I remember that when I first got this PC for the purpose of going through the 1001 list, one of the first titles I tested out was Populous and that was the first time I had ever played it. It may even have been the first time I'd seen it, though I've definitely seen some type of game that looks like this. Set in Rome, I think. The name escapes me. So does the reason I bring it up. Where the hell was I talk-
Populous is about playing God, and that's the kind of power a great many of us would want to wield, only to inevitably see it be our downfall, which is exactly what can happen in this game. It's you against a CPU God (though multiplayer was available), each hoping that your followers will build their numbers and their strength and drive out their foes one way or another.
As you might have guessed, my first playthrough was totally blind, which was incredibly stupid for a management sim that requires you to keep an eye on all kinds of systems. From Mana with which to terraform land and unleash natural disasters to the orders you want your followers to follow, there's always something going on.
Even playing level 0 of 500, against an opposing deity with no skills and poor reactions, you can be idly minding your own business flattening landmasses for your followers to build huts, towers and finally castles on top of, and then suddenly glance over to the world map to see the red followers of your enemy blip all over the place.
Snapping back into action you remember that you've got the ability to cause earthquakes, so you press the Earthquake button... and watch your thriving village reduced to rubble, because the earthquake affects whatever you're looking at, and you forgot to move your view over the enemy...
But that's part of the fun. Alright, it sucks, but it's not like you've set yourself back too far - especially on level 0. Slowly you rebuild and your population grows. Do you send them out to disrupt the enemy or sit back and just grow until the time is right to unleash the power of God upon the land?
You can instantly plop a volcano down, completely disrupting a nice flat building surface for the enemy, or perhaps flood the map a little, forcing everyone to higher ground. Maybe you'll promote a follower into a knight and let him loose, cutting down as many people as he can find.
My favourite has to be the Apocalypse. In an instant, every building on the map is destroyed, and all of the followers from both sides are summoned to the middle of the map for a brawl. Hopefully, either through greater numbers or more development, your followers will overpower the enemy and you'll finally find out who was the better God.
And then you'll move on to level 5. The better you do, the more levels you skip, so you don't have to play all 500 levels across differing terrain and enemy difficulty. There's plenty to keep you busy if you want to, though.
'Keeping busy' appears to be the only thing you do as a deity. There's the potential for whatever you're working towards to be undone in an instant, and if you're not familiar with the controls, that could all have come from a mistake you made, with no involvement from your opposition at all.
I initially thought Populous was too much to keep track of, but after sitting back and watching a little of it on YouTube (always better than learning from a manual, certainly for me) you see that the interface is mostly fairly simple and that you don't have to bother with the majority of it until you need to drop a swamp or wreak havoc with a volcano.
I don't know how far I'd find myself getting into the game, though. I didn't play enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or anything, and I'd hope that such a thing was possible and that finishing a level isn't a case of 'build up stronger force, trigger apocalypse, wait for victory screen'.
There's more to Populous, for sure. Do I have the time or interesting in finding it all? Probably not, but that's a personal opinion. Play it for yourselves and see what all that godly power will do to you.
The game was partly developed thanks to a mock-up game made using Lego, but this fact was more useful for the marketing of Populous than in working out how it actually played.
Populous, developed by Bullfrog, first released in 1989.
Version played: MS-DOS, 1989.
Version watched: Amiga, 1989 (AveniesGameRoom)