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Released in 1989 by Bullfrog games, Populous is a 'God-sim'/real time strategy game in which you play a deity ruling over a tribe of people, with the aim of the game being to destroy a rival god-led tribe through a mix of spell-casting, civil engineering and military strategy. Your individual tribespeople wander the map building settlements, which range from mud-huts to cottages to stone-walled mansions to castles, depending upon the amount of available farmland surrounding each settlement. You can help this process along by flattening out the surrounding land and reclaiming land from the sea, thus allowing for your civilisation to grow. The more impressive your settlements and numerous your tribe the more manna you have, which allows you to rain down disasters such as floods, earthquakes and volcanoes on your enemy's land, destroying his people's settlements and thus reducing his manna levels. The two groups of tribes can fight one another, and you can also drum up recruits from your various settlements who combine to create tribal leaders and knights that can then be sent out to destroy enemy settlements and kill their occupants. Finally, there is an Armageddon feature, in which all the tribespeople on the map join forces for a final fight to the death.
Both graphics and gameplay were hugely innovative at the time, and the game is still rather unique and appealing today, having spawned a large number of sequels and spin-offs over the years such as Populous 2, Populous the Beginning, Powermonger, and more recently the Black and White games. Only a small central portion of the screen is given over to the main battlescape, the rest of the screen comprising of a minimap and dozens of control buttons , and play can get a little repetitive as you endlessly flatten land and try repeatedly to drown enemy tribespeople, but Populous nevertheless remains a hugely important and influential game. Whilst the graphics, animation and sound all seem very basic now, the game is still insidiously addictive, and alternately helping along your followers and bringing down disasters on the followers of your enemy is still good fun, if all rather simplistic by modern standards. Whilst simple however I find the gameplay to be ultimately more engaging and fun than the 'sandbox nonsense' of the Black and White games, although the sequel to the original Populous game does improve on the first one with new disasters and terrain types and improved visuals. A game much deserving of its classic status then, and one that has as much in common with Sim City as it does with the likes of Warcraft.