Very, very disappointing game.
Rejoice for the Lord will taketh his quarter and give much back to his followers.
It's shocking how time moves on. In a few years I'll be hitting thirty and, as I am oft reminded, by that age my dad owned his own house and business as well as having me and all my siblings. This is a weird concept for me because I still remember watching Transformers on Wac-A-Day with Timmy Mallet and playing with my LEGO bricks and generally enjoying myself (or at least I think I remember enjoying myself). You see nostalgia is a wonderful thing, it makes everything seem so much better than it actually was; my first kiss wasn't as sloppy, I wasn't such a misfit in school and Altered Beast was a fantastic game. Sadly, though rose-tinted glasses and nostalgia can only make real experiences seem better, and sadder still for EA and Rising Star Games is that I have no prior experience with Populous to get nostalgic about.
Compared to all other entertainment mediums computer and console gaming is still in its infancy and it shows. Other mediums have classics and while gaming also has classics there are far fewer, and to bulk it out we have retro games. Retro quite simply is something that is cool because it used to be cool and this is something that is plaguing gaming considerably. There is a huge retro community which constantly buys lazy ports and old junk because they are 'classics'. I'm sorry but that is complete stupidity, Orson Welles' 1984 isn't a classic because it's an old black and white movie, it's a classic because you can watch it fifty years down the line and it will still be as relevant as it was when it was first released. What does this have to do with a review about a game called Populous you may ask? Well, quite frankly the game is no longer relevant.
I remember Populous scoring highly back in the day and it was a well remarked upon title, but that was twenty years ago and while a lot has happened to gaming in that time, not a lot has happened to Populous. If anything Populous is a good sign of where we started and how far we have come; there are many things we take for granted which just aren't in Populous and they aren't all technical differences either. Today, from even our most basic no-brainer shooters we expect some sort of narrative. Hell we are even at a point where we are complaining about the linguistic abilities of some veiny-necked 'roid head whose only purpose is to find aliens and slam chainsaw bayonets into their faces. Populous doesn't have narrative; it has a basic plot line, a basic premise and lets you at it. Outside of the tutorial you have eight levels of five stages. The stages of the first level have to be played in order but after that the stages of the subsequent levels can be played in any order and completing enough of them will let you progress to the next level. It's all a bit disconcerting unlocking levels and new gods and not knowing why you've got them and why they didn't join the battle earlier.
The graphics and the sound can be forgiven for being basic, they aren't offensive and they do the job they are required to do but it all feels a bit empty. The images lack character and the audio lacks soul, there aren't any frivolous extras, which is criminal in the sound department especially considering that the DS is capable of such greatness in this regard. However all of that is side dressing, the meat of this game is in the gameplay and sadly it makes Kate Moss look porky. There're about forty odd missions in total and each map has its own personality, but they all play exactly the same. Build houses, spawn more villagers, build more houses, spawn more villagers, etc. until the time limit reaches zero and every single worshipper heads towards the centre of the map for the type of brawl that is reminiscent of a chavvy drinking establishment after closing hours. Yes, you have your god powers at your disposal, the enemy AI is so damn good it's fixing whatever problem you've bestowed on their side before your power has even finished, thereby completely negating it, and to make matters worse it's throwing its own powers at you at the same time. The thing is in five places at once. This would all be fine if your worshippers' AI (you don't get to control them directly) and the camera controls were up to scratch. The camera feels clunky and only shows a small portion of the map making navigation extremely difficult and annoying - a key example being when the Harvest Demoness uses the Mushroom power, which spreads faster than your camera can move. Your worshippers' AI is pathetic; while the daemon's followers are quite aggressive and constantly pushing into your territory, your guys are hanging around at the back end of your little empire. You've got general commands such as attack, follow, group and set up house but the only useful one is set up house. Even with the attack, follow and group commands on for over thirty seconds I still had a good portion of my worshippers roaming around aimlessly.
I may also want to point out that while playing you'll notice the daemon's worshippers are multiplying like rabbits while yours seem to be being birthed by 60 year olds who couldn't afford IVF. The trick to 'speeding' this up is to go to every house and press Y. Now I'm not sure how sarcastic that sounded so I'll use the CAPS lock. To speed things up you have to scroll using the small viewing space and slow clunky camera to EVERY HOUSE and press Y; the enemy on the other hand is doing every house pretty much in one go. It's frustrating, it is "I've written the review so won't be putting you back in my DS" frustrating.
What pains me is that Populous has a good heritage, it's got history, it was a classic and no matter what extras like multi-card play (where the funting hell is single card multiplayer?!) you include the game is no longer relevant and you've turned it from a classic to old hat. It's like bringing Pele back into the national Brazil football team. But what pains me even more is that my favourite game this generation has been Civilisation Revolutions, essentially the original game but re-imagined for today's market. It took my favourite game of all time, Civilisation and made it relevant again. Populous was in the same league as Civilisation and deserved the same respect and deserved a proper remake, not a port with wireless multiplayer.
It's too old, too creaky and too frustrating.
They do the job but it's all too basic.
Music isn't awful but there are very few sound effects and they add nothing to the overall game.
This is a twenty year old title with a few knobs added on and repackaged as a brand new game. This isn't even the quality of an XBLA retro game and is more than four times the price.
Populous should not have been re-released - remade and updated most definitely, but not merely re-released.
Very, very disappointing game.