Nearly no sound
Some of you will remember Sid Meier's Colonization, back from 1994. It was one of the descendants of world-famous Civilization, and arguably the most original of them, introducing in the field of strategy games concepts that regretfully haven't been revisited. The game starts in 1492, and it's about colonizing the New World with and a bunch of pioneers aboard a small ship, until much later your populous and mighty colonies don't need the king any longer and decide to declare independence -- that's supposed to be the goal of the game.
For the ones unfamiliar with the original Colonization, the very basic ideas are similar to many "4X" and "God" games: build cities and fight with units. From this point on, however, this game departs from the cliché and turns into much more than a Civilization clone with a colonial setting. For example instead of collecting gross resources calculated out of population and terrain, it's up to you to manage every colonist and every commodity to be produced. Say for example that you want to make rum: then you need to allocate one colonist onto one tile of terrain to grow sugar cane, and then another one as a distiller to process the sugar into rum. Colonists are independent entities, not just population figures, and you can move them from one colony to any other. And soldiers are just colonists equipped with certain commodities called muskets and horses that you must produce or purchase. The micromanagement doesn't get harsh, and you'll likely have few colonies before you declare independence and win the game --this isn't really an 4X game. You get the idea; if you like strategy and you didn't know Colonization, you just have to try Freecol.
The historical background is a very nice plus for the game too. You play the role of the colonies of one of four European nations: England, France, Netherlands or Spain. You're likely to be at some time or other at war with the other players (who can be pals multiplaying or the computer), either on their initiative, yours, or your king's even against your will. And of course there are Indians, several tribes as well as the Aztec and Incan civilizations --whose cities make big cash to loot! It's up to you to decide to be at peace or war with them, although again they can decide on their own too, and they're not very patient. And, you can also found Christian missions in their settlements. You're supposed to promote separatist sentiment in your colonies, to the extent that if you do you're rewarded with improved efficiency and if you don't you're punished with just the opposite. In the long run you king will invariably increase taxes to unreasonable rates and you're supposed to declare independence, then the king will send his mucho army and kick your really sorry army if you haven't prepared really well; if you defeat him, you just won the game.
All the above about gameplay actually applies to the original Colonization as well as to Freecol which we're concerned with; so it remains to discuss the game's furnishing and how it compares to the original. First of all let's make clear that the game, completely playable as it is, is still in development. Right now it includes no music and nearly no sounds, but this may change. Also the original game included tons of pixel art: pictures of the advisors, the Indians, the Founding Fathers, etcetera, in a nice style. In comparison Freecol is just windows without accompanying characters. There are some other details, such as the prosaic fonts, that together make the game's look a little dull in the end. The graphics of the map remind me a lot of Civilization III, and the whole colour scheme is pastel for some reason.
All in all an excellent strategy game. You can multiplay but you may never get tired of it even if you play alone against the computer, and it includes the customary random world generator, along with a pregenerated map of the Americas if you prefer. If the remake is to be compared with the original, then I'll say that there's work to do before Freecol can live up to its venerable ascendant.
NOTE: This game is made in Java and needs the Java Runtime Environment to run. Even if you don't know what it is, likely it's already installed in your system. Otherwise you can download it for free from Sun Microsystem's website ( http://java.sun.com/getjava/ ).
Review by: Japofran
Safe for all ages
Windows or Mac
Java Runtime Environment 1.5 or higher
screen resolution 1024x768 pixels or higher