The original Populous offered something a bit different in the god game genre. The basic premise was to build your population to a level where is was larger than your opponents and then gather enough magic to invoke the Armageddon event which sent the total population from both sides into conflict with each other until only one civilisation remained. However, it wasn’t until Populous 2 that the concept became fully fleshed out and gave us another classic in the God game genre.
The basic concept of Populous is still the same. You have a disembodied hand which you move around a map. The main thing you’ll be doing is raising and lowering land to flatten it out. This then allows your population to wander around and make settlements. The larger the area of flat land the bigger the settlement they make will be with the aim being to have hundreds of settlements all over the map. You’ll be left and right clicking hundreds of time per level and it becomes strangely compelling to get maps nice and level.
This isn’t a city building game and you have little to no control over where your population are wandering or the settlements that they build. Your job is to prepare their environment for them so they can develop and spread quickly. While your population are growing your opponents will be as well with the aim still being to build enough population and power to invoke and win the Armageddon event and thus win the game.
As well as playing with the levels of the land you also have a host of magic you can use and this version of the game also allows you to build up and develop a unique deity with different strengths and weaknesses with which to take on the Olympian Gods. Magic is wide ranging but normally involves causing damage to your opponent’s settlements. There are fire storms, whirlwinds, lightning and earthquakes to name a few which can be summoned to damage buildings. You can also lay down swamp to drown citizens or even holy fonts which convert them to your side. One of the most satisfying things to do is to find the enemies symbol of power (which they can use to draw citizens to power up) and then surround it with swamp and pits so their hapless citizens are drawn to their doom.
If there is a down side to the game it’s that it can become a bit repetitive after long session of play. The amount of left and right clicking required never really goes away and the skill comes in balancing your own population creation with attacking your opponents and mending any damage they are causing you. But game to game your actions don’t really change, although you now have a lot more powers to play with than in the original game. The play window is also a little small with the screen filled with icons and the large scale map as well as the zoomed in map that you carry out your direct influence on. Any negatives are minor though and it’s hypnotically compelling for the most part.
The main strength of the game is how seemingly simple it is to pick up and get into. There are hundreds of levels and you are started off slowly with how well you do adjusting which level to send you to next. Magic and types of landscape are introduced gradually and there is always something new to discover on the next level. I have to say as well that having played this on the SNES for many years that the PC version handles so much better that I’m glad it is now so easily available.
Overall, Populous 2 is bigger and better than the original in every way. It’s simple to get into but tough to master and it still holds up as a unique and excellent God game. It’s further evidence of the excellence of Bullfrog as well and shows a studio at the height if its powers. If you’re a fan of the studio or God games in general then you won’t be let down with this. A true classic and as enjoyable now as it’s ever been.