The Settlers II

UbiSoft has updated what is argued to be the best of the Settlers franchise to modern PCs with little more than cosmetic changes. Not available in the US but forthcoming here on the DS Bluealien takes a look at how well this classic has withstood ten years of gaming development.

Title: The Settlers II: 10th Anniversary Edition
Genre: City-Builder, Economic Sim
Publisher: Blue Byte
Developer: Ubisoft
Official Site: http://thesettlers.uk.ubi.com/settlers2/
Availability: Import Only

The Settlers II: 10th Anniversary Edition is a rare breed, that is to say it?s a remake that makes no pretensions about being anything but. Even though the Settlers franchise has spawned a number of sequels, the fifth being The Settlers: Age of Kings, the second installment in the series was to many the most beloved and worth not only of a revamp but a port to the Nintendo DS.
Background
Where da wimmenz at? That?s how The Settlers II start. What once was a utopia full of good food, good drink and good times has been shattered with the sudden disappearance of all the women in a quasi-Roman society. Playing the unnamed commander of an expedition to try and find them you will establish small settlements to move around the world in an effort to investigate what happened to all the ladies. You will encounter an Egyptian and a Chinese culture on the way and settle your way across the globe.

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Gameplay: 8/10
The gameplay in The Settlers II is fairly simple. You begin with a town headquarters and some resources. Your job is to construct a settlement to gather more resources, expand your settlement and reach a certain point on the map. Usually this involves fighting of some sorts. Combat is handled very abstractly. You equip, recruit and train soldiers but the only command of substance you can issue them is to direct them to a target, where they will fight anybody defending it.

The real art to the game is settlement construction. Laying out your city to maximize resource collection and refinement is no easy task. In addition to this natural resources are nonrenewable. If you over-forest land for wood then you must plant a forester and wait for the trees to grow back. Mines and quarries will peter out after time and fish will be depleted. In addition to this in order for any resource to be useful it must first be processed, with the exception of stone. Lumber must go to the sawmill, wheat to the mill where it is turned into flour which, when combined with water at the bakery provides bread which is used to feed your miners who provide coal and iron ore that are combined at the smelters to produce iron which is then recombined with more coal to produce weapons and tools. If that seems a little convoluted it is supposed to.

Success in this game requires setting up a well connected infrastructure of harvesting, refinement and production. The biggest problem with doing this is the inability to rotate buildings. Since the original version of the Settlers II was made using bitmaps and before rotatable camera views building facing is fixed, either towards the left, right or bottom side of the screen. This makes building roads or settlements that make any actual sense extremely difficult since you have no flexibility in where you can connect the building to the rest of your settlement.

Most of what the player controls in this game is the location of buildings and the sorts of interconnections that are made between them. For example your farm, mill, bakery and well should all be close to one another. If one of them is distant then the bread production will suffer, in turn your mining will suffer and so on so forth. A poorly laid settlement will do everything at a crawl and be quickly overwhelmed by a better planned town. Everything in your settlement is carried either hand over hand or by donkey, from one point to another where it waits for the next man in the chain to pick it up and move it along.

This all makes for a very slow paced game. If you are looking for twitch strategy like Command and Conquer then you will quickly bore of The Settlers II. However if games like Railroad Tycoon, SimCity and Caesar IV are more to your liking then this game is a perfect fit. However, I would still expect that you will spend much of the game in accelerated time.

Graphics: 8/10

Not surprisingly one of the biggest changes is in the graphics. The Settlers II is no longer full of bitmaps but instead rendered in glorious 3D. Trees wave and waters ripple in the wind, shadows creep along with the sun and your transporters do little handstands when they have nothing better to do. Most of the animations are pretty basic ? fighting is two guys standing across from one another, swinging, blocking or staggering back if they get hit. The camera is rotatable but the view is fixed, it?s possible to swing the camera around but it always returns to a fixed point of view when you?re done.
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Sound and Music: 6/10
The sound effects are very basic in this game; there are probably less than two hundred different effects. The soundtrack, while giving an appropriate expansionistic grandeur to the game, gets repetitive after a while. Each of the three factions has their theme, which runs between 5 and 10 minutes and loops endlessly. There are no provisions for a custom soundtrack or a CD player.

Overall: 7.3/10
The Settlers II is simply a remake. No innovation in gameplay is present. Many of the constraints that were not an option to circumvent ten years ago have not been changed. Classic gaming is all well and good but things can only get better with innovation. The Settlers II is less than a rehash, it?s for people who wanted to play Settlers II without having to fire up DosBox. For city builder fans the Settlers II is a mediocre offering in the time of more advanced iterations of the Settlers and games like Caesar IV and Glory of the Roman Empire. The biggest advantage is the ability to crank up the time compression and leave the game for a few hours, stockpiling resources for a blitzkrieg. The game almost plays itself after a while.

The Settlers II was reviewed on and tested on a machine with the following specifications:
Processor: P4 3.4 GhZ HT
Operating System: XP Professional SP2
RAM: 2GB PC2600 DDR
Graphics Card: 256MB ATI Radeon X800 XT
Hard Drive: Seagate SATA 300GB
Other: Lite-On DVD+/-RW