Review by Adhoc (2001-04-22)
Maybe one of the first true real-time-strategy games Populous quickly became one of the most famous games of its time and today is a deserved classic. As the god of your people your goal is to defeat another god with his respective people. To achieve this you can alter the landscape and send plagues upon your enemy.
There's a tutorial, a custom game and a conquest available to play. The conquest is a series of predefined maps with certain preferences (abilities of the gods...). I'm not quite sure but in some cheat files I read that it goes up to level 999! If that's the case better take some weeks off .
The main screen looks a bit confusing at first sight, especially when you're new to this game, so I'll give some explanations (no guarantee though, it's been LONG since I've played it extensively). Besides the two maps there's the mana bar in the top right corner. Mana is your divine power you can use for building and casting spells. The more people you have and the stronger they are the more mana you get from them. The various sections represent the spells. If the pointer has reached a section it means that you can cast this spell now. In the bottom right corner are various game settings.
The most important section is the bottom left. Here you can use your mana to fulfill different tasks. The first six at the top are the plagues you can bestow upon your enemy. They are flood (raising the sea level by one), armageddon (all people unite in one and these two fight until death), volcano (raises a very high mountain), earhquake, the knight (a powerful warrior who wreaks havoc on enemy houses and men) and swamps (lets everyone disappear who steps into them). Left to the direction circles are four buttons which let you shift your people's attentions to different actions: go to the leader (the one with the cross), build new houses, unite to stronger individuals and act aggressively (though I'm not quite sure...). To the right of the arrows there are three action buttons. You can put the question mark on any man or house thus getting informatin in the shield in the top left corner of the screen. The arrows bring you into building mode and the cross lets you place it somewhere (it's kind of a gathering point or so).
So much for controls, let's get into action now. The two opposing gods start in distant corners with just a few men off. They immediately spread out to find suitable locations for their houses. Around them they claim plain fields. The more of them they're able to claim the more advanced the housing will be. Primitive houses yield weaker people but they breed very fast while modern houses or castles bring forth very strong walkers but this takes a lot of time. So at the start you maybe want to rely on spreading out a bit. Your main job is to alter the landscape so it suits your plans. All your actions take some of your mana; bringing big mountains down to sea level for example can get quite on your reserves when done at the start. After some time you will eventually meet the other people. They start skirmishes immediately, trying to conquer the enemy´s houses. You can support their efforts by the aforementioned plagues you can place whereever you want whereas you can only raise and lower land when one of your guys or houses is around. A nice way to weaken the enemy frontline is lowering or raising the land around their houses so that they develop back to small huts or tents. The weak men who come out of them are no match for your walkers then.
The action can get quite frenzied in latter stages, especially on faster computers. But fortunately you can press Shift+s to slow down gamepace considerably so you even won´t need a slow down utility. The graphics are very good for the time with different landscapes (grassland, desert, ice..), while the sounds are restricted to the beeper. Overall this is a true classic and very innovative game which had its best times on the Amiga (I think). And if it's true that the conquest has 999 levels it will keep you occupied for quite some time :p. A game not to be missed!
Note: Best play this game in Pure Dos mode. Within the game file a FAQ is included which will give valuable hints.