Spacebase Startopia is the remake to 2001’s cult classic Startopia in its silly yet engaging space empire simulation. Here, players are tasked to commandeer a space station in order to become one of the galaxy’s most popular hubs for its alien inhabitants through managing a handful of citizens with their basic needs until finally developing an empire that’s not only able to manage its citizens but defend its structures from invaders or to not actually wipe an entire population of Dryads and the likes against the common cold.
Developed by Realmforge Studios of the Kalypso Media Group, the same developers behind the Dungeons series, there’s a certain level of assurance that it might not be an incredibly terrible game because they at least know what they’re doing right? Although while that seem like the case for the early parts of the game, Spacebase Startopia can instantly become one of the worst optimized simulation games I’ve played in recent years. So let’s talk about it.
There’s some wacky humour at play here which softens the curve from the serious tones of certain simulation games which makes the game not only friendlier to newcomers but also provides a refreshing breeze to the fans of the genre and a lot of that credit goes to VAL, an AI-controlled robot that occasionally provides you the unnecessary sarcastic commentaries on your progress in each level of the campaign or its other modes of play. And while I do enjoy a good dose of humour and sarcasm, its opening levels which if you casually missed the tutorial like I had, becomes a hellhole of confusion for its lack of handholding which should I dare say it, feels like the Dark Souls of building simulation games. It’s by no means a challenging game although it does require you to learn the controls and the basics before you finally see some progress. Something that the brief tutorial will tell you if you actually take the time.
But what makes Spacebase Startopia unique among its competitors in the industry is its robust structure and compact management simulation for its alien inhabitants. There’s a lot of factors at play here which also makes the game a bit more hectic due to its need to balance between development, sanitation, amusement and safety. From creating new structures to satisfy their need for sleep and hunger to medical stations that would cure infectious diseases in mere moments so not only does it feel satisfying to create customizable rooms of different sizes but structuring each individual piece is a satisfying feel that not a lot of games allow you to do.
And the way the game lets you progress is through researching new innovations in the different technological fields that unlocks more structures for you to create and develop. Most of these structures also require you to hire certain alien types such as Telgors to work in the Recycling Stations while the chunky Leviathans will man your Security Stations and deploy mechanical robots to defeat invading forces. But what’s really interesting here is its more hands-on approach to certain fields so you don’t feel like a by-stander just ordering around your fuzzy drones as you can also manually collect the garbage around your station or harvest your plants in the bio deck for a quick restock of materials for your factories. There’s a lot of unique-looking structures too which really makes you want to progress far enough to see what each of them offers however this is where the game starts to fall off for me.
Since each individual alien that visits or works in your space station is visible throughout your entire playthrough, the entire game starts to bog down in its weight and issues start showing up. On the Playstation 4, its weight becomes too heavy of a burden that the entire game stutters too heavily to the point that I feel like I’m watching a “Let’s Game It Out” series on Youtube without actually trying to do so. It’s just straight up unplayable after a certain point as the screen gets filled with tons of aliens running about which gets worse when playing with multiple people or bots. So unless you’re playing on a pretty beefy PC, chances are you’re not going to have a smooth experience here.
And this is a real shame because the game does have some pretty good mechanics at play. It also looks pretty good visually with some unique looking aliens and structures that are very pleasing to look at albeit a little bit vomit-inducing with the way you move around each of the three decks. There’s definitely a lot of potential for this to be considered a great game but so far that potential is barred by its lack of proper optimization that renders itself unplayable for longer periods. However I will add that for a game that comes out in 2021, it’s kind of a step in the wrong direction to not actually have mouse and keyboard support for a building simulation game when others have already taken that leap such as Planet Coaster and They Are Billions which both worked pretty well with either control schemes. Not that Spacebase Startopia’s controller support is lacking but it does make it awkward at times especially with the visibility of where your pointer goes to when trying to move around the menus.
Spacebase Startopia while a game with great potential pretty much fails to make a great first impression due to its lackluster showing. Despite having some pretty good looking visuals and an interesting level of detail for its gameplay progression, its ambitious take on the simulation genre killed the momentum with its lack of optimization that rendered itself unplayable on consoles like the Playstation 4. It’s definitely not a bad game by any means but it does require you to have the platform that would make the game playable which can only mean bad things for others.
Developer: Realmforge Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 / 5, Xbox Consoles and PC
Publishers: Kalypso Media
You can purchase this version of the game here on the PSN Store for £52.99
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