I’ve always wanted a good space station management game. There have been a few I’ve played, but none have come close to giving me the feeling of operating a sprawling space station full of strange alien creatures with their alien needs before Spacebase Startopia. While Spacebase Startopia isn’t a perfect game, it has engaging gameplay, humor, and a wonderful colorful art style to make it my favorite starbase management game—and that’s surprisingly something I’ve had to look for for a long time.
Spacebase Startopia is a business management game with some strategy and even some combat elements thrown in. In it, you play as the Commander—a remote working space manager tasked with running a large space station. The station’s needs are your concern, and that can range from anything from air quality, places to eat and sleep, as well as how clean your station is. You’ll even have to deal with the criminal element with security forces, brigs, and even cool mechs that you can use to fight off pests and pirates.
These space stations aren’t just large flat surfaces to build on. In Spacebase Startopia you actually work on a cylindrical space station that is constantly spinning—I’m assuming to provide artificial gravity. That’s a neat detail, and it also presents an interesting form factor for consideration when you have to build your facilities and amenities in cylindrical rooms. The stations normally have three floors: the sub deck, the fun deck, and the bio deck. Each of these three floors have their own needs, considerations, and facilities you can build. As your need for more space increases, you can open up more of the space station by spending energy to open bulkheads. Be careful though: some of those bulkheads haven’t been opened in ages, and who knows what’s behind there–though it’s usually just garbage.
I think it’s a strange design decision to prohibit crossover facilities—for instance, you can’t build a disco on the sub deck, nor can you put a brig on your fun deck. There are even similar buildings functions between floors. For instance, both the sub deck and the fun deck need garbage bots and O2 purifiers to keep your alien denizens happy. And keeping your alien visitors happy is one of your main goals in Spacebase Startopia.
Aliens will visit your Startopia station for many reasons: some want to relax and get a room for the night, others want to party, while still others might be sick and immediately seek medical attention. There are facilities to construct to meet these various needs. You can choose to make each of these facilities as you see fit: by designating an area and populating them with the proper equipment. Or you can choose from a series of blueprints to build these areas quickly. If you have a particularly good configuration, you can even save your blueprints to be used later. Of course, building and maintaining facilities isn’t free, and you have to find the right employees to man them—alien them—whatever.
Your main currency in Spacebase Startopia is energy. Energy is gathered from your visitors as they use facilities, and recycling garbage. There is also a secondary currency called prestige which is used to unlock new facilities. Prestige is gathered from happy customers—the happier your visitors, the more prestige you’ll accumulate. But aliens visiting your station aren’t just there to consume goods and gamble on the fun deck—they’re prospective employees as well.
Each of the stations in Spacebase Startopia has a specific requirement in regards to what species controls them. If you want doctors you hire Gresularians, garbage recylclers are Telgors, etc. You don’t put out classified ads, either—you’re stuck hiring from whatever aliens are on your station. Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of manpower once your station begins to get livelier. The more your employees work, the more experience they gain—and once they gain enough experience, they’re eligible for a promotion, etc.
Everything on the management side of Spacebase Startopia is pretty well implemented, and fun—though not perfect. Sometimes aliens, inexplicably, don’t look out for their best interests. I’ve had sick aliens ignore the medical facilities, even when the facilities are staffed and without a queue. If you want to die from space plague, that’s your choice—I’d just rather you not do it on my station. But perhaps my biggest problem with Spacebase Startopia is its half-assed real-time strategy and combat elements.
Combat in my management game? Sure, why not? I just finished playing a game with a similar feature—Cartel Tycoon. While it was implemented in a way that made sense in that game, I’m not too thrilled with Spacebase Startopia’s use of combat. In some scenarios—and while playing against players in multiplayer—you can attempt to disrupt your enemies using various means of sabotage. You can send bombs, propagandists, and even squads of pirates to disrupt your enemies, while setting up ways to defend against similar such attacks against yourself. There are even a few large mechs to choose from. Mechs have their own infrastructure considerations, and require specialized lifts to travel between the three decks. While these combat parts don’t necessarily tank my enjoyment of the game, I would have preferred if it wasn’t a thing. Though, this type of competition could be interesting in a multiplayer match—but I haven’t had a chance in my review time to properly test this out.
There are a few ways you can play Spacebase Startopia. There is a campaign with ten campaign missions that get increasingly difficult as you play through them. There is a multiplayer co-op mode, where you can play through the campaign with a friend—and multiplayer versus modes where you can compete to see who is the better station manager. There’s also a tutorial mode, which I would have liked to see incorporated into the campaign mode. Even with the tutorial missions, it took me a little bit to get the swing of things before I really started enjoying this game. The new user experience could have been handled just a little better.
Spacebase Startopia is an attractive game, and one that is enjoyable just to play. There are too many city building or management games that have terrible UI and sluggish gameplay. Not so here—everything is smooth, the UI is mostly great, and the art style is on point. There are a few times I missed UI elements, but I chalk that up to a tutorial that could use some help. I enjoyed the humor that Spacebase Startopia uses. You’re even given an option between three different narrators, with one an homage to GLaDOS and another a nod to Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Spacebase Startopia is one of those rare games that I’ll probably play for a while past my review. I really enjoyed its presentation and humor. I would have preferred for there to be a more comprehensive tutorial, but learning the ropes of station management isn’t too difficult. I could have done without the options for combat, but sabotaging friends in multiplayer can potentially be great fun. Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Spacebase Startopia, and I’ll most likely visit it from time to time.
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