Just a bit more complex than Bio-Dome.
Recently my friend bought one of those all-in-one fax-copier-scanner-printers, and immediately needed my help. Hooking it up was the easy part: just plug in the USB cable. The problem was that this thing must have had 60 buttons on the front, many with unhelpful labels like "Hook" and "Tel-Ind." The fax software was separated from the scanning software, which was separated from the printer drivers, which was separated from the "telephone tools" software. The manual had to be two inches thick.
Suddenly, there were too many options. Printing, which just used to be a simple click, was now a reading comprehension quiz. Do you want to print to fax? Print to e-mail? Print to file? What resolution? High-quality? What sort of dithering do you prefer? Dammit, we just wanted to see it on a piece of paper.
Apparently, if you really learned how to use every aspect of the uber-machine, it could do everything you would expect out of a real secretary, right down to answering the phone and taking messages or forwarding calls. If it also made coffee, you'd have to pay it a salary. But trying to figure out how to make it do everything you wanted didn't seem to be any easier than just doing it yourself.
I went home and told him we couldn't be friends anymore.
All this, of course, is my roundabout way of introducing you to Space Colony, a game that combines three games into one and makes you play them all at the same time. Clearly a game for people who think that our modern, fancy video games are way too simple.
The exceedingly well-named Space Colony puts you on a distant planet in control of a space colony full of bizarre colonists. You must build and expand your colony through a series of connected bio-domes, making sure there's enough power, oxygen, food, sleeping space, décor, and money to pay the colorful characters who work there. This aspect of the game works exactly like your standard city building game such as Tropico.
But wait! There's more! You'll usually have about eight people working in the colony. Each of them has their own distinct, stereotypical personality. Stig is a big, hardworking, hard-drinking Swede. Hoshi and Kita are Japanese club kids. Candy is the ultimate dumb blonde. There's a hippy, an angry Scot, a hillbilly, and a crazy old Chinese guy, just to name a few more of the game's twenty or so oddball characters. You'll need to manage their daily jobs, their training in multiple levels of 20 different skills, their time, their hygiene, their wants and needs, likes and dislikes, and their interpersonal relationships. This aspect of the game works exactly like The Sims.
Still not satisfied? Want that extra set of steak knives thrown in, too? Your colony can also be attacked, or you may need to attack someone else. You'll need to mine resources, build factories, place defense turrets, force fields and mine launchers, construct battle robots and fight the enemy. This aspect of the game works exactly like Starcraft.
Now do it all at the same time.
If that's a little dizzying to think about, it can be downright mind-bending to play, especially on the game's harder levels. There are so many things you have to pay attention to, and to do at the same time, you'll go a little crazy at first. If you're not a natural multi-tasker, forget about it. This is a seriously difficult game.
And speaking of things to do, although there's no multiplayer, Space Colony gives you a ton of single-player game. The regular mode follows the story of Venus, an easygoing girl who wants to earn enough money as an explorer to settle down for good. You make your way though a series of linear missions down one of two different paths: Military or Peaceful. Mine titanium, fend off aliens, and find a boyfriend at the same time.
Galaxy mode is still mission-based, but lets you move yourself from planet to planet, colonizing the galaxy in any order you like. Different planets are rated for their difficulty, so at least you'll have an idea where to start. You'll need some skilled operatives to tackle the tougher planets.
Finally, there's a Sandbox mode which just gives you a planet to play with. Build whatever you want, wherever you want. Of course you'll have to deal with whatever conditions exist on the planet you choose, but there's no goal and you just play for as long as you like.
Space Colony has an overall cartoony look and feel that belies the complex game underneath. The graphics are all 2D, but they are very nice, smooth, and well-animated. It's the attention to detail that really shines, and every little thing that goes on inside and outside your colony has sharp, precise and often unique little animations. Characters don't just move in different ways, they'll dance and eat and even sit in chairs differently than each other. The only real gripe I have about the graphics is that your view is fixed in place. You can't rotate or zoom at all, which I really wanted to do given how the individual colonists interact.
The audio is equally well done, with all the sounds of bio-dome life that you would expect. The music is suitably spacey and not unpleasant, but you'll soon find the game's built-in mp3 player and never go back. The voice actors are particularly good, and have tons of funny little quirks that they're happy to explain to each other. However, get used to hearing an incessant stream of warnings and notifications from the computer. There's so much going on that you'll often have tons of notifications queued up.
And that's where Space Colony breaks down a little - way, way too much to deal with. At times, you'll be so busy just trying to keep up with every gameplay element that it starts to lose its fun. For such a goofy, fun looking game, Space Colony is actually complicated, deep, hectic and hard. If anything can convince you to tackle the challenge, it would be the game's bright, lively presentation, entertaining details, and quirky characters. But that won't be enough for many people who will be frustrated by the myriad tasks to manage.
However, if you think nothing of setting the clock on your VCR with your left hand while reprogramming your universal remote with your right, you should probably book the next rocket to this Space Colony. But first, give my friend a call and help him with his printer-fax-copier-scanner, would you?