Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares Preview

Microprose adds detail, depth, and danger to one of its biggest strategy hits

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The turn-based strategy game may not be much in vogue these days, but the tactical wizards at SimTex have proven that there's still a lot of life left in the once-popular genre. Building off the universe created in its amazingly addictive Master of Orion, the Texas-based development team has created a sequel that looks to have the complexity and depth of *play* to deliver a whole new gaming experience.

As is true of its predecessor, the main goal of Master of Orion II is to conquer the galaxy through the clever use of diplomacy, economic savvy, subterfuge, and of course, good old-fashioned firepower. As the leader of your entire race, you will need to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and then boldly subjugate them to your will. In addition to building colonies and starships, you must also put together a research team capable of discovering new technologies that will have your people producing more, hitting hard, and living longer. If you find yourself behind the times, you can use spies to steal your enemy's hard-earned secrets, or saboteurs to destroy their buildings. In the end, only one race will have the Machiavellian instincts necessary to conquer the entire galaxy, and uncover the mysterious power hidden on Orion.

Those who were fans of the first Orion title will find plenty here that's changed. The previously ultra-simple planet management is now impressively complex, with new rules for planetary structures, multiple colonies within a single star system, as well as a civilization-like food control system. You can choose from one of 13 different alien races (that includes Humans, Bulrathi, Psilons, and all of your old favorites) or, if you're feeling particularly godlike, you can design your own in Master of Orion II's new race design system. This time around, players can take over ships as well as planets, and are now forced to deal with sociological factors as well as military when dealing with an alien populous. As if all of this weren't enough, the team has put together some truly impressive Super VGA graphics and a slick soundtrack to deliver a fully absorbing sense of atmosphere.

Master of Orion II is an exciting title, not only because it is a sequel to a popular game, but because SimTex has been brave enough to improve on its title rather than repeat it. With support for up to eight players on a network, the game promises to become one of the biggest multiplayer titles of this year as well. So far, the game looks great, and it definitely has the potential to be a strategy classic reminiscent of the golden age of Microprose.

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