I have been a fan of the simulation genre for as long as I can remember. I love how easy it is to get lost in this crazy in-depth world that you must micro manage within an inch of its life. The name Kalypso Media is synonymous with these games, and I have grown up with nearly every franchise that they have been involved in. To say I was a little excited when I heard about their latest title is an understatement. I waited eagerly as my installation bar slowly filled up to the 100% mark as I desperately wanted to play Spacebase Startopia.
Developed by Realmforge Studios, and published by Kalypso Media, this simulation title has you controlling every aspect of each space station that you come across. You are in charge of; building, researching, happiness, garbage collection, trading, planting, harvesting and so forth. As the station manager, you handle the wellbeing of your staff, and the joy of every carbon based Lifeform that steps foot/tentacle on board.
As with most of these titles in this genre, getting to grips with the basic mechanics is a bit of a nightmare. You are offered a full tutorial that lays out the fundamentals, but this is only the beginning, and mastery of the finer details comes with practise. The gameplay flows at a gentle pace, allowing you to get to grips with everything in a timely fashion. Unlike its peers, I could not speed up or slow down the action. This seemed alien to me (pun intended), and I may have missed something, or this may have been an oversight by the developers. Either way, I hope that this is addressed at a later date, as this missing function needs to be implemented to improve the accessibility of the gameplay.
Before we go any further, Spacebase Startopia is a Game Preview title!
As an Early Access game, changes can be made at the drop of a hat, so you must know if you wish to buy this, you may end up with a product that looks completely different from the one you purchased. Now we have that out of the way, lets look at what you get for your money.
Unlike several simulation titles, this one allows for a solo campaign and multiplayer action, where you have the choice to face either human or CPU gamers. Each of the modes has set goals that must be achieved, and these are shown at the beginning of any playthrough. The campaign is rigid, with no ability to change your objectives, whereas the multiplayer mode lets the players choose; their tasks, how many gamers are involved, the difficulty, map size, and so on. I learnt more through the solo experience, but had much more fun with the freedom that I found when taking on the multiplayer portion of the game.
How does it stand up against its peers?
Like all the great simulation games from the past; Port Royale, Tropico, Theme Hospital and Sim City, this one will keep you on your toes throughout. Disasters will sweep in and undo all your good work at any given moment. You must think several steps ahead, as failure to do so will leave you flagging behind and quickly swamped with issues. The madness and chaos make these games great, you know that you can stop the problems from happening, all it takes is patience and a logical thought process. Spacebase Startopia captures this perfectly in its gameplay. There are so many finer details that you have to be aware of, that if you don’t keep all the little plates spinning at once, your space empire will quickly come crashing down. It can be stressful, but when you get it right, it’s so very rewarding, and all the headaches and heartache seem worthwhile when you see your orbiting empire succeed.
You may wonder, “What does victory look like?” As with most in this genre, money is king, and in this game, money translates to energy. Aliens spend energy like it is going out of fashion, and you must set up your base to drain each one of them of every last particle. Drinks stations, berths, hotels, discos, hospitals, cafes etc, etc. Everything on board must drain those mindless aliens dry. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy though, as you hire someone, this costs you energy. Build a shiny new room. Yep, energy spent. Expand your station, buy boosts, research new items, attack your foes, it all empties your bank account. You must find the balance between spending and earning. This is the fun of the genre, and again, I believe that Realmforge Studios has the balance just right.
Isn’t the simulation and RTS genre best suited to PC?
Normally I’d be harping on about how this game would be better suited for PC, attempting to give several reasons behind my thought process. Fortunately, there is little evidence to support this theory, other than one minor issue regarding the control setup, but more on that later. Right now, I want to talk aesthetics. How does the game look and sounds? Frankly, brilliant! As much as I’m a massive fan of these games, I always have a fear that the UI is going to be horribly cluttered on a console, everything will be painfully detailed, and all the text will be too small for me to read from my sofa. In reality, my experience was the opposite of this. It looks great, it uses a moody, darker tone to give a space vibe to all the action, each of the 3 decks that you have access to have different looks, and the aliens all appear detailed and unique. My issue lies ironically with the lack of detail on some items that you can construct. Hovering over icons does not highlight what you are looking at, you aimlessly have to build a product in order to understand what you are viewing. It was frustrating, and for a game that has all the other loose ends tied up so well, it was a little disappointing.
If the lack of detail added grey clouds to the situation, the fantastically dry and witty commentary from the robot aide blew them away. The clever wording, delivery of lines and timing made me chuckle at every stage. I didn’t tire of the voiceover work and genuinely looked forward to what I would hear next. This combined with the synthesised upbeat music, and futuristic and robotic sound effects made for a near perfect audio that was a joy to listen to.
I’ve mentioned an issue that I had with the control system, and how I believe this element would be best suited to a PC, or at least a mouse and keyboard. The analogue sensitivity was a nightmare to master, and never really reacted as I hoped. Every time that I would attempt fine minor adjustments of the cursor, I’d end up moving too far, or not enough. It was enough to make me sigh repeatedly and left me with no doubt that the accuracy of a mouse would be better. Not that you won’t be able to have fun, and enjoy what you are doing, no, it’s just that you will need to adjust your game style to get the best out of the controller.
People lose hours to simulation games. Will that happen with this one?
Once I got to grips with the basics, I became obsessed with playing it. I looked to improve on what I had previously created, aiming to make a better, more efficient space station. This mixed in with the addictive and fun multiplayer mode makes this ooze replay value. As it’s currently in the Game Preview program, the achievement list isn’t available, but judging by the depth of content I believe that this will be a large and challenging set to unlock. The price of approximately £50 will put off several gamers, but if you love this genre, then this is money well invested as there are hours of gaming fun that awaits you.
I’m always worried whenever I start a new simulation game, that the learning curve and difficulty will eat into my limited gaming hours, with minimal progress. But I’m glad that my genre obsession forced me into working through this. Once you’ve broken the back of the gameplay mechanics, you will experience a colourful and challenging simulation title that contains minor elements of RTS. Do I recommend you try this game? Yes, I do! https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/spacebase-startopia-game-preview/9ngpb7ngbpc9 You will sink hours of your time into creating the perfect station, just so a natural disaster, or your foes, can destroy your hard work. Can you build the best space station around, keeping everyone happy, while draining everyone of their energy? Buy a copy and see how you cope under the pressure.
Life as a space station manager was never going to be easy. Hire the staff, build all the facilities, and make sure every alien is kept happy. Space has never been such fun!
- + The user interface isn’t complicated to master.
- + The tutorial is easy to understand.
- + Attractive and simple graphics.
- + The audio is fantastic.
- + Plenty of replay value
- – The controls are too sensitive.
- – Some details are missing in product selection etc.
(Preview completed on the Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation and Nintendo Switch.)