Sins of a Solar Empire vs. Justin Bieber

Sins of a Solar Empire is not only a great game, it's a cheap one as well. We've set out to prove there are much, much worse things you can buy with that kind of money by finding the worst thing we could for the same price: a Justin Bieber album.

Sins of a Solar Empire vs. Justin Bieber

In 2008, a freshly cast Ironclad Games launched its debut title, Sins of a Solar Empire, into one of the most complex and venerable genres in the world: the RTS. The result was a surprising success, with the sci-fi space epic going through awards like priests through a nunnery.

Bieber who?

We're not exactly sure just who Justin Bieber is (or what gender it is for that matter), but we've been assured that the music produced by this would-be wunderkind is, in fact, gut-wrenchingly terrible and time would be better spent on other, less grating hobbies like beehive smashing or herpes testing. Nevertheless, the laws of populist entertainment condemn us to a fate of joyless experience for the thirty-something minutes this album takes, and we are nothing if not slaves to gimmicky effect. God forbid someone judge us on the quality of our articles.

Well, that was two years ago now, and while Ironclad Games may have risen to success and produced a further three expansion packs, the low price of Sins has only fallen. (If you spend more time looking for spare change down the back of the couch than looking for a job, this might just be the game for you.) Here at Double Jump, we think there's worse things you could spend your money on, so we've set out to prove it. Right now, it's about the price of a Justin Bieber album. So here it is: a side-by-side comparison of one of the best games to come out of 2008 against one of the worst albums ever made.

Sinsational

Here's what you need to know about Sins: it's good. Damn good. The fat's been cut, but what's left is nothing more than raw, undiluted fun. There's no story beyond some simple background lore (at least until you get into the expansion packs), nor even a campaign mode; just a simple player/map game creation screen. Ironclad lets Sins ride on the merits of its execution, which is a refreshing approach leagues apart from today's buzzword-compensating industry, where every game seems to be trying to cover as many bases as it unreasonably can't.

Phase jump

Just like any RTS, you'll find yourself fighting a complicated balance between attacking, defending, obtaining resources and base building. What sets Sins apart is the sheer, vertigo-inducing scale that the game hurls your omnipresent birds-eye-view into. You'll find yourself amongst a vast (at times bordering on endless) series of planetary systems, each usually consisting of a single planet and several asteroids which contain metal and crystal, the two main resources of the game.

On the larger maps, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the size of the single-star galaxy you start in. On the truly massive maps, with three, four or even five stars and associated planetary systems, you finally start to grasp the enormity of this digital tubcat. Be warned, though: those larger maps will see you sinking more hours into finishing a single game than watching your laser-worn Firefly collection back-to-back.

The gameplay is your standard-fare divide and conquer, but exceptionally well-balanced. An endless supply gut-wrenching, knife-edge decisions will make you step carefully at every twist in the game. The distributed nature of your base and fleets make for some tricky management at times. Leave your planets undefended at your own risk and the moment your fleet is over the other side of the galaxy, your enemy will launch a sneak attack more dastardly than a 1960s cartoon.

Planet conquest

The magnitude of such a portly celestial plane is compensated in part by allowing for a postively unwholesome quantity of ships. Fleets can be truly massive, almost seeming to fill entire planetary systems at times. While it is somewhat unusual to see an fleet of that size attack as a as a unified whole, those moments will be devastatingly awe-inspiring. Feeling the rush of adrenaline that follows jumping a cornered fleet into a different system only to be met by a fleet of a similar size as yours makes you wonder just how this game manages to supply such consistently epic moments. Even watching a few evenly matched ships going head to head is exciting, and it only gets better as each player advances technologically, until you're watching ships which range from miniscule bombers and fighters to huge capital ships battle it out.

Magnified view of unit selection

The AI is well-balanced, if a little humdrum (you're probably safe keeping one massive fleet and just walking over everything in your path), but the real action is in multiplayer. Sins is one of those games that is remarkably good at exposing the heart of human deviousness. Play against humans and you’ll be forced to accept that, as a species, we're a bunch of cunning, overzealous and frankly rather cruel bastards.

“Play against humans and you’ll be forced to accept that, as a species, we’re a bunch of cunning, overzealous and frankly rather cruel bastards.”

Smaller battles are quite capable of providing serious entertainment as well, particularly if you're not intending to play for ten hours straight. The focus simply changes from more occasional large, strategically important battles to brief, tiny skirmishes until one person gets the upper hand, either economically or strategically.

Added into the mix are three races, each realtively similar but with enough distinctness to reward experimentation. One of our favourite aspects is civilian manipulation: subjugating your population in order to exact an ever-increasing level of tax to keep your fleet romping its way through enemy systems.

The best player will balance civilian politics with military might; a series of upgrades through military, strategic or holy-crap-that's-a-big-gun technologies. Sins is on the lighter side of the tech tree shtick, and we can reassure you that you're not going to have to make spreadsheets or have a degree in economics; it's easy enough to just pick up and play.

Back to Bieber

Now, lets not get ahead of ourselves. The point of this article is to contrast the merits of purchasing a magnicifent, well-wrought game filled with hundreds of hours of hand-crafted, excellent gameplay to those of purchasing an album with all the artistic merits of a Uwe Boll film enacted by Furbies (a look, incidentally, which JB captures perfectly).

The source of all human knowledge and future sentient overlord of mankind, Wikipedia, says that My World is JB's first EP album. Launching into the first track with all the grim determination of a man wrestling a grizzly bear for the last cold beer (a thing that happens, we've seen it on TV advertising), we're guessing EP stands for Ear Punishment.

Allow us to construct, graphically, the timeline of mental degeneration one can expect to suffer through:

The five stages of Justin Bieber

Put simply: Justin Bieber's "album" My World is nothing short of a weapon of neurodegenerative warfare. It should be banned, burnt, or smashed into a thousand tiny digital splinters. Twenty bucks to listen to it? We'd rather listen to Going Rogue, the audiobook.

The Verdict

So, here it is, your final breakdown:

Sins of a Solar Empire Justin Bieber's My World
Price $20 $20
Gameplay Plot, plow and plaster your enemies across a broad, sweeping universe. Wrestle with diplomacy and direct an empire behind sharply tuned controls. Play. Pause. Erase.
Graphics Nothing spectacular, but done well enough to invoke a grandiose sense of magnitude. Eyebleeding.
Audio The vast, expansive sounds of celestial battle fleets hum and drone amisdt a fittingly epic soundtrack, which oscillates between tones of eerie wonderment and triumphant battle themes. This is exactly what interplanetary conquest should sound like. Invest in a mute button.
Notes High critical acclaim, widely regarded as one of the best games of 2008. Possibly contains thetans.

It's twenty bucks, people. Go buy this game, and if you see any blond-haired boy/girl looking like it just stepped out of a Singstar commercial --- shoot it.

Skyscape

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