There are loads of games that I’ve continued to revisit over the years. I used to keep old PCs around the place, like time machines, always ready to conjure up a command line prompt, and autoexec.bat and config.sys files in need of tinkering. I never play Populous anymore though, neither it nor its first sequel, so indie homage Reprisal is the closest I’ve been to those deilightful days of my youth for many years. It’s great. The worst thing about it was its insistence on living in a browser and not allowing a right click to lower land. Sounds like a small thing but, damn, it’s annoying. Well, a desktop version fixes that, although only the demo of this new version is free.
The full browser version is still available and there’s a demo of the desktop version so you can check whether the full-screen, right-clicking, stereo chiptunes and challenge islands make it worthwhile. Both browser and desktop also have a ‘skirmish’ mode, which is new since I last looked at the game. It creates a random island and gives random powers to all participants.
On a personal note, since I’m juggling a hydra of an article in another window and could do with a break, Populous was one of the first games I can remember desperately wanting. The whole idea of a God game seemed so full of possibilities and I can remember walking back from the shop, my dad next to me carrying the game in a bag. We had to catch a train back home from the city and once we’d found our seats I kept asking if I could open the box but he was sure (based on past experience) that I’d lose a disc or the manual, leaving it on a seat or dropping it on the floor.
I’d seen a screenshot of a lightning strike and as the train rattled down the tracks, I looked out of the window at the Manchester suburbs, the clouds close above them. There were angry Gods in those skies, sending forks of energy stabbing downward, the buildings bursting into flame.
At home, playing the game, it seemed just as incredible as my imagination had been. Now there aren’t any train rides home with the game safely held out of sight, there are just a couple of clicks, an invisible transaction, and a short wait. True also that these entertainments are closer than ever to resembling actual city skylines, but ask me in twenty years which games had the biggest impact on me and I reckon Populous will still be up there.