Wednesday, June 22, 2011
REVIEW: Utopia: Irony In Space (1993)
Raise your hand if you've ever been sucked in by cheesy, predictable or just plain awful sci-fi movies late at night channel-surfing through 5,692 channels on your television service. They're a dime a dozen, right? The same can be said for games that put you the player in outer space, sans the MTV Guy suit. Take one look at the massive game library built up by the Super Nintendo, for example. Roughly 90% of them take place in space. Final Fantasy II makes you explore the freaking moon, where you inexplicably have to fight monsters named after the common food items in a retirement home (Really, Squaresoft? Anthropomorphic tofu and pudding gliding across craters and--you know what, let's save this for another day).
Point is, you don't have to go far to explore outer space. Utopia takes a decidedly realistic approach to futuristic space colonization--they put you in charge of building colonies on 10 different hostile worlds. Your goal, like any good galactic bureaucrat, is to make your people happy enough so that you can leave them for a different world. Thus is the premise of Utopia: get out while you're hot and start all over from scratch on some other different, brightly-colored world.
The practice level is fairly straight-forward. Make sure your colonists are fed and entertained, and you'll be at 100 QOL (Quality of Life) in no time. The first real level is the same as the practice level, but now the aliens south of your city (you can't see them on your map) are pissed off and attack you from time to time. So, in addition to feeding and entertaining your brave pilgrims, you now have to stave off the native aliens to each world so that they don't annihilate your fledgling colony.
The irony in a title like Utopia is that you never get the sense you're truly creating a utopia. For example, even when your QOL is really high, one of your advisors will be pissed off that you didn't build enough libraries. If you do a practice run with no threat of invasion, your military advisor will tell you to build tanks and ships anyways, even though it's completely useless in the practice scenario. Who does that guy work for, Halliburton?
What's nice about this Sim City-in-space is that it's consistent from world to world--you'll find the exact same resources and get to build the exact same buildings, so after a few worlds you'll get the point. The future levels get harder, since you'll start out with fewer resources as you progress, and the geniuses that fund colonization decide to make sure that you have progressively less money and buildings to deal with as the alien threat increases on each planet. In other words, "We don't think you'll survive, so we'll just make sure we don't lose much after we scoop up the last torched corpse of a colonist when the aliens invade." Thanks, jerks.
You'll like this game if you're a fan of Sim City and other like-minded titles. You'll dislike this game if you're in it for the alien-bashing, since completely obliterating your enemies gets you the reward of having a message pop up two in-game years later stating that they've rebuilt and are ready to fight again. You'll hate this game if you need something that moves rather quickly--a good colony on the practice level will take about 5 hours alone, and it takes longer than that on the real levels.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on this game as a teenager, and I have only beaten the final level once--after 3 years of trying, no less.
3.5 out of 5 bits
Posted by 8-bit