26th March, 2021
Publisher Kalypso Media
Developer Realmforge Studios
Spacebase Startopia, by all accounts, should be the ideal game for me. It’s a sci-fi based title and a management simulator, two things that I’m always interested in. The developers, Realmforge Studios, have a track record of making titles like the Dungeons series, DARK, and M.U.D. TV. Most of their titles being management sims, of a sort, made them the shoo-in to revive a game like Spacebase. The question then is how they have done with this?
I will say one thing: I’m missing Quark’s bar.
If I have a problem with Spacebase Startopia, it’s that I keep calling it Starbase Startopia. If I have a problem that’s pertinent to this review, the game feels like it’s going through the motions. I can see what it wants to do, what it wants to be. The groundwork has been laid, but there’s just something stopping it from getting beyond the level it’s stuck at. I don’t mean the bugs either. That counts for both the bugs within the game that you’re meant to take care of, as well as the bugs that you’ll encounter while playing the game.
Many of you younger people that are much further away than me from the sweet relief of death won’t be aware of the original Startopia. Developed by Mucky Foot Productions (formed by Lionhead alum, following the EA acquisition) and published by Eidos Interactive, it was critically acclaimed and, sadly, the developers’ next-to-last game. No matter how good it was, it didn’t sell. The last game from the developers was Blade II, with The Punisher being cancelled by THQ and other titles never being picked up in a publisher-driven market.
Why am I telling you this? Because the idealist feeling in the original Startopia does feel like it’s in Spacebase Startopia somewhere. The game ticks the boxes. It has the returning interesting building system and setting that infuriates me, but not for any reason other than I can’t keep things organised in my own anal way. It has strange alien races, though different from the original, and buildings (mostly) staffed by aliens that you hire. Again, the buildings are different, but you can tell the inspiration and expansion.
Speaking of expansion, there’s one major difference between this and the original. In the original, combat was all automated. Here, you get to direct your units to wherever you need them to go in a traditional RTS style. It makes sense for Realmforge to bring inspiration in from their Dungeons titles, though my major problem with the RTS side of this game is that it’s where I’ve encountered most of the bugs.
Let’s talk bugs. While none could be considered “game-breaking” in the sense that it literally made a mission impassable, I did find some that required way too much effort to fix. One such bug is where your mechs and security drones won’t listen to any command you give. The only way to fix this bug is to exit the game and restart it completely. Fortunately, you can save at any time, but the inconvenience of having to go through all that is irritating as hell. Other smaller bugs include voices playing over each other, slight graphical glitches – nothing major.
What is major is more the intentional bugs, those that appear in your space station. I’m not sure if it’s shoddy AI or me actually being useless, but no matter how many bots and charging points for the bots I have, and rubbish bins for them to put the rubbish in, they won’t clean up. It’s infuriating because when there’s litter around, giant bugs appear. These giant bugs spread sickness, putting more pressure on your clinic – a clinic with staff that WON’T DO THEIR BLOODY JOB.
I understand we all need our downtime, but everybody I hire seems to have 80% downtime to 20% work. If a place has space for four workers, I have to employ eight to ten to make it work at a basic level. It’s only when these basics are fulfilled that the visitors become happy, and that’s with me making multiple personal garbage-collecting trips because – again – the robots won’t clean up. My problem with this management simulation is that I don’t feel like I’m managing. You’re not really a manager when all of your employees eventually quit due to the simple fact that they won’t do their jobs, even when you boost their happiness – and money – by promoting them.
Happiness. That’s what it boils down to. Eventually, once you’ve persevered and plopped down enough buildings and hired double the aliens you logically need, you’ll reach a good 70+% happiness rating from visitors. There’s a hell of a lot of buildings to plop down across two decks. There are three decks, as with the original, but the upper deck doesn’t really require much management. Hire a swarm of Dryads, let them farm materials. For the other two, leave yourself space for people to walk around and remember to put down loose happiness boosting items like benches, statues, and so forth.
If they’re happy enough, they’ll keep spending energy in your little playground. In later single-player missions, skirmishes and online, you’ll then get to essentially have the world’s worst war against other space theme-park operators on the space base that you’re both operating in. The strange thing is that by the time you control a little under half of it, you’ve already started duplicating every single building a few times, then it’s just about making things look pretty. I think.
Spacebase Startopia looks decent enough; it just becomes an organisational nightmare, though that’s more of a personal issue than an actual gameplay one. When it comes to combat, however, that’s just shallow. It can look decent, but it honestly feels more like an afterthought. It’s a nice new feature, controlling your units, but due to units being limited, it never feels like there’s anything major occurring.
I suppose that’s my main issue with the game; it never feels like anything major. The campaign is too much of a slog. It feels like an overlong tutorial, slowly introducing a few new things and making you start over and over again with these few new features. Skirmishes and online can be varied due to difficulty, which is something at least. But yes, the issue is that Spacebase Startopia feels like it’s going through the motions.
These motions include ‘comedy’ that hits the same beats over and over, and over, and over again. The research is needlessly padded, forcing you to gather the materials to use in your factory to create the room or structure you want to research before researching it. The research is extensive, that is one bonus at least, but it does feel padded to the point of frustration – if only because your dryads are rubbish at collecting materials you actually need. I’ve got enough oxygen, thank you.
None of this is to say Spacebase Startopia is a bad game. It isn’t. It’s just not great. Other management sims like Planet Coaster have featured the detail and challenges to take that step up. Realmforge Studios have made a better title with Dungeons 3. If you want a competent and more than passable management sim, Spacebase Startopia won’t do you wrong. It’s worth playing; don’t expect a world-beating masterpiece.
Copy provided by the publisher.
Spacebase Startopia is a decently comical management simulation that looks back at and expands on the original Startopia. With a wide number of buildings and areas to develop, aliens to satisfy and even hire, there’s a fair amount to do. Spacebase Startopia isn’t without its issues, such as too much forced ‘comedy’ and a campaign that drags like a marathon, but you’re still likely to have a good time if you like management sims.
- Wide variety of structures, aliens, and features to encounter.
- Added RTS style features give a bit of variety.
- Great attention to detail on the variety of structures across the decks, the aliens, and more.
- The game can genuinely be funny…
- Though the comedy eventually gets too much and repetitive.
- The campaign feels like too much of a slog, constantly restarting itself.
- Too few units for the RTS aspect of the game.
- AI is annoying as hell, with staff just refusing to do their jobs unless you hire double what you should need.