Cultures – The Discovery of Vinland

By Thor’s hammer: an RTS-meets-The Sims, dipers ‘n’ axes historical romp in which you spend as much time marrying off Vikings and making babies as you do sending them into battle. Good, eh? Push, Freja! Push! It’s a boy!
Cultures is not just ‘another strategy game’ then.
Indeed not. And as we’ve intimated at the top, it’s completely bonkers.

But then, the Germans seem to have a special touch with strategy games, don’t they?
How right you are. They’re so good at trading and building games, and with Cultures – which Settlers devotees should delight in – they seem to have done it again.

It’s a Viking job, you say?
Yes, though historical accuracy has been quite understandingly dumped in the interests of fun. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good game?

Just so.
Set 1000 years ago, the 13-mission campaign tells the story of Bjarni, a cute young Viking lad who, together with his clan, discovers America.

My, that is taking a historical liberty.
You ‘aint heard it all yet. Bjarni and company don’t sail all that way merely to say “hello” to the President, oh no; they’re off to find the six pieces of a comet that they spied from their Greenland home. They believe that only once all the pieces are recovered will their gods be appeased and prosperity restored to their home village.

And this involves rape and pillage, surely.
Well, Vikings will be Vikings, and your quest to find all the comet means you must expand across America, forming new villages and defeating viral tribes you come across – Mayas, Indians, the lot. However, to succeed in Cultures you must concentrate not on raping and pillaging, but on the well-being and growth of your cute tribe (none of the Vikings in this game, by the way, are as hairy and fearsome as tradition has it). That means you must ensure your people are healthy, well fed, have a roof over their heads, have jobs and grow wealthy through trade with other nations. You also have to love, thus springing children into the world. The multiplayer game is all about building yourself up specifically to ‘deal with your neighbours’, but even then you must make your side happy and prosperous if you’re to win.

Mate, Cultures sounds like a great laugh.
It really is. Somehow you become more emotionally attached to your tiny empire in Cultures than you do with many other strategy games, which too often these days are spectacular and massive, but lacking in humour and empathy.

With you there. So it’s not a dull game?
No it isn’t. And yet Cultures is not merely a ‘comedy-strategy’. The game has depth, and all the traditional elements of a tricky strategy are in place. To succeed you must balance the individual needs of your Viking families with your wider strategic aims, and herein lies the cleverness and immersive nature of the game. Soldiers, craftsmen, and a whole range of characters are needed to allow a successful community to flourish, and each of these characters must be kept happy. In this respect, Cultures is a little like Theme Park World – all the chaps have to be looked after – but in Cultures every character has their own unique personality – they act and ‘live’ by themselves and must develop – just like the people of The Sims.

Interesting. And it certainly looks cheerful.
The graphics and animations are very colourful and quirky. Each individual has their own dress, face and hair and goes about his or her daily and nightly business on their own (you can keep track of them with a couple of clicks). As for the environments, they are busy and diverse.

Is Cultures easy to get to grips with?
The interface has been thoughtfully put together, and the tutorial and instruction booklets are quite helpful. You’re up and making baby Vikings in no time, really.

How many people can play the multiplayer game?
You can play Cultures with up to five people in multiplayer mode via LAN, or on the net using the Cultures Online Server.

Marvellous. Do you think this game could catch on?
We’d like to think so. We haven’t played the full campaign yet or even scratched the surface of the bugger, really, so you’ll have to wait for our full review; but certainly we’re able to say that Cultures looks an exciting game that pushes the strategy genre forward in a way we like. Keep tuned for more, and we’ll keep making the babies.

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