Master of Orion 3
Games… just what purpose do they serve? I am not thinking of games where you can win cash and/or fabulous prizes or contests where you get paid large green for traipsing around on manicured lawns interspersed with lime and crushed brick. I am musing specifically on video strategy games, you know the kind that started innocuously enough with Balance of Power and now leaves us with Master of Orion 3. In the past I would have answered the question simply by saying: for fun. With little cogitation or introspection I would have proclaimed my answer to be utterly inarguable, but now I think there must be something about strategy games that strikes a deeper chord than mere “fun.” There is, in the take over the universe/world/island/anthill genre, a vibe that you’re not just playing against the computer: you’re playing some crafty bastard residing in your computer whose sole reason for existence is to rob you of your ever dwindling time while inflicting as much mental frustration as possible. You secretly crave the frustration and challenge and the programmers are more than willing to oblige. Like a crack pimp the best strategy games pass out just enough of the good stuff to keep you going while cleverly letting you place the blame for any unfortunate events that befall you squarely on the shoulders of “that cheating game”.
Whatever the reason I found I enjoyed Master of Orion 3, in fact I found I enjoyed the game a little too much. Screaming at frustration at the computer doesn’t always mean you’re using Windows, sometimes it means you think the computer cheated (strangely enough, all the best games seem to involve anthropomorphization of said computer). Master of Orion 3 (hereafter referred to as MoO3) manages to be maddeningly frustrating, surprisingly addictive, and passably fun all at once, all this adds up to one pretty nifty game.
One of the prerequisites for a quality game is a bit of originality, and MoO3 has plenty of that (at least I think it does, I never played MoO or MoO 2. Suffice it to note that at some point the MoO series displayed plenty of uniqueness). Your earliest decision is also the first encounter with the designers creativity: You choose your pawn, you’ll note they aren’t all derivative of Star Trek characters (an all too common failing of the space genre), some races, like the Silicolds, are very original. You will also find that victory conditions are assignable from the very common “take over the galaxy” condition to the more original “become leader of the Senate” condition, also known as Bob Dole victory mode. The graphics are certainly acceptable, easy on the eyes with just about the right “feel” for this type of game, that is to say that the graphics are nothing to e-mail home about but they don’t hinder the game. The sound, similarly, is just about right. You won’t be playing MoO3 just to hear a funky backbeat, but it seems well matched to the game. The generous interpretation of the graphics and sound of MoO3 is that it is quite an accomplishment to fit the graphics and sound so tightly with the game they never distract you from your main mission while the other interpretation is that the graphics and music are very average. I think the play quality of MoO3 is fairly outstanding so overlook these shortcomings/high points.
MoO3 does have problems, and the most glaring one is the high price of admission. I refer not to the ubiquitous cash price of $49.95; I am speaking of the amount time spent becoming familiar enough with MoO 3 to actually accomplish something. It’s a fairly steep learning curve so be prepared to spend a whole bunch of time (30 hours!) learning the various ins and outs of MoO 3, particularly if you never played the earlier versions. Once you’ve mastered the basics you’ll find MoO3 at least very diverting indeed, if not fun. MoO 3 will have you swearing that the computer cheats, which is a sign of a particularly engrossing game.
MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5, it’s worth both the cash outlay and the time spent learning if you enjoy strategy games.