playstation homepage   Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review
PlayStation Game and Hardware Reviews

The Beginning
Developer: Bullfrog OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: EA 1 Player
Game Type: God Game Memory Card
Review Date: April 1999 Dual Shock/Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Back in 1989, Bullfrog, then an independent, fledgling British developer with Electronic Arts as its publisher, released the critically acclaimed Populous. It defined the "godgame" genre. Along with its 1992 sequel, Populous II, it garnered numerous awards and sold more than three million copies world-wide. Although deriving its name from the original Populous, where the player was provided with godly powers to lead by influence, Bullfrog has taken a totally new approach with this latest reincarnation of the game.

Populous: The Beginning casts the player as The Shaman, a mystical priestess who must use her divine powers to protect her tribe of followers and ultimately become a God by mastering 25 worlds. Populous: The Beginning lets players feel what it is like to have god-like control over a world-enabling them to shape the land, build mysterious cities, command armies, convert followers and wield any of the 26 powerful spells. Players can inflict damage on unbelievers by calling lightening from the sky, raising lava-spewing volcanoes, conjuring up plagues of insects, bringing forth village swallowing earthquakes and more...


Build your forces, annihilate the non-believers, and become ruler of the almighty universe in Populous where you are God.


The game opens up with a tasty CG intro depicting the choosing of the 'Chosen One', the Shamen. It's quality intro's such as this that activates the butterflies in the stomach. One day many PSX2 titles will look like this... in-game.

Visually Populous reminded me of the Bullfrog trademark game from years gone by... Magic Carpet (minus that horrible fogging effect). Construction takes place over a true globe rather than a flat map as in other strategy games. The small barren islets where your Shamen constructs her village features mountainous terrain, spotted with the occasional tree. Each island is surrounded by miles of wavering blue seas. In fact it all looks quite deserted until the Shamen sets her tribes to work.

Beginning with a few workers, a couple of shacks and usually a wavering Artifact the Shamen sets her people to work. Everything is constructed with polygons which gives the whole world a complete 3D effect. The tiny topless male workers twist and turn a full 360° showing hairy chests and muscular biceps. They fidget and chatter before gathering in groups to construct a building. It is great fun to watch them perform their tasks for the first time as they first jump up and down on a small plot of land to flatten out any bumps in the ground. They then proceed to erect a timber frame structure before filling in the gaps with straw and leaves. Once the building work is complete they then form an orderly queue to being in-house breeding, thus expanding their population.

The Shamen is dressed only in a small blue loin cloth and what seem like a over sized top hat. She constantly emits a warm glow that helpfully happens to be the same color as her troops. The revolutionary 3D technology is used to great effect when the Shamen casts her spells. Volcanoes grow out of the earth, swarms of bees cause chaos and disruption, lightening flashes across the skies, while tornadoes whip up all in their path and discard from a great height.

There is an element of slowdown when many troops go on the rampage, but considering the amount of detail and the normal speed that the game moves along at it allowed a few extra seconds to take stock and regroup.

Sounds and Effects

The haunting music once again reminded me of Magic Carpet. It's all very oriental... full of Eastern promise. Probably best suited to a Kung-Fu movie.

Some of the sound effects are quite humorous such as when the tribes head off into their shacks to mate. As a new baby is born the slap of the bum provides the child's first chance to work those lungs. Of course the fact that all of the tribes are male and of adult maturity may cause a little confusion to the younger gamers. Most of the sounds have been handled well apart from the annoying 'PAH', or 'BAH', or 'CAH', or whatever it is that the Shamen calls out in reply to every single command.


'On the Seventh Day God put his feet up and browsed through his selection of Playstation God games.' Theme Park was there! Theme Hospital also! So was Sim City. Alas Populous was not among the collection. If truth be known this was probably because Bullfrog's loyal subjects had been worshipping a 'false' God for all those years. Populous is much closer to being a strategy game, such as Warcraft 2, than your usual 'God Game'.

The gameplay goes something like this. The Shamen stands on a desert island in the centre of what looks like a circle dinosaurs teeth. She is surrounded few loyal subjects who worship at her feet. Opening the Building Menu and highlighting a particular structure places a rectangular plan on the end of your cursor. Find a relatively flat piece of land and press the action button to lay the foundations. The workers will beginning to flatten the ground and then construct a dwelling.

Once complete they will retire indoors and begin interbreeding. This produces even more workers who are then set to work constructing further structures. Guard towers may be erected at site entrances to warn of attack. Barracks may be built where warriors can be trained. Camp fires laid down for patrols...

In Populous defence can sometimes be the best form of attack. Constructing a chapel will allow some of your tribe to be trained as Preachers. These 'Bible Bashers' can then be sneaked into an enemy camp to convert your foes into friends. It's brilliant to watch him muttering sermons at an oncoming angry tribe of ranting warriors who then calmly sit next to him and listen to his wise words of wisdom. Within a short period of time the enemy troops become converted, switch colors to your own and then proceed to dismantle their own camp and kill any who stand in their way. God game indeed!

While all of this is going on the Shamen wanders across the land seeking Artifacts. These need to be worshiped to unlock their secrets. Stone Heads grant the player a Single Shot spell or a new building to construct. An Obelisk triggers off an important tactical event. Totem Poles are worshipped to lay causeways between islands or provide a spell that is beneficial to your team. The Vault of Knowledge allows the Shamen to gather powers presently only available to the enemy.

To complete and conquer a world you must follow the objectives stated in the briefing. This may include destruction of an enemy and their camp, or simply reach an identified target without losing life. Should your Shamen be destroyed she will regenerate back at your base as long as you still have workers collecting Mana.

I am sure that most strategic minded gamers will enjoy playing Populous but there are a few annoyances worth mentioning. The camera angle may be moved forwards, backwards and rotated a full 360°. Unfortunately it should have been positioned a little higher. Because of the curvature of the land you often lose sight of troops at essential times resulting in an unexpected ambush. Also, gathering groups of followers is done by the usual drag and drop of the cursor. Once again the low camera angle makes it difficult to gather them quickly and accurately. It's not too noticeable at first but when the pace moves up a notch this can often turn success into defeat very quickly leaving you feeling that failure wasn't really your fault.

Value for Money

Populous has 25 worlds packed with varying missions, wonderful spells and obedient worshipers. What more could a God want?

GRAPHICS: 15/20 Populous has moved on a long way since it evolved back in the 80's. Bullfrog have brought it bang up to date without allowing it to feel like a dated game with a new coat of polygon paint. This should guarantee it's success among old and young gamers.

Beware of the excessively L-O-N-G loading times for a game that is not quite as intense and involved as the Command & Conquer series, but not as basic as Magic Carpet.

The sounds are acceptable, the missions prove challenging, the graphics are stunning, but poor camera positioning causes many annoyances to the gameplay.
SOUND: 7/10
VALUE: 17/20


    GAMES        Get your PSX games HERE!