Have you ever dreamed of being a god, modifying every little thing in the world that isn't as you wish, having hordes of followers and worshippers that follow your orders, and practically being the 'Master of All'? If you presume (as all of you probably do) from this question that this game offers it all, you're completely right! There is just one little catch – the other mighty god disagrees with you, and he won't just be sitting in the clouds watching you have all the fun.
Populous is the first game from a quadrilogy of the same name. When this game was released, it was extremely popular and widely accepted as one of the first real-time strategies. The fact that it was named Game Of The Year 1989 says enough for itself. As soon as you run the game you will see a menu giving you 3 choices of play: Tutorial, Conquest and Custom Game. In Tutorial mode you can practice your skills as a god without need of filling your mana. Conquest offers you a chance to fight your adversary on various maps, advancing through them one by one and Custom Game allows you to change worlds and landscapes and even put yourself in the role of Evil.
The main goal of the game is to defeat the other god and his people by spreading your tribe through building houses. You advance your people's buildings by conquering plain fields. The more houses and followers you have, the more mana (deja vu, anyone? ) you get. Mana is a god's power which you use for releasing disasters upon enemy people and buildings. You have a wide range of them at your disposal: earthquake, flood (raises sea level), volcano, armageddon, swamp (swallows all) and knight (ultimate warrior who, once unleashed, destroys enemy houses and people). To round up your divine powers, you also have the ability of raising and lowering land, which is useful for making plain fields or weakening enemy buildings.
Graphics and sound
Populous' graphics were very good for the time of its release, and now, to us spoilt gamers, it looks somewhat seamy. Various landscapes (polar, desert, grassland, rocks and lava) are probably what nowadays gives graphics a pass, considering that animations of your people and buildings aren't very impressive. Sound is nothing spectacular and the music is painfully repetitive so you'll probably turn it off after 10 minutes.
And so we come to what is probably the worst side of the game. The interface is rather unpractical, mainly because of the clumsily positioned control board which reduces the actual playing area of the screen so you have to scroll all the time. This might put most new players off… and they could hardly be blamed for that!
Compatibility and controls
For running the game you should use DosBox in which the game runs flawlesly, while there are some game speed issues when running the game with VDMSound. One of the great sides of the game is that its compatibility features aren't typical for the time of its release. For instance, Populous was one of the first games to introduce multiplayer via modem! Yes, you read it right, you can dial your friend's computer and prove to him who's the better God in-head-to-head play! Populous also supports mouse control while featuring a great number of keyboard hotkeys (you can download default keyboard controls). This greatly enhances playability and enables you to react faster to the events on the screen.
Conclusion and personal opinion
The fact that Populous is a true strategy classic which has set the standards for many forthcoming games is not questionable. The real dilemma here is whether it still is as challenging and interesting as it was 15 years ago. Old fans who played it and liked it in past times will surely be attracted to it once again because of its intense nostalgic feeling, while new players who are used to state-of-the-art 3D games will probably detest it and delete it immediately after download. As I belong to the first group (the slightly younger part of it, that is), I would recommend it to every gamer willing to see how it all started. Even if you're not impressed at the first sight, give Populous some time, and it will attract your attention for quite a while. After all, it is challenging to experience what it's like to be a God, isn't it?
In your Populous package file (you downloaded it, of course) you will get 5 files which you can run the game from. Each file offers different quality graphics and sound. Here's the list to save you precious time:
populous.exe(CGA graphics and PC speaker)– never, and I repeat, NEVER run the game with this executable unless you're a kamikaze or you want to go blind and deaf!
popvga1.bat(VGA graphics and PC speaker) – avoid the darn PC speaker
popvga2.bat (VGA graphics with Tandy sound) – couldn't get any sound in DosBox
popvga3.bat (VGA graphics with Adlib sound) – very good combination
popvga4.bat (VGA graphics with Roland MT-32 sound) – my favourite as the sound is slightly better than with Adlib
trans.exe not used for running the game, but is a very useful executable which enables you to change default control keys any way you wish!
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