(Insert "Some Sins Are Good" Pun Here)
RTS games are some of the trickiest to create. There is a fine balance that most RTS games will try to achieve. One the one hand, you have games like the excellent Supreme Commander where brute force is most often the way to go. Why try to negotiate with the other guys when you can just carpet bomb them back to the stoneage? It allows even the weakest of computer gamers that chance to be the cigar-chomping, Rommel-esque ruthless commander that we all have hidden inside us. On the other hand, there are games like the equally excellent Civilization series. Wars can last hundreds of years, and very frequently, negotiations with your enemy can lead to your victory. Except for when Ghandi wants open borders for the 11th time. Seriously, screw that guy. Sins of a Solar Empire aims for that balance, and quite frankly, hits the mark. While in many cases it leaves a little something to be desired, the overall concept of that game is fantastic.
Unlike most RTS games, there is no 'story mode.' You take a few tutorials, get a feel for the game, then pick a map, race, and enemy and jump into a game. It's hard, for me, to count that part against this game because honestly, I've never finished a story mode in any other RTS games I've played. Not Starcraft, Warcraft, Total Annihaliation, or Command and Conquer. I can say that I don't feel cheated that there is no story mode, however the potential for one is great. I won't say that it is a deal-breaker, however. Maybe with an expansion or further downloadable content we could get some kind of a plot. As it stands, it's still a rock solid game.
The pace of the game is just about right. All encounters take place within a planet's "gravity well" and any time a fleet of enemy ships enters yours, your fighters will automatically charge in. What is nice about Sins is that you'll never have your ships just laying around between your bases. In this respect, it is much easier to defend yourself against those vile pirates or other races who wish to have your head on a pike. Unlike Homeworld, there is no "3-D" combat. That is, everything happens on one plain. While it may not be realistic, it sure makes it easier to manage your ships during fights. And who *****es about realism in a space combat game anyways?
One of the big drawbacks to most RTS games, especially the few that try for the scale that Sins tries for, is the interface. Sure, you can pump out a dozen scout ships to go explore a near buy galaxy, but pinpointing where and selecting them is so difficult that you lose track of them all together, than you may just want to stop playing. Thankfully, Sins makes that process simple. The overall interface is simplistic and allows selecting one or multiple units a breeze. It makes jumping from planet to planet and fleet to fleet a snap.
Researching and mining for materials is just as easy. All planetary upgrades can be found in a single screen. Telling a construction vehicle to build a metal extractor will cause it to fly to the nearest asteroid and build it. No micromanaging involved.
Unfortunatly, there are some downfalls in this game. For one, the fighting can be a bit dull. The deaths of huge capital ships can be sweet to watch (even if they are your own...) but generally speaking some of the battles are akin to Revolutionary war battles. Just line ships up and fire at each other. Maybe I've been watching too much Star Trek: Voyager and have seen 'The Return of the Jedi' one too many times and my hopes are too high, but I doubt it. It simply feels like Ironclad feel a little short. They had a great chance to really spice the game up and didn't deliver.
However, flaws aside, this is still one hell of a game. It's deep enough for you to make the decision between researching new technologies and forging alliances, and building up your armies and smiting the crap out of your enemies (or anyone who happens to be there). Sins promised to be a 4x game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) and delivers on all fronts. Those who are new to the genre will be greeted with great tutorials and a forgiving single player mode, and veterans can find plenty of challenge and depth.