Startopia - PC - Review

Frustrating, that is the key word when describing the beginning of Startopia, a civ-sim game from Eidos Interactive and Mucky Foot Productions.

Why? The manual is horribly unable to prepare players for the joy of this game. You will get more out of the five tutorial missions than you will from the manual – or, at least, you will get a quick introduction to the program that the manual (which is packaged with the CD) can’t seem to give. Simply put, this is a game that needs to be played to understand the complexity, and the joy, of the adventure.

So what is Startopia? Despite the intro movie – which is wonderfully, and somewhat comedic in nature, poking fun at 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Outer Limits (in later tone) – this is somewhat of a far-out civ game. Think of it as being the manager of a space Motel 6. As administrator of this space station (Ok, Deep Space 9 is an appropriate parallel), you must provide for the comfort and happiness of the various space denizens likely to take up residence in your little haven among the stars.

The scenario leading up to all of this is as follows: The intergalactic war is over, and abandoned space stations are being refitted to provide for the surviving alien races. They don’t always get along, but your job is providing a place where they are too happy to fuss and fight. There are eight diverse races that trust you, so you had better do a great job.

The station can be split into a variety of decks – three in total, with turbo lifts allowing egress to each deck – and you must provide for the diverse races. Hence, you may need to build a bio-deck, and of course an entertainment level is a must, while the engineering deck holds the functions of this place together.

Imagine Tropico (a Gathering of Developers release) in deep space with a host of unusual races stirring up problems.

The camera is touted as the toughest tool to control, but turns out to be quite easy. But the rest of the player controls take some getting used to – although the five tutorial lessons make it a tad easier to navigate through the game.

Yes, you will have to micromanage resources. And there are mission-based scenarios that will keep you on your toes. You can also enter a ‘sandbox’ mode that allows you to gently work your way through the program, learning without penalty, how to be the best space station administrator that you can be. C’mon Captain Sisko, the world, and the hope of the future ride on your decisions.

The campaign mode expands the administration concept beyond just the one station, and therein lays the real challenge. There are 10 missions that will challenge and intrigue – mostly due to the sterling graphical elements of the program. When it comes to the visual and audio elements, Startopia is right up there with the best of the civ games. This game is lovingly crafted, and it shows very clearly in the way the interface elements set up to the look of the various races and the operation of the station itself.

There is an added element to the program, a combat mode which, while it may intrigue some players, can be likened to the combat in other civ games. Sure, it can be taxing on resource management, but it is hardly instrumental to the core elements of the game.

There is a bevy of great characters that course throughout the game, making it ever intriguing and solid fun.

The game does feature multiplayer scenarios in which hosting players can set up the conditions for winning. The game can be played over TCP/IP, LAN or the Internet through the GameSpy site.

This game is rated for Teens due to some suggestive themes and animated violence.

Startopia is a solid product, full of the intrigue, diversity and management decisions that are the hallmark of terrific simulation games. There is humor, aside jokes, great graphics and audio, and solid gameplay elements in place. The missions may be nearsighted in regards to the time it takes to accomplish them, but the supporting factors, which allow for extended play, are great reasons to visit this out-of-this-world locale time and again.

Install: Easy.
The game only asks for 357 megs of hard-drive space, and installs quite quickly.

Gameplay: 8.5
Some of the missions are rather simplistic, but the game – overall – features wonderful replayability, and somewhat seamless play.

Graphics: 9.
Graphically, this is a wonderfully rendered product – from the alien races to the environment elements.

Sound: 9
The programmers certainly had fun with this product, and that comes through clear with the vocal characterizations as well as the musical soundtrack.

Difficulty: 8
The manual provides little in the way of solid help, but the tutorials give the basic information and play in the sandbox mode adds to the know-how of attempting to succeed at this game.

Concept: 8.5.
This is a refreshing breath of air into the genre, with original characters, humor and solid game play.

Multiplayer: 7.5
It was tough to get a solid read on the multiplayer aspects of this game, however all the elements are in place, with a solidly scripted group of win scenarios, to make this a good game.

Overall: 8.5.
The first things that will draw you into this world are the graphics and audio portions of the program. Once that bit of fluff becomes the ordinary, you will realize that this is a well-crafted game.
 

Great

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