Game Review - by James Allen
Ah, real time strategy. Ah, space. Could there be any more of a perfect combination? Probably. Nevertheless, we have Startopia, where you get to outfit a space station and appease all the little beings which happen upon your humble abode. It's a SimCity in space, with aliens replacing those insufferable Sims. So, will Startopia put the International Space Station to shame, or burn in the atmosphere like so many Skylabs of the past?
Startopia follows the standard form of real time strategy games, in that it offers both missions and skirmish mode. However, the missions actually are training missions, because not much information is really given in the manual, and if you start in the skirmish games right after installation, you'll be so very lost. The missions are actually very well done, and cover each of the species that you will encounter. You will eventually instinctively know which creatures perform what actions, thanks to the wonderful missions. The beef of Startopia is its skirmish mode, both single player and online: they play exactly the same. You can fully customize each game, and decide to determine the winner based on cash, points, territories, or research. The frequency of random events, such as quakes and suicidal bombers, can also be altered. It's more freedom than what's usually seen in real time strategy titles, which is good, since the missions are fairly short and are disguised training missions. Startopia's features allow for some replay of the game.
Starting with the fact that each species has a distinctive tongue, we can already see that the sound is great. When you've built your section of the space station up to snuff, the hustle and bustle is surely evident in the sound. Almost every object in the same has an associated sound, and the combined noise perfectly emulates a active metropolis in space. It's fun to listen to the reactions of the different aliens, because you can tell by the tone of their voices exactly what they are feeling. I have yet to find a repetitive, annoying sound, which is so present in almost every game on the et. With no noise seemingly left out, Startopia surely does shine.
Let me start off by saying that I've had numerous instances of dumping to the desktop while in skirmish mode against the computer. With that said, the gameplay is the most varied I've ever seen in a real time strategy game. Period. As I've stated before, the premise is to build up a space station, and beat your opponents one of four predetermined ways. Now, the ways in which you do this are numerous, and none really has an advantage over the other. The best approach is to pick two of them, since you can't afford to keep up more, and only one won't result in you winning. First, you can trade your way to winning by opening a dock and using supply and demand to your advantage. Secondly, you can use recreation to win: constructing love nests, hotels, and cocktail bars bring in income. Thirdly, you can become self-sufficent and grow everything on the biodeck. Fourthly, you can research all the items you come across, so you can manufacture them. Lastly, you can use good old force and beat the mess out of the other players.
All of these would be useless without some aliens hired to help you. Each species has something they are particularly good at, be it medicine, security, farming, communications, research, or, ahem, love nesting. You must hire adept aliens and occasionally give them raises, or they will up and quit on you. Most of the people in your station will be visitors, and they need to be provided for. Each individual has their own wants and needs, in the categories of health, food, cleanliness, love, entertainment, sleep, and spirituality. To keep the tourists happy, you'll have to construct buildings and hire aliens to run them. Also, druids provide security, construct buildings, and keep the station neat and tidy.
In the trading realm, the friendly Arona will come by every so often and offer outrageous prices on many different items. It's best to deal with individual trade ships: for instance, the Grays (skilled in medicine) will offer low, low prices on medical equipment. Instead of trading, you can research new items and have them manufactured in the factory. You can grow basic supplies on the biodeck, so you are never out of food or medicine. Once you are confident in your section of the space station, you can use your security officers to break into an opponents room, and an old-fashioned shootout commences. Discovering new things to do is one of the special draws of Startopia. There is so much more than resource gathering, building, and fighting in this real-time strategy title, and that breath of fresh air is certainly welcome.
The graphics come in two extremes: a short-lived drab interior, and the long-lasting beauty of a working space station. Once you start a level, you notice how plain everything is, since all there exists are the walls of the space station rooms. But the individual objects are full of so much detail and wonder, this quickly fades far away. The little aliens scampering about looks absolutely great, and the rooms and structures look equally impressive. And then there's the biodeck. This world on the third floor is so breathtaking. Sure, there are sometimes some clipping problems with water, but it's still awesome. Just watching the various species swimming together brings a tear to my eye (and a lump in my throat). Well, not really, but it's nonetheless very striking. You have to play the game itself to experience all that the graphics have to offer.
If only all games were as good as Startopia. The absolute number of tasks that you must undertake may seem daunting at first, but it eventually manifests itself into fun and enjoyable gameplay. The attention to detail is really what makes Startopia shine, and, along with superb graphics and pleasurable features, makes it a must-have for any gamer. So go out and buy Startopia today; the Sirens are waiting for you.