Possibly the most moving and thought provoking games of all time.
General Information: The game, like games in the Civilization series, is a turn-based strategy game. It is a direct sequel to Civilization II (where the game ends in the construction of a vast colony starship destined for the Alpha Centauri system). As the title vaguely suggests, (=P), the game takes place on a planet named Chiron, which the colonists usually refer to as "Planet", orbiting the primary star of Alpha Centauri. However, this is much, much more than Civilization II in space...
Story: In the year 2060, the problems of Earth such as global warming, war and famine are escalating. The world is in chaos, and in a last ditch attempt to secure a chance of survival for humanity, the UN decides to construct a massive state of the art colony ship carrying about 1000 of humankind's brightest, funded by the Namibian diamond tycoon Nwabudike Morgan. The starship Unity, headed for the planet previously mentioned, takes off. Unfortunately, a reactor malfunction damages the ship, and the crew is awakened from their cryopods prematurely. During a period of horrible conditions, Captain Garland is assassinated, and the crewmembers break apart, led under leaders based not on race, but on ideology. Sheng-Ji Yang, of China, the ships lieutenant, Deirdre Skye, the ships Xenobiology officer, Pravin Lal, the head surgeon, Prokhor Zakharov, the science officer, Nwabudike Morgan, who secretly built a compartment for himself, Corazon Santiago, the chief of security, and Miriam Godwinson, the ships priest. They each go into respective lifepods, and crash land on planet, each the head of a faction based on ideology's: Green, Survivalist, Humanitarian, etc. The story of their survival and colonization is furthered throughout the game. Needless to say, the story is good.
Game play: It is similar to Civilization, but improved and with a sci-fi twist. Often you are forced to make moral decisions. The diplomacy option is deeper than normal, with a Planetary Election taking place to determine the leader of the Council. This council votes on important matters such as: Melting the polar ice caps, repealing atrocity prohibitions, salvaging the Unity's fusion core, etc. The head of the council can veto a decision, and gains a substantial commerce boost. The combat is normal, but perhaps the most interesting feature is the ability to create units. The customization tools aren't huge, but you can give units special abilities, chassis, armour, weapons, reactors, names, etc. For example: A 'Copter with plasteel armour, a graviton gun, and the ability to attack moving aircraft and see two extra spaces. I'm going to call it Plasteel Armoured Gravitational AA Hover Deep Radar Battery. Rolls off your tongue! The terraforming in this game is pretty interesting. Theres farms, mines, solar panels, roads, etc. But then theres thermal boreholes, rainfall condensers, and echelon mirrors. The base building uses something like settlers, but now you can build floating sea cities. You can also launch satelittes into orbit which grant resources.
Graphics: Not too much to say, the planet is very nice looking 2-d ish filled with alien life and unique landmarks, but the units are rendered in full 3-d. It looks nice. And there are no graphical glitches of any kind that I have found.
Originality: The thing that distinguishes Alpha Centauri from Civilization is the way it makes you think. At every corner, you will be forced to make ethical decisions and customize your faction to suit your play style. These choices may seem trivial, but have a great impact in the long run. For example, you may wish to equip your units with nerve gas pods, which increase damage by 50%, but doing so is considered an atrocity and will earn you unpopularity with the other factions.
It is hard to describe the level of Alpha Centauri's magnificence. But, rest assured, if you try it, you will be playing for countless hours. It is a game that can suck away days of your life at the same rate that eating McDonalds lowers your life expectancy.