|Publisher: Freeverse Genre: Strategy & War
|Min OS X: Any Version CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz RAM: 192 MB Hard Disk: 375 MB 2x CD-ROM Graphics: 8 MB VRAM
Sound: Silence in the Ranks!"Silence in the ranks!" is something that I often found myself wishing I could yell at my little Vikings. Appealing and cute though they may be, they do make a rather irritating noise. Various sounds are attached to the people in the game, and initially it's quite amusing to hear them murmur, titter, belch, and, yes, fart, but the problem is that they make these sounds constantly within a general background of wordless jabbering. The sound is obviously meant to be like conversation that you can't quite hear, and it works well enough for what it is, but I found that it got very tiresome very quickly.
There are of course other ambient sounds in the game, and the odd musical fanfare and jingle here and there, when something interesting happens, but there's no music as such to accompany the game. Overall the sound seemed rather half-hearted, and the people-noises became particularly annoying.
Conclusion: One for Personnel Managers8th Wonder is one of those games where it's hard to make a really positive recommendation even though you like it. I did find it to be quite an engrossing game with an interesting basic premise behind it, and it became pretty enjoyable once I'd got into the game. However, despite being advertised as being easy for beginners to learn, I found that there were certain aspects that were far from intuitive, and sometimes I was left floundering, wondering what to do next or why something didn't seem to be working.
In particular, it's very important to have your scouts place lots of signposts, or else your Vikings will be at a loss about what to do, and are liable to wander off and get lost. The manual makes it clear that the placing of signposts is important, but I found the need for it to be excessive. At other times, it seemed important to do just the right thing at just the right time, or else progress in the game would go awry.
At its heart, 8th Wonder is an interesting and well thought out game. Aside from some fiddly aspects, it isn't really a difficult game to get into (though the PDF manual could be better). However, it is a slightly odd mixture of elements, and I found that the amount of micromanagement necessary could seem deterringly tedious at times. My feeling was that strategy fans may be put off by the RPG element, and RPG fans by the strategy; it's a bit of a cross-genre title, with perhaps too much fiddly detail in its make-up. However, it's clear that Northland has its set of loyal enthusiasts, and anyone who loved Northland should love 8th Wonder just as much, as it's more of the same with a near-identical interface and a handful of extras.
For players who are new to the series, I would strongly recommend downloading the demo and finding out whether or not it appeals, as it won't be everyone's cup of tea. (Note: at the time of writing, the demo is "due soon" but has not yet been released. However, a demo is available for Northland, so if you're interested, try that instead.) There's plenty of value if you do like it, though; after a series of tutorials there are eight campaigns to play through, and once you've completed those there are some further single- and multi-player stand-alone missions, so there are many hours of enjoyment here.
Finally, a word on performance. 8th Wonder has very modest system requirements by today's standards and, despite claims to the contrary in the documentation, does not require the CD in the drive to play, so users with small-screened laptops in particular may well find it appealing. The drawback, though, is that it's so CPU-bound; although it claims to need only a 500MHz G3 processor, I found the performance to be relatively sluggish even on my top-end G5 system (and it was playable on my 800MHz G4 PowerBook, but I wouldn't choose to run it on that regularly). In particular, too, it took an age to load (even on the G5), so although it's perfectly playable on a fairly modest system, I would have hoped for better performance overall.
Pros• Engrossing once you've got into it
• Very pretty graphics and loads of animation
• Well designed interface
• Supports low-end systems
• No CD required to play
• Northland fans will love it
Cons• Lots of micromanagement will put many players off
• Ambient sounds can quickly become quite irritating
• Very slow initial loading-time, even on a top-end G5
• Overall performance feels rather sluggish, even on a top-end system
• Limited choice of screen resolutions
• Vikings seem profoundly stupid: the need to place signposts is excessive
• Occasional glitches or non-obvious aspects can make it hard to progress at times