Do you care about the environment? Do you really? Then Millennium - of all people - may have the game for you...
Odd, isn't it, how quickly our expectations change? In the old days, for example, motorcars were thought of as pretty exclusive, the preserve of the rich; now everyone's got one. Bread and jam was once a rare tea-time treat: these days you can bite into a marmalade sandwich any time you like. And now, thanks to games like Populous, Sim City and Mega-Lo-Mania even becoming Supreme Master of the Universe can so easily be taken for granted.
Global Effect is a ruling-the-world game with a 'right-on' slant. So as well as building up cities and armies, at the touch of a button you can call up global warming charts, ozone layer surveys and carbon dioxide readings. You can also plant sustainable forests and build recycling centres, and I'd be surprised if there isn't an option for setting up women-only vegetarian drama workshops buried in here somewhere. But, er, back to the armies and things, eh?
The snag is, before your troops can start advancing across the globe you've really got to establish some sort of economic infrastructure to support the industry necessary for producing the machinery of war. And in that response, Global Effect is extraordinarily similar to Sim City (only not so good). Cities are built up out of just the same sort of building units - blocks of flats, power stations, cables, pipes - although sadly there are no sports stadiums or airports, and no roads with little cars driving along them. (Shucks.)
Instead, Global Effect places the emphasis on fuel sources and waste disposal. Coal is easy to find and mine, but produces lots of carbon dioxide, while uranium is scarce but provides lots of pollution-free electricity. You've also got to make sure each city has a water purifying station and a sewage disposal plant, with pipes leading to the sea. Oh, and how wasy it is to build depends on the sort of environment you're dealing with - this can be selected before the game starts (ice age, forested, post-holocaust, etc) and supposedly changes depending on how you take care of it.
But that's all boring stuff. I know what you want to hear about - blowing things up. Er, I wouldn't hold your breath, but there are some basic facilities available. Once your 'power meter' is high enough you'll be able to start building air and naval bases, from which you can send out planes and boats to attack the enemy. These can be programmed with courses, and then switched over to manual if any precision bombing is called for. Boats are a bit crap, as they take ages to get anywhere, but planes can be loaded up with bombs and flown in huge formations towards enermy cities. You can probably imagine what happens when they get there. (Don't get too wild with anticipation, though. There are no explosions or anything. Buildings just vanish, to be replaced by brown wasteland.)
Global Effect's graphics are a bit useless all round, actually. They look okay from a distance, but when it comes to actually working out what's what you begin to realise how hastily they must have been knocked up. A nuclear power station looks pretty much like a block of flats, as does, a recycling plant and a coal mine. And electricity cables are practically impossible to make out against the background, and never seem to connect up to things properly. (Neither do pipes.)
Another annoyance is that the map doesn't have wrap-around (so much for 'global') so to bomb something on the other side of it you've got to fly all the way around the world, even if your target is technically just round the corner. Tch. Oh yes, and every time you want to put something down on the map you've got to spend ages, scrolling through a list of options, one by one, until you get to the one you want. Pull-down menus would be miles easier.
But It Gets Worse...!
But if you reckon that's my vitriolic quota expended for the month, take a firm grip on the magazines with one hand and peek nervously between the fingers of the other; there's something else, something much worse, and it's making me mad. (I hate it when this happens.) It's the 'power meter' thingy. You know how at the beginning of Populous you can't really do much, as you've only got enough energy to build a few bits and pieces, only it's okay because after a couple of minutes play your power goes shooting up and you're away? Well, Global Effect is the same, only rather than 'minutes' we're talking 'hours'. It's terrible. You can build about three city blocks and a couple of solar panels, and then you run out or power and can't do anything else for ages. You're even denied simple pleasures like scrolling the map around, as that needs power too. 'Frustrating' isn't the word.
I cracked it, though. Boy, did I crack it. The answer, I eventually discovered, was to spend the first ten minutes or so furiously planting as many trees as the blasted 'meter' would allow - hundreds of the things - and then sit back and watch my power rocket up. (Power, you see, is calculated from a combination of economic and ecological success, and as planting trees is deemed by the program to be an ecologically sound thing to do, you get loads of power for it.) I was then able to build loads of air bases and bomb the crap out of the computer. Quite how planting trees should give out the ability to build planes and bombs is beyond me, however, and points to a fundamental flaw in the way the game does its sums.
And that just about sums up Global Effect if you ask me - flawed. The environmental angle is admirable, and has been quite well integrated with the basic Sim City sub-structure. And the military side is great, getting the job done without becoming too wargamey. But, when it comes down to it, monitoring holes in the ozone layer just doesn't make for a particularly rivetting game (even if you do get to grips with the power meter). I never found myself wanting to stay up all night to play it (like I used to with Sim City), or being moved to tears when one of my settlements was overcome by the enemy (as with Powermonger) or getting really annoyed when I kept swallowing bits of tin foil (as with those new 'chunky' Dairy Mail bars).
I must admit it feels a bit weird giving such a big, complicated game from such a highly respected publisher such a weedy mark, but I'd be fibbing if I did anything else. Sorry.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Great if you feel your social conscience needs exercising, and if you really stuck with it you might eventually strike up a chord with the strategy side. (Or at least get some fun out of the bombing bits.)
Downers: But it just doesn't hang together. Building cities has been done better loads of times before, and the rest adds up to nothing. The game seems to have been designed to make things as awkward for the player as possible without making up for it in other ways.
I care about the ozone layer, really I do. But I don't really want to have to sit there staring at it when there are so many other great games I could be playing. File under 'interesting failures'.