My attitude when it comes to preparing for exams is second to none. Every exam period without fail I've found some interesting thing to absorb 90% of my time. Last semester it was a fantastic game called Dwarf Fortress (one of the best games of the century, if you ask me) -- this time it's another great game called Aurora 4x.
You may have heard of the 4X genre -- eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. Basically, it's probably closest to the hardcore gamer's holy grail, that is a game in which you can do whatever you want. The holy grail of the 4X genre is a game in which you can not only walk across the surface of planets a la skyrim or GTA (where the whole surface is interactable, etc), but then you can take off in a ship that you designed and visit any of the stars that you can see. Even just typing that sends a shiver down my spine thinking of how fantastic that would be! These games just capture my imagination, which is exactly what my procrastinating mind is after. (Hopefully, it's that sort of game that Minecraft creator Notch is working on: 0x10c)
So, Aurora 4X. What is it? In four words, it's a space game. It's poor in graphics, so don't look it up to replace your X3's or Endless Space. By poor, I mean that even the biggest most elaborate ship is represented by a dot on the screen. You'll spend most of the game looking at buttons and spreadsheets. But beneath those non-existent graphics lies a game that almost fully simulates what it would actually be like to control a space faring empire (or pax utopia, or stalin communist nation, or benevolent dictatorship, etc etc).
Terraforming is a much vaunted feature of Aurora, but the depth is everywhere. Want to kick some alien butt? You'll need to make some ships for that. Want to build a ship? Better get your scientists and research labs all set up, because you're going to buckle down for several years of research. Lets kit your ship up with some lasers. They're good because they tunnel straight down through armour, gouging deep holes that can maybe penetrate to the ship components underneath. So, a couple of technologies are needed straight up. What focal size are we going to be talking about? They range from 10cm all the way to 70 cm. 70 cm lasers are going to do massive damage and have long range, but then they're going to be massive, and weight of your ship is something you need to consider. Also, it'll take you approximately 793863948634 years for your scientists to progress their research to the point of giving your a 70 cm laser. Lasers lose power as they travel through space too -- the longer their wavelength, the worse it is. You can leave your laser as a near infrared laser, or you can invest many years to research better ones. You can take it all the way to far gamma lasers, but again that'll take you 9379343893 years. Lasers require power, so you need to research power plant technologies. For lasers and power plants there are various efficiencies that you can research as well. So, lets say after 100 years of research you have a fantastic bad ass laser that you whack on your ships and send them out to show them aliens who's boss. You've forgotten one thing -- your ship, and your weapons, need to be able to see the enemy! That's where sensors come in. Active sensors allow your ship to see the enemy, and have about 4 technologies to research to high levels. Fire controls are sensors that give you weapon locks, and again have various technologies to research and balance. Seem tedious? Not a chance -- this is what gives you ultimate control over every aspect of your ship designs. It means that when you engage with the enemy -- typically something that happens at several million kilometres -- all the stuff that you've spent years researching finally comes together in a concert of machinery, to ace that size 40 missile coming at you at 10,000 km/s from 3,000,000 kms away.
There's so much more to it, but I'm afraid this post is already long enough. In short, there's planetary constructions, diplomacy, surveying, colonisation, ground unit combat, espionage, officer management, black holes, nebulae...if you think a 4X game needs it, it's probably there in one form or another. This isn't a space game: this is the space game. It's just a shame about the graphics, because I think that's all that holds it back from being the ultimate game out.
Aurora 4X is a game of tedium married with vicious, unbelievably exciting moments. It's exactly what this brain needs, when I'm trying to do anything but study for my exams.
Aurora 4X: 5 stars.
Leave a comment below if you've played Aurora before, and let me know how it went for ya!
PS if you get stuck on the interface, as most do (myself included) then check out this video as it's enough to get you started.
PPS per the title of this post, aurora is currently beating exams hands down unfortunately!