Space Empires 5. Where to start? This is – bar none – the deepest game I’ve reviewed. Seriously; Medieval 2: Total War is checkers in comparison. I’ll try to break this down the best I can, so bear with me here.

SE5 is the latest in a series of standard setting games by Strategy First and Malfador Machinations. You begin by creating a race in the deepest create-a-faction setups I’ve ever used. You pick your culture’s name, naturally, but you also decide what kind of beings they are (Crystalline, Humanoid, Cybernetic, etc.), their personality, government, and racial traits. I was able to re-create a race I’ve been putting together tales on for 6 years with ease, as well as other pop-culture space-faring factions. To my surprise, they played rather like their namesakes. This bodes well for the game since it means you have limitless potential for making whatever kind of culture you want to lead.

Setting up your game doesn’t end there, though. You set all sorts of variables on the galaxy, rules, victory conditions, as well as a multitude of multiplayer options. I’ve yet to play it multiplayer, but the potential is there.

SE5’s gameplay is just as complex. When you encounter another faction, you can enter diplomatic relations with them that range from peace treaties and non-aggression pacts to alliances and political unions. You can set an alliance to require votes for regulation changes to be passed (such as new members, rule changes and war plans), and then pick how the votes should be allocated. One per faction? Per one million citizens? Per colony? It’s all up for debate. The AI does a great job at keeping up with all of this and is very hard to scam.

The graphics are very weak. I know that turn-based 4X games aren’t known for their graphics, but this one is so behind the times as to be frustrating. The sounds are also limited, but what’s there is mildly annoying. Fortunately, with a game this complex, you rarely have time to dwell on either the audio or visual gaffes.

When ships meet, they engage in combat in either tactical or strategic mode. Tactical plays out like a crappy RTS while Strategic basically allows you to watch what happens. Neither is very engaging. The options for designing your ships – while on the surface looking versatile and open – is actually very meager. You put the best parts on board and follow the picky requirements and usually have the same ships as everyone else with your techs.

In all, if you want a game that will devour your time and have the patience to work with it, this will suck you in. People who want something like Civilization 4 in Space will be very disappointed. You need to devote time to learning the game just to appreciate it, and then even more time to play it – games usually cross into the multi-hour mark. You know which side of the line you’re on. Alphasim out.