Monday, 21 March 2016

Populous II: Trials of the Oympian Gods - Atari ST, Commodore Amiga & PC (MS-DOS) - 1991

If I were forced to list my top 10 favourite games of all it would be something of a struggle.  One title I can confidently say would be on there is Populous.  It was the game I spent most time playing in my Atari ST owning days and is still playable today.  Needless to say, I was very excited when the sequel was released back in 1991.  It received excellent reviews and I didn’t baulk at paying for the 512k memory upgrade that was necessary to play the full version of the game.

As it turned out, Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods was something of a disappointment to me.  Although the graphics were more detailed than the original game, the colourful visuals were replaced with a drab palette.  The animation of the characters also seemed to take a hit by using less frames.  Finally, although there were many more acts of divine intervention, few appeared in every game and many weren’t particularly effective.  If ever I needed a Populous fix it would be the original game I would load up.

If replaying retro games has taught me anything, it is that most are rarely as good as you remember them.  Replaying Populous II turned this premise on its head as this game is better than I recall.

The core gameplay is pretty much the same as the original - you play a god who must shape the landscape so your followers can build houses and produce more followers.  More followers means more mana which is used to unleash your godly powers against your rivals followers.  This time there is a story tacked onto the game.  You play the offspring of one of Zeus's encounters with a mortal woman.  Your goal is to defeat the olympian gods, and ultimately Zeus himself, to be allowed into the Pantheon atop Mount Olympus. 

Aside from the graphics, the main difference between Populous and Populous II are the number of divine acts.  There are now 29 effects split across 6 elements - People, Vegetation, Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  Most of the old effects are there with a few changes.  Swamp and Armageddon are much the same as they were in the original game.  Earthquake is a more powerful effect than it was as it splits open the ground and leaves cracks for your enemies to fall into.  The Volcano is much more devastating - it spews out lava and fire columns and leaves a large tract of uninhabitable land that takes a lot of time and effort to make usable.  The Flood effect has been replace by Tidal Wave which erodes low lying land.  Finally, Knights have been replaced by Heroes.
The destructive power of the volcano.

There are six heroes in all, one for each of the six elements portrayed in game.  Perseus from the people element is most like the knight from the first game.  He is the most intelligent of the heroes and is good at avoiding traps.   Using Adonis, the hero of vegetation, can be a double-edged sword.  After each combat he divides into two weaker heroes.  After a while you have a bunch of weak Adosis' getting killed and giving your opponent a big chunk of mana.  Heracles is double the strengh of the leader used to create him and, like all the heroes, is immune feats of the same element, such as earthquake.  Odysseus is the hero of air and is the fastest of all the heroes.  Achilles is the hero of fire and burns everything in his path.  Lastly, Helen of Troy is the most over-powered of the heroes.  She marches into enemy territory and causes any person she touches to blindly follow her.  The entranced followers cannot be controlled in any way.

Other interesting acts of god are baptismal fonts which change the alignment of a person falling into them.  There is a contagious plague (with an annoying sound effect)Infected followers and buildings make little contribution to mana and disintegrate if Armageddon is used.  You can lay down a fungus which abides by the rules of Conway's Game of LifeThe Forest feat creates trees.  This might not seem useful at first until you plant a bunch around the enemy buildings and start a forest fire.

Populous II also retains the creatures that occasionally wander across the level leaving an indiscriminate wave of destruction in their wake.

After each world you are awarded up to 5 lightning bolts.  These act as experience and can be used to give a boost to feats in any of your six elements.
Experience is doled out after each victory.
So, with all these new additions I should find Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods better than Populous, right?  Well, not in my case.  The first problem is there are 1,000 worlds to conquer - twice the number of the original game.  This is fair enough but it took a fair few hours and I got into the 200's before I suffered my first defeat.  This brings us to the second issue - you can no longer see the acts of god available to your rival. Had I known the enemy god had Helen of Troy available I would have changed my tactics, but the only powers I could muster were Raise/Lower Land and Move Papal Magnet.  I couldn't attack Helen of Troy as any person she touched would become enchanted.  As she was from the water elements I couldn't drown her.  All I could do was watch as my followers became entranced and my towns disappear.
Don't I know it.

In spite of the above flaws, Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods is better that I remember and rightfully deserves a place on my blogAs much as it has gone up in my estimation, I still prefer the first game.
This screen is shown before each world.  Unfortunately it does not show your opponents powers.