuine 3D landscape (as opposed to the excellent use of isometrics in Populous) and an ambitious software engine dubbed, at the time, ‘artificial life’ – a system for granting the many and varied inhabitants of the virtual worlds a high degree of autonomy. While you, the general, can command your armies and the civilians who have taken an allegiance to you, Powermonger takes what was controlled by the gods and gives it to a man, demanding a far more strategic approach to dominating a map than divine intervention grants. From farming and fishing to building weapons and waging war, the player is required to carefully manage a populace with a firm, steady and intelligent approach to total dominion.
Over the years, Powermonger has proven its value and brilliance to the gaming world, far outliving the many twitch games it shared shelf space with back in 1990. The great grandfather of several generations of war strategy games, its echoes can be clearly heard in classics such as Black & White all the way up to modern RTS warmongery like Ancient Wars: Sparta.