Version 2 of Populous is a power trip. The power of life and death, the ability to bring down a rain of fire, the power to send tidal waves crashing across cities are all yours to command. With these powers you must conquer the world. Currently, it is a land of heathen folk who prey the graven images of your Olympian competitors, but adept displays of your abilities will start the populace worshipping you. The people live below, on a series of scattered islands which must be conquered one-by-one. The initial battles are fought with a few lowly powers against a sluggish, stupid foe. Conquer them and you move up the god league ladder, to take on more capable deities using increasingly pokey powers. Gods need followers to flourish. At the start of each island battle, a few already worship you – some folk will believe anything! – and a few pray to your foe. It is from the devotions of your followers that your power stems. Promote their existence while inhibiting those pledged to your foe and your powers increase as the population grows. The prayers your people offer up is measured as ‘mana’ and this is what gives gods clout. For each island you will receive a set of powers with which to protect, promote and punish the population. Each power costs mana to use, and the pokier the effect the more prayer power it costs. Working on a direct debit system, your mana level automatically displays and deducts the cost of each power. This symbiotic relationship of god-to-people and power-to-mana, dictates your actions throughout the game. The range of powers depends on the island. Gods always have the power to raise and lower land, to summon followers to their ‘Papal Magnet’ and to invoke Armageddon. On offer are 27 other effects and it is these which make Populous 2 a classic spectator sport. The populace of Populous are a hardly and obedient breed – which is just as well. If you clear land and slap them in ‘Settle mode’ they instantly build houses. Clear more space and their shack becomes a hall, and then a mansion, which becomes a castle. And the better their living conditions the more praise – mana – they offer up. Better housing offers them greater protection though, so they tend to be a homely bunch, and have to be forcefully clicked from their house to go to war or visit the Papal Magnet. Leaders are important to these people too. You can create one by hitting ‘Go to Papal Magnet Mode’ and the first man or woman there becomes your leader. People who follow them there are then absorbed into the leader, making them more efficient. This leader adds to the tribe’s sense of security and can become a potent weapon in the Populous armoury. Leaders can become knights who seek the nearest enemy in an attempt to slay unbelievers. Both dogmatic and stupid they often need land raised from the sea to reach their foes, but the mana investment is worth it when you see the carnage they cause. Populous 2 stands a top of the games Olympus. It has everything a game should offer: it’s fast to play but provides a long-term challenge; it balances control speed with tactical depth in a way that hitherto looked impossible; while excellent effects and swift moving graphics ensure that Populous 2 looks as good as it plays.

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