Surviving on the Moon in Millennium 2.2

A review by George Bachaelor

You just don’t see good old space simulators like this one for computers now-adays. If you have not heard of or played Millennium 2.2 before, it’s everything that’s good about being stuck on a lonely moon base – if that’s possible! 

Exploring space as a means to an end, to re-colonize your population, with the hope of one day returning to a habitable Earth is your only objective. This may sound extremely dire, but humanity has always lived in hope. Almost 30 Earth years have passed that brought Millennium 2.2: Return To Earth to prominence as one of the most classic mouse-driven, point and click adventure / strategy games.

Four years before the release of Millennium 2.2 , game designer and programmer, Ian Bird, had previous experience in strategy gaming working on the graphics of 1985 war simulator, Theatre Europe (by Personal Software Services or PSS). In between 1985 and 1989 information on whether Ian worked on any other games appears scarce. Perhaps he was working on Millennium 2.2 during those years ? It would make a great deal of sense as i am sure the development time would have been extensive.

What you get with Millennium 2.2 is at its core, is a resource management computer game.  Only released on Atari ST, Amiga and MS-DOS, I say only because its a shame that the 8-bit systems didn’t get to enjoy this game as well. As a point and click graphics adventure strategy game it certainly would be possible. While the Atari ST and Amiga versions were of the same name, the MS-DOS version of the game was released as Millennium: Return to Earth, dropping the 2.2 from its title.

The year is 2200. An asteroid has decided it would be fun to crash its way onto the Earth, which has now obviously made Earth uninhabitable. This is depicted at the start where you see the colour of the Earth change from blue to grey, strange that you don’t see the destruction of the asteroid destroying the Earth, it would have been the proper game opening. All but two colonies remain after the cataclysmic event. One colony is based on the Moon, the other is based on Mars.

You play as the Moon based colony, needing to explore the solar system to achieve the end goal of getting back to your original home – Earth. As it happens not all humans are the same. The colony based on Mars happen to have taken a turn for the worse, no longer human, instead they have become mutant humans. They are not friendly by any stretch of the imagination, in fact they are completely ugly in every sense of the word, they let the humans on the Moon base know that if there is any exploration by them outside of the Moon it will be considered as an act of aggression and they will attack the human Moon base colony with deadly force.

No, its not a fighting shoot me up, but it does have those elements, perhaps to add realism and to keep you on your toes that you just can’t forget about building spacecraft to attack the Martian mutants. Unfortunately you are starting life on the Moon base ‘bare to the bones’, so to speak. You don’t start with any great weapons and to get them you will need to mine for uranium to produce orbital lasers that will help you repel the Martian attacks.

Combat is represented with a space ship fighting mini-game, probably the most awful part of the game as its basic 3D graphics representation of warfare are not exactly what makes this game a classic. While you are aware of the clock ticking away in real time, I couldn’t feel any sense of being in a race against time. You do need to be proactive in your efforts but you are given the opportunity to ease in and learn the game if you have not played it before.

As the commander of the Moonbase you have to make decisions if you are to ensure the survival of mankind. Making those decisions are all about how well you manage all of your exploration, resource collection and daily activities. It’s imperative to start with research. Then deal with your energy consumption as you need power to maintain a consistent production line while maintaining the refinery. A bunker is essential for stockpiling important items. Most critical to your success of all is colonization of other Planets and Moons.

To do this will require building and sending out probes, not just one but lots of them. You can send them out to Planets, Moons and asteroid belts. Probes can be lost while hurtling their way to a destination, so if you are going to find out the information you need, make sure you are probing the galaxy as much as possible. Successful probes will provide you with the information you need to make the decisions on whether to undertake mining for resources or if you are able to colonize and take over Planets and Moons.

At first it is possible only to mine asteroids before a suitable planetary colony can be discovered and established.  Out of fifteen ingame resources, only silver, uranium, and chromium cannot be obtained by mining the Moon or Asteroid Belt. Amiga and Atari ST versions are predictably the same,  in the DOS / PC version, resources are largely randomized for different planets, as is atmosphere determining if mutations occur, with notable exceptions of Earth, Mars and Moon.

Depending on planetary orbits, colony ships and probes can take longer to reach their destinations. As time progresses, colonists will adapt to different atmospheres and after Earth is terraformed, secede from the player’s control (this event will also strand any of player’s ships that may be docked on those planets).

The game operates in a realistic manner, so moving from one Planet to the other can take several days, usually a month or two. So it’s best to plan ahead rather than just haphazardly hop from Planet to Planet. Once you build up other colonies in the solar system, the game really starts to come into its own as you try to keep your bases alive with supplies and other equipment.

Point and click play allows you to operate all functions necessary providing a more enhanced, thorough gaming experience. Sure it has its limitations, more so on when you are under attack (better use the joystick for this part), yet for the majority of the game, the control system ensures smoothness of gameplay, quick decision making and increases the amount of tasks you can perform. With it makes the learning curve tremendously fast, without it, I can only imagine how annoying and frustrating learning and progression would be.

With just once click you can point the cursor to zoom in on the solar system, zoom out of the solar system, you can forward time by an hour or by a day, you can open up a message bank bulletin board if you need to, you can see how many spaceships you have built, you can open up the data base to see what Planets and Moons you have explored and  you can also find out much, much, more; including your life support, your energy, your research, your defence, your resources and your production levels. Millennium is as much a classic for the use of it’s point and click as it is for its strategy and adventure.

Graphically it depicts space exploration, images of probes, your Moon Base, its essential equipment and all other items in an extremely life like manner. If I am going to want to be on a Moon Base then I sure want to be here, the graphics aren’t stupendously insanely cool, but I am not disappointed either as it’s recreation is very admirable and the gameplay and playability of the point and click more than make up for it.

I have read commentary that Millennium 2.2 is not very challenging, but the narrative and general management is very absorbing. I would disagree with the first part, especially as a first time player, because the game came with little detail in the instruction booklet, which was deliberately designed, so there was the first challenge –- you really didn’t know what some equipment was designed for, or could actually do. Atmosphere of the game has retained its appeal, especially with the terrific music by David Whittaker, which just happens to be Gustav Mahler – Adagietto from Symphony no. 5.

The Verdict:

Millennium 2.2 is one of those great strategy games, very progressive for it’s time and often overlooked at its release at just how good the game and its point and click design was.

Perhaps people found it rather too easy to play and complete, that’s not a negative to me. Games like this, you need to feel the exploration of space. Be able to venture forth to other Planets, settle colonies, mine the resources and that’s what Millennium 2.2 does so very well. A sequel was released two years later by Ian Bird, in 1991, called Deuteros: The Next Millennium.   Deuteros is set 800 years after the first game, once again a resource management game, much larger and harder than Millennium 2.2. So play this first before you play the sequel.  In 2006 Rick Blackwell and Steve Demuth only had three months to develop their very own Millennium 2.2 remake for the 2006 Retro Remakes competition, which is also worth checking out.

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