Coronado Games’ Starship Corporation sounds cool. It puts you in the role of a space tycoon, trying to build a trade empire across space. You can design and construct your own space craft, fight trade wars, and even fight literal wars as you expand your influence through the stars. But Starship Corporation is a tough nut to crack, and once cracked, left this reviewer finding its contents bitter and unpalatable.
The first attempt I had at playing Starship Corporation was where most players will probably attempt a start: its tutorial. It is awful. Some tutorials take away players’ abilities to press buttons they aren’t designated to press, or progress forward without acknowledging what the tutorial is instructing. Not so here—in fact, no matter how careful I was about following this tutorial, I found myself on a different screen than the tutorial seemed to be instructing me. This made my early ventures into Starship Corporation impossible, and in my experience, the tutorial is completely useless. Which is a shame, because Starship Corporation seems like a complicated simulation, and its user interface does nothing to ease the pain of learning how to use it.
The art and interface used throughout Starship Corporation feels like indecipherable business software straight out of corporate hell. It might sound appropriate for something called Starship Corporation, but it invokes absolutely no promise of fun. Each ugly menu even has a loading screen you must sit through, often featuring almost stock-looking images that are vaguely sci-fi in nature.
There are two ways you can start out: either in sandbox mode, or in campaign. I discovered that the campaign is basically just the sand box mode, except without the ability to set your own starting variables. It uses the same galaxy map, and many of the same scenarios that seem to be present in the single player campaign.
The story of the single player is intriguing: you are taking the reins of your father’s corporation in a galaxy recently ravaged by war. It’s not the empire it once was: instead, you’re stuck with two ships, and not very much corporate research or knowhow beyond that. You pretty much have to start from the ground up. If this sounds intriguing, let me warn you: it’s nowhere near as fun as the concept makes it sound. The actual gameplay is not only a bafflingly hard thing to figure out thanks to the terrible user interface and lack of tutorial–once you do put the time into figuring it out, it’s not very fun.
When you have “claimed” a system by building a shipyard there you can start assigning tasks from that system. These tasks are unceremoniously sitting on the bottom of the galaxy map, and basically tell you what tasks you can complete for money. These range from setting up trade with freighters, mining with ships designed for ore extraction, to clearing out pirate groups with military ships. To complete certain tasks, you will have to buy better ship chassis, as well as more advanced components to go into them. And finally, you have to design the ships yourself.
The ship building element of Starship Corporation was the one I was the most excited for. It’s terrible. You don’t actually get to design ships, but just their interior layouts. That itself can potentially be fun, but it’s not even as fun as using AutoCAD, and even less intuitive. This is another area where the user interface makes the whole experience suffer: it’s barely decipherable, with ugly graphics that manage to take away from the whole experience. You place objects like engines, O2 scrubbers, berths, etc. into a grid that is inside the graphic of a ship—much like FTL’s uglier, non-fun cousin. I took a lot of time trying to earnestly master the one aspect of Starship Corporation that even seemed like a game, but I couldn’t stomach it.
Starship Corporation is about as fun and visually appealing as a corporate earnings report. There is an interesting concept and a deep simulation that allows for a lot of freedom—but to get to it, you have to wade through a lot of frankly painful mechanics and imagery just to eke out the smallest amount of fun. Avoid this game.
Starship Corporation is available now on Steam.