A galactic civilization simulator with a charm all its own.
City-building and management can be great fun. Games such as Cities Skylines build tension with a list of demands that slowly begin to ramp up the intensity of the management. Spacebase Startopia, developed by Realmforge Studios and published by Kalypso Media, takes this concept and injects it with its wacky personality and puts it front-and-center. Don’t let its charm fool you, however, as the tension in this game can become palpable.
You are the commander who, along with your AI cohort VAL, is tasked with building and maintaining Spacebase Startopia. You will do this by creating several hubs for entertainment and relaxation alongside an industrial infrastructure to employ your alien visitors. This puts them in a comfortable cycle which they may never deviate from unless their needs fall by the wayside. If this happens expect to see visitors leaving, workers quitting their jobs, or even dying from illness. To make sure everything is running smoothly, you’ll need the right staff for the job.
Your spacebase will attract visitors of all kinds from across the galaxy. Each different alien species is suited to a different job, such as the Celebramers that run the disco when hired. This means you’ll need aliens of all kinds on your staff to run all of your facilities, making it important to know who is visiting. For construction and general maintenance purposes you have a squad of robots, called Fuzzies, who handle everything that your visitors don’t. It all adds up to create a smooth experience that starts slow but ramps up in intensity quickly.
While seeing your base grow in size and scope is exciting, learning how to go about it can be overwhelming as you advance up the tech tree. Each unlock awards energy, the general currency used by visitors to pay for attractions and for you to construct new ones, for prestige points gained from favorable reactions by your visitors. Advancing to further tiers unlocks even more benefits such as additional alien species and attractions but also perils such as space pirate invasions. This mechanic strikes a balance that, while a bit clunky-feeling at first, grows on you as you learn to take full advantage of it. Add in some random events such as facility inspector visits and a killer soundtrack and you’ve got a game that’s easy to lose yourself in for hours.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy stage to get to. Most of the fun in Spacebase Startopia is found in the free play mode, with the others seriously lacking. The 10-mission campaign can be a slog from mission 2, where an element of randomness can undermine the entire endeavor. The tutorial itself doesn’t teach you where your hotkeys are and without button mapping, it’s tough to figure it all out on your own.
These combine to give an impression of the game that feels wildly different from the free play and multiplayer modes that show off a much better feeling experience that isn’t reflected in the campaign until about halfway through. This is especially true when comparing how random events feel between the campaign and free play modes. Your snarky AI partner VAL will hit you with updates during the campaign missions about saboteurs dropping clickable bombs that you need to dispose of lest you face the penalties. During free play she will tell you of galactic war zones 100 light years away which hit with the same level of seriousness as other threats, but don’t affect you and can throw you off if you aren’t used to them. While you may laugh at your first gotcha moment, these quips quickly serve to cheapen any point VAL tries to make.
There are also a few technical hiccups that hurt the game. Fuzzies can be unresponsive at times, which can quickly become frustrating if you don’t catch it in time. Audio will also cut out during gameplay, which can destroy the bubbly atmosphere the game creates as its pacing intensifies. There are also tons of small visual hiccups that, while funny, don’t add to the innate humor of the game. These can also add to the frame drops you will experience as your spacebase grows in size.
Spacebase Startopia is the definition of a mixed bag. There is a lot to love in the vibrant visuals, fun soundtrack and deep gameplay. When these all work together they create memorable gameplay moments that make you want to come back for more. Unfortunately a lackluster tutorial, cheap-feeling campaign, a tough learning curve and more than a few bugs go against the experience. With a few quips that overextend the games’ sense of humor, you’ve got a game that’s tough to recommend to anyone other than fans of the genre or those willing to learn the ins and outs of how it works.
– Awesome soundtrack.
– Deep base-building gameplay.
– Fantastic visuals.
– Lackluster tutorial.
– Weak campaign.
– Tough learning curve.
2 out of 5.
Review key provided by Kalypso Media. Spacebase Startopia is out now!