This time play nice, Dave.
Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey showed us just how weird things can get in space. One minute everything is going great, and the next minute a rogue computer is freaking out and killing everyone. Guess that's what happens when you give it a dumb name like Hal.
Now that the real 2001 is upon us, it's time for another weird adventure into the last frontier, only now it's Eidos Interactive taking us to the stars. Welcome to Startopia, the latest experience in space station management for the PC. This game has got it all - sophisticated strategy, awesome gameplay and well-placed humor. Become the administrator of a gigantic space donut and cater to the whims of your wacky alien clients while trying to take over adjoining segments. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.
Startopia falls into the same strategy vein as the popular Dungeon Keeper series. If you build it, they will come. And that's the name of the game - build up the ultimate space station to suit your particular objectives, attract throngs of alien species from across the galaxy and hire them to serve your needs. Want to build a thriving base for interstellar trade? Interested in creating the perfect vacation spot for even the most demanding Groulien Salt Hog family? Want to take over the entire sector with a show of military force? It's all up to you.
Like Dungeon Keeper, you never actually control the visitors to your station. Part of your job is see that they're well taken care of. When your residents are doing well, so are you. But when conditions get bad, your crew may end of quitting and leaving the station. Those space travelling OSHA inspectors can be a hard crowd to please.
Each mission begins with a specific task to accomplish, such as curing 100 sick aliens by building a medical station or eliminating other station inhabitants by constructing a military outpost. You'll always get a few basic structures to start out with, but from there you'll have to collect the necessary energy and technology in order to build more.
Traders are vital to your success and you'll be in constant contact with them. Trade for supplies, sell products from your factories, or buy everything from the latest in love-inducing furniture to a new pad for your Polkavian Gem Slugs.
The aliens you'll need to attract come in nine goofy flavors, with each specializing in a particular area of interest. You'll need to hire some of them to run your station and knowing who does what certainly plays an important role in your master plan. For example, the Greys are the healers of the galaxy and are great for those occasions when there's a nasty outbreak of solar fever going around. Dahenese Sirens are experts in the arts of pleasure, so keeping some of them on hand will definitely entertain your crew. And ever useful are the war-loving Kasgorvians for the occasional hostile takeover.
The station itself is comprised of three separate levels. The main level houses all of your technical buildings, research facilities and cargo. The second level is where you'll be building all of your recreational structures, including bars, fancy hotels and holodromes. The last (and definitely coolest) level is the biodeck, where your farmers will be hard at work cultivating the land.
What makes this level stand out is the ability to alter the landscape to your heart's desire. You can raise and lower the terrain, modify water levels, tweak soil moisture, and even play with sun levels. The end result will determine just what grows on your land. From healing plants to illicit drugs, you are the master of it all.
The level of detail is amazing, thanks in no small part to Startopia's impressive engine. Similar to Black and White, the free floating Startopia camera allows you to pull all the way outside the station or zoom in to ground level. Zooming in close enough will allow you to actually see keys on the medical station keyboard or even the rats that are assaulting garbage piles. The camera acts a little goofy when it's moved at awkward angles, but for the most part it gets the job done. The best part is that everything looks great whether you're at ground zero or up in the rafters.
The detail also extends to the aliens, who actually have individual traits and behaviors. Click on one and you'll be able to learn their name, criminal record, place of birth, skill level and more. This info is great when you're deciding whether or not to hire Hippy Autumnshadow from Bong, a serene world in the Far Out system. Now if that ain't good alien resource management, I don't know what is.
Surprisingly, gameplay is simple and totally easy to handle. Since basic structures are always provided off the bat, getting your station started is a piece of cake. If at any time your residents are in need of something, a nice little icon will pop up over their heads - or you can even ask them directly. Best of all, your hired aliens will keep things running quite smoothly on their own, leaving you to worry mainly about the important stuff like energy levels, acquiring new structures and meeting your objectives.
Startopia is all about depth. Players can get as hands on or hands off as they wish. Once your structures are built, your hirelings will take care of business on their own. If something gets damaged, your scuzzer droids will automatically repair it. When a crime is committed, security will automatically go after the perpetrator. Or if you prefer, you could take care of the manual labor or even go after the criminals all by yourself.
Topping off the whole thing is a serious dose of humor. Smarty-pants computers, turdite producing Gem Slug, the "forgetful" denizens of the planet Bong - they're all here to keep you smiling while stressing about where to put the bathrooms.
The main problem is the pacing. At the start of each mission, you'll be running around trying to get your structures set up and hiring the initial group of aliens that come on board. But once everything is set up, a waiting game may ensue. There were times when I was so low on energy, I couldn't trade, hire aliens, or really do anything at all, period. Just had to wait for my energy levels to get back up. Annoying for sure, but least it's only temporary.
Despite the depth, Startopia is a bit short. The single-player game is really only 10 missions. There's a Sandbox Mode here to help extend the life, but they really should have just gone the distance and added more levels to the single-player campaign. The multiplayer is functional, but this kind of game is all about time and growth, and the pacing issue makes playing with friends drag a little.
But with plenty of control, tons of humor and great visuals, Startopia turns out to be an awesome experience in space. Strategy gamers will definitely be pleased - just hope your computer doesn't flip out and do something drastic. It's been known to happen, y'know.