GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Graphically, the game has been very well designed. You view an open book which displays the may as well as a close-up section of specified areas. Dots on the main map indicate the followers of good and evil which gives an idea as to the strength of your followers. Near to this is a sliding scale which moves up during the gameplay to inform you what kind of divine powers you can summon, such as earthquakes and floods.
Raising and lowering land looks effective and there's no problem in distinguishing different levels. The followers aren't brilliantly drawn and lowering the land underneath a house causes it to disappear rather than crumble to the floor. This drastic feat looks rather abrupt with divine interventions - earthquakes prompt a minor rumble and then everything vanishes. In the case of floods you look in horror as everything shivers and then almost the entire map disappears into the ocean.
Sound effects are brilliant. A mystic chanting takes place in the background which is very atmospheric. Additionally there are a small range of spot effects which appear when you unleash an earthquake or flood. An unconvincing clanking like a blacksmith at work indicates a swart fight, and you can then visit the scene of combat
You need to decide to play the role of one of two divine beings, either GoD or the Devil. The idea is to thrash your opponent by manipulating your dedicated acolytes into collision with the enemy. The playing area a scrolling landscape, and you've got to build houses for your followers to, um, (how do you put this delicately?) procreate before the opposition grabs them. Your power increases to celestial proportions as you gain followers. With your opponent trying to do exactly the same thing on the opposite side of the map you soon realize that one world just isnít big enough for the two of you.
Followers can only build their homes on flat ground so you need to use the mouse to select areas of landscape and either raise or lower it until it's levelled. Your people will then come along and build on the land; first small dwellings barely large enough to pray in and then a decent sized home. Followers will disappear into these places and do whatever followers do, whereupon several new members appear out of the front door. If all the land around the house has been leveled then a castle will be erected.
This might seem like fairly basic stuff but where things really hot up is when you start employing a bit of divine intervention to whip the other sideís houses for yourself. As your power increases you're able to select areas of the map and then cause havoc with everything from earthquakes to floods which can really get to be great fun. If youíve really got something against your opponent then there's even the opportunity to toss round a good bout of disease.
At the start you must place a papal magnet some where on the map. You can then lick a leader and instruct him to go thwarts it, taking all your followers with him. He'll venture on, finding new territories and relying on you to flatten the (and for him.
The game works by selecting somewhere to go on the main map at which point you're presented with a detailed view of this section, Although it's easy enough to view the land on your territory you cannot venture into the domain of your other half.
When the game has progressed this far you can start to engage in all manor of scurrilous activities. You can instruct your followers to engage in fights with the opposition wherever possible - this only has any effect when you come across an enemy occupied house. The owner will emerge and you will fight to the death. Should the house occupier lose then his house will be burnt down.
Making use of the range of divine effects which include earthquakes, floods, disease and even armageddon is fine but unfortunately your enemy has a tendency to play dirty and use the same disasters on you. By viewing his territory you can decide which are his most heavily built in areas and then ruin his day by invoking a volcano. It's the floods which can really cause problems - all ill-advised deluge will not only obliterate most of your enemy territory but you can also kiss goodbye to a large extent of your own land. The entire outcome of the game can be changed with this kind of global effect.
Populous is a strategy game but at the same time the action progresses fast enough to grip even the faithful shoot-em-up addict. A typical game can take around an hour to play but by selecting different aggression and rate levels from a menu you can alter this to suit your requirements. These allow you to specify what options can be brought into play, such as shallow or bottomless swamps, build up and down or up only. These will affect both players but further menus can restrict each player individually so, for example, floods cannot be used by the Devil or God can't let an earthquake rip.
Populous is an excellent game - graphically exciting and amazingly addictive. It's one of those games which you just can't leave alone. Even the front screen, where you'll spend most of your time, is unusual enough to keep you intrigued. As well as a demo mode where you can pick up strategy hints, your opponent can be another human connected via a modem link. The advantage of this is that you can find an opponent from miles away or assemble a simple lead from another machine just inches from your prized Amiga.
The only real criticism of Populous is that impatient ST owners have to wait several more weeks to get their hands on this divine release.