Managing a space station is hard. Keeping it clean, entertaining its guests, and providing hospitality and a safe space to work for its employees took a lot of energy I have more respect for managers of Butlins and Centre Parcs than I ever did, and I owe it all to Spacebase Startopia. Getting to grips with the fundamentals takes time, and there were times when certain elements weren’t explained particularly well, but once your AI stops being mean and you get into the swing of things, there’s a great level of satisfaction in seeing all your hard work pay off.
After a brief tutorial, you’re thrust into Spacebase Startopia’s campaign. You’ll first take part in four test scenarios which see you make use of your training. One of them requires you to cure sick passengers by building and running a medical station, whilst another challenges you to research and build a security station and brig to stop criminals on board. Until you start focusing on the objectives, there’s a repetitive edge that starts to grind on you, mainly because you just want to be let loose on running the spaceport yourself. Regardless of the repetition, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable simulation.
Spacebase Startopia review: Slushies and Chocolate
You’ll need to build a berth with working showers, beds, and food and drink supplies (solely slushies and chocolate because that’s what aliens like, apparently), then you can start to flesh out the industrial side of things. Setting up a recycling station gets rid of the garbage on board which, if not managed correctly, can spawn little green critters that make people ill. That’s where the medical facility comes in. If you’ve got one of them built, poorly aliens will be able to heal. There’s a factory which can build useful items needed later on, a communication centre that will receive messages and intel, a cargo hold, for all your supplies, and more. This all takes place on the sub level, the place where the important work gets done.
It’s not enough to just build these stations either. You’ll need to employee aliens to work in them, and there are many races that’ll only be able to work on particular ones. You can employ them, promote them if they’re doing a good job, or fire them if you find someone better. You’ll also need to purify the air by building filters, and garbage bots can be crafted to help keep the level clean. Everything feeds into every station, too. You need to keep aliens clean and fed, or else they’ll become ill or angry. There’s a lot to get used to and that’s even before you’ve started with the other two levels.
There’re some stations available to you when you first start a level, but most of it will either need to be built or researched. The currency in Spacebase Startopia is energy. Buildings cost energy to come to fruition, but by improving your base, you’ll earn that energy. It’s a smart system, and it’s one of the most straightforward elements of the game. The more you build, the more Prestige Points you’ll earn, and these can be used to research new stations or items. You won’t be able to research everything from the off, though. Most things require prerequisites, so there’s a gradual curve to improving your base. Managing that, as well as the running of your base becomes a constant challenge, but it’s the best way for you to understand how everything works.
On top of managing the sub-level, you’ll also be tasked with running the Fun Deck. This is where travellers come to let off steam, and it can be a great way to earn plenty of energy. There’s a space disco, a lottery machine, a black hole theme park ride, and a coffee shop. There’s other stuff as well, and by making sure the disco is staffed and you build garbage bots and power grids help to keep everything running hunky dory. Every now and again, pirates might attack, or prisoners and the fun police (not their actual name, but the same principle) will leave bombs around, so you’ll also need to get rid of them so aliens don’t perish or become ill.
Rewards and buffs
The final deck is where you can terraform and harvest important materials, such as food, minerals, and fibre. Different biomes produce different resources, so paying attention to the needs of your passengers is so important. You can employ aliens known as Dryads to take care of the level, but it pays to keep a close eye on it yourself. If one floor crumbles, so too do the others, so you’re always flitting between levels to make sure everything is running smoothly. Anything can and will go wrong, but even though the AI is a bit of a twat, she’ll occasionally offer you rewards or buffs for certain stations. You can also visit her shop to purchase cool items with Prestige Points.
While many management sims punish you for your failings, there’s always a way back if your guests and employees start to become dissatisfied. There’s a social media feed that helps you to understand where you’re going wrong, and nine times out of ten, you can usually recover from the mess you’ve made. There’s a steep learning curve, but once it clicks there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. Random disasters and notifications will pop up to give you extra challenges, and completing them gives you a real sense of achievement.
Spacebase Startopia is a complex management-sim that reward you for paying attention. Once you learn how everything works, it’s rather enjoyable, but it’ll take a bit of time until you feel like you’re in full control. The controls on PS4 are finicky to say the least, especially when you’re trying to go from one menu to the next, or attempting to pick up an item. Also, controlling the camera can let it down, and zooming in can be awkward. Regardless of these issues, there’s a playfulness to it, with humour all around, and colourful visuals that help to make your space station stand out. If you want to get stuck into something and have always fancied bossing aliens around (who hasn’t), then this might just be the game you’re looking for.
Smart energy system
All three decks provide different challenges
Plenty to do
Everything works in sync really well
A lot to learn
Takes a while to get to grips with all the systems
Controls are finicky
Awkward camera angles
Doesn't always explain itself well