Originally released back in 2001, Startopia was a sci-fi simulation RTS that had a pretty big fanbase. In the game you were responsible for running a space station. Aliens would come to your station with specific requirements as well as expertise. You would need to use these visitors in order to run a successful station. Despite having quite a few fans the series never ended up getting a sequel so fans were stuck playing a game that is now 20 years old. Releasing today Spacebase Startopia may not be an official sequel, but it very much feels like a spiritual successor to Startopia. Spacebase Startopia has some really interesting ideas and is a unique experience, but it is a little rough around the edges.
In Spacebase Startopia you are put in charge of running a space station. Aliens across the galaxy are eager to visit your space station. You need to satisfy these aliens by giving them products and services that they require as well as generally entertaining them. To help you run the station you also will have to hire some of them to perform tasks that their species of alien are adept at. Can you run a successful station that will keep the aliens happy and safe while also extracting as much energy/money as possible out of them?
To run a successful space station you have to manage the various functions of the station. Your station is broken down into three decks with each having its own main purpose. You have the main deck which is mostly used for various jobs earning you energy, keeping your visitors happy and healthy, and providing defense for when your station is attacked. Next there is a deck that is used to grow various resources that you can trade or use to make other items for your station. Finally there is the entertainment deck which is used to provide entertainment sources for the inhabitants of the station. You must balance all of these different elements in order to acquire energy and attract enough visitors to keep the station running smoothly.
In a way Spacebase Startopia feels like a simulation/tycoon game. You are building a space station after all in order to make money and keep your visitors happy. There are elements that the game shares with other games from this genre, but it also plays quite a bit different as well. In a way the game kind of feels arcade-y. Instead of meticulously planning the most efficient use of your station, you need to be willing to adapt to all of the things going on around you. Building the station is important to keep the inhabitants happy, but there are a bunch of other things that you need to keep track of as well.
Instead of jumping into what I liked about Spacebase Startopia, I iwant to begin with my biggest issue with the game. In a way it feels like the game assumes that you have already played Startopia. As someone who never played Startopia, this honestly left me kind of lost with no idea of what I was supposed to do at first. The game somewhat features a tutorial, but I honestly didn’t find it to be all that helpful. I play a lot of simulation/tycoon games and yet I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do at first because the game does approach things quite a bit differently than most other games from this genre.
Contributing to the fact that the game is hard to grasp at first is the fact that there is always a bunch of different things going on at any given time. For example during the tutorial sections of early missions your AI companion will tell you what you are supposed to do. It doesn’t really tell you the purpose behind the buildings or how they work. They just tell you to do it. Something else will then happen on the station prompting it to tell you something else without even getting you the time to process what was said previously. This makes the learning curve even worse as you don’t have enough time to even process what you are doing. The game doesn’t appear to have a pause feature which I think it really needed so you could take breathers to figure out what is going on.
The game’s frantic pace hurts the game in my opinion. The game is a simulation that allows you to build quite a few different rooms/buildings on each of the decks. With these type of games one of the best things is that you can customize the look by placing rooms how you would like. You can choose where you want to place rooms, decorations, and other objects that are required to run the space station. You even have the option to create custom room layouts or choose from a pre-designed room. All of this customization would be nice except for the fact that it feels like you are always rushed as so much stuff is going on at any given time. This is where the pause button would have been really appreciated. Instead I felt rushed to throw out pre-built rooms as quick as possible just to get them out there. I honestly think the game would have benefited from not having such a chaotic pace.
At this point you are probably thinking that I hated Spacebase Startopia. I actually didn’t, but it is kind of rough around the edges. The game can be quite overwhelming when you first start playing it. People who have already played Startopia will likely pick up the game quicker. Those unfamiliar with the game though are likely going to feel lost for a while as you begin to learn the game’s mechanics. The more you play the game though, the more it starts to grow on you as you start to figure out the mechanics more.
I think the game deserves some credit for doing things differently than most games from this genre. If you are more into traditional simulation games, this might turn you off from the game. I appreciate when games try something new though. The gameplay seems pretty similar to Startopia, but I can’t recall ever playing a game like it before. While the game is a little too chaotic at times, I still had fun playing it. It is fun building your very own space station, and there is always things to do to keep yourself busy. While I wish the game didn’t rush you so much, I do think the game gives you quite a few options in designing your station. Fans of this genre that don’t mind that it can get chaotic at times should enjoy Spacebase Startopia.
As for the game’s atmosphere I personally liked it even though I could see it not being for everyone. Your AI guide/helper is not particularly helpful as it usually would rather insult you than actually help. Some of the jokes can be pretty bad, and the AI can be kind of annoying at times. I thought it brought character to the game though. As for the visuals I think the game does a pretty good job. The game features a number of different species of alien which look quite different. For the type of game that it is, I thought the visuals were quite good. If you put in the time it really feels like you are building a living breathing space station.
I ultimately had some mixed feelings towards Spacebase Startopia. Having never played Startopia which the game clearly took some inspiration from, I found the game to be kind of hard to follow at first. The game’s tutorial isn’t particularly helpful which isn’t helped by the frantic pace of the game where something is happening that you have to deal with all of the time. It takes time to adjust to playing Spacebase Startopia as it can be kind of chaotic. Despite that, I had fun playing the game. It deserves credit for taking the simulation/tycoon genre in a new direction. The gameplay can be pretty fun once you figure out what you are doing. The overall atmosphere is pretty good as well.
If you generally don’t care for simulation games, never liked Startopia, or don’t like games that can become chaotic; the game likely won’t be for you. If you can look past the game’s faults and are still intrigued by the premise, I think you will enjoy Spacebase Startopia. If this describes you I would consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Realmforge Studios, and Kalypso Media for the review copy of Starbase Startopia used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.