Populous: The Beginning

The God-bothering strategy of Populous never really took off on consoles, despite this third entry in the series receiving some fairly major concessions to what was presumably meant to be a faster-paced experience than the land-levelling of old.

In this version you exert your control via a shamanic character that bosses all the other Populous people about on your behalf, and direct click-drag interaction. The aim is to ultimately ascend to divine status, but the shift in perspective does make the central appeal of the series - namely being a god - rather too abstract.

Much like the wonderful and frequently forgotten Bullfrog classic Powermonger, the little people now lead fairly autonomous lives and are pretty smart to boot. Often you only need to give them a nudge to get them building the things you need and producing the right resources before you launch an all-out assault on the rival tribe.

Come in Supreme Commander, your time is up.

And if that doesn't sound a lot like the Populous you remember, you'd be right. This is much more like a combat-focused RTS, with some pretty blatant inspiration from the original Warcraft games, although the ability to unleash natural disasters is thankfully still a core part of the gameplay.

The full 3D graphics were a first for the series, though they won't impress today, but the main problem is that the game is a clumsy fit on a joypad. It's functional, certainly, but as one of the early attempts to develop across console and PC at the same time, its shortcomings are more obvious with hindsight.

With that grumble in mind, Populous: The Beginning does at least offer something new to the PlayStation Store and is hopefully a sign that some of the ol' PSone's more thoughtful games will be joining us in the golden glow of the next generation.


Hardcore 4x4

And so we come to the most recent additions to the Store. While it would be premature to start worrying about slipping standards on the basis of one update, this predictable racer from the Gremlin archives (arriving via Sheffield descendant Zoo Digital) certainly feels like something of a placeholder upload.

Just no.

As the name suggests, 4x4 racing is what's on offer - though it's neither hardcore nor off-road. Well, it is off-road, but you're still hemmed into a traditional track by insurmountable sheer walls. So it might as well be a road racer. The only difference is the lurching bumps and dips, and the creaking, springing suspension of the trucks. Not that the tracks take much advantage of the arcade potential of such vehicles. Course designs are painfully generic, with little to challenge or excite even an inexperienced gamer.

The same holds true for the available game modes - single race, championship and time trial are all as you'd expect, while the variable weather simply utilises cheap fogging effects to obscure your vision. You can't even race against a friend.

With WipEout and Crash Team Racing already available from the PlayStation Store, this is a curious choice for the first "proper" vehicle racing game on the service. There are dozens of other driving games that would make for a more compelling download than this. Wait for those.



The second of Zoo Digital's additions to the Store is a much more enjoyable offering. As it involves rotating your craft around the screen and blasting enemies as they approach up a psychedelic tunnel, all to pounding dance music courtesy of big beat pioneers The Crystal Method, it's hard not to use the word Tempest. So there you are.

How could you not want to play that? /consults review text. Aha.

Except it's obviously not exactly like that venerable old granddaddy, and those who still live in fear of Space Giraffe can be reassured that for all its trippy trappings N20 is a thoroughly accessible abstract shooter.

It's a handy reference point though, and if you like your arcade games twitchy and hypnotic, you'll find much to enjoy here. Personally I found it played better on the PSP, purely because the chunkiness of the blown-up pixel graphics on an HDTV detracted slightly from the immersive experience, even with smoothing switched on.

With over 40 levels and split-screen multiplayer, N20 is a lot like Kula World - not a game many people will remember, but well worth rediscovering all the same.


About the author

Dan Whitehead

Dan Whitehead

Senior Contributor, Eurogamer.net

Dan has been writing for Eurogamer since 2006 and specialises in RPGs, shooters and games for children. His bestest game ever is Julian Gollop's Chaos.

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