Spacebase Startopia is a management simulator based on Startopia, released way back in 2001 on PC. Much like in the original, you’re put in charge of a series of doughnut-shaped bases that you’ll need to turn into fun places for aliens to live, work, and play. Every visitor has a wallet filled with Energy that you’ll need to tempt them into spending by keeping them entertained and fulfilling all their needs.
There’s some story going on about wars between different alien races and how this has decimated this region of space. These bases are supposedly vital in helping different species come together in peace and harmony. It’s mostly guff that isn’t particularly important or memorable, but the game does throw in lots of silly sci-fi jokes and, while most of them are painfully cheesy, they may occasionally get a smile out of you.
It can be pretty difficult to make simulation games feel at home on console — the sheer number of menus and the need for precise clicks can be tricky to get right on a controller. While Spacebase Startopia doesn’t manage to implement the most intuitive of controls, there is thankfully a tutorial, complete with sarcastic AI, that does a reasonable job of walking you through the basics and showing you some shortcuts.
Your space base has three decks; a sub deck which is used to satisfy basic needs, an entertainment deck where your guests can party, and a bio deck to grow plants and provide you with lots of precious resources. You can also research new types of rooms that’ll get your guests to spend even more Energy, as well as handy things like factories and security stations. It’s important to also keep an eye on pollution and cleanliness as you can quickly end up with a base full of sick aliens if you’re not careful.
Some of the facilities you build, like the disco or the recycling plant, will need staff to manage them. Thankfully, your guests are more than happy to accept a job with you in exchange for a small amount of Energy and free use of the facilities. Each potential worker only has two metrics for you to judge how good they are; skill and dedication. Obviously the higher these numbers are the better, but it’s hard to tell how much difference they really make as there’s no indication that they’re working any harder or faster than their lower numbered colleagues.
Your staff still have to do things like sleep and eat, so they will occasionally wander off to take care of these needs. Unlike other simulation games such as Two Point Hospital, there doesn’t seem to be any way to check up on your staff and pull them off their breaks if you need them. It doesn’t really feel like you’re managing them, or have much control over them. It’s cheap and easy to keep on hiring more and more staff, but there isn’t any metric of whether you’re being efficient or are way over-staffed.
One thing that is really quick and easy to check is seeing what your visitors think of your attempts to create a little alien utopia. You can quickly skim through an alien social media feed to see what’s trending and what guests are angry about. They also regularly take a vote about if they like the base or not. The higher your ratings, the more visitors you’ll get, and the larger the size of their wallets.
The main campaign isn’t particularly long; there are only 10 missions and many of them feel a bit like they’re extensions of the tutorial. Each mission will give you new types of rooms to unlock and new alien species to impress. Once you’ve completed a few objectives, which mostly serve to showcase the new features you’ve unlocked, you’ll be swiftly moved on to a new station and a new objective.
The simulation elements of the game start to feel quite repetitive after a while, which isn’t helped by the fact that your base is always the same shape and looks exactly the same. While there are new obstacles to overcome in each scenario, you’re likely to be repeating most of the same steps that you did in the previous mission. A lot of your time with the game is likely to just involve you waiting around until you have enough currency to buy a different room or unlock the next research item, which you’ll then have to unlock all over again in the next mission.
Occasionally your base will be infested with space worms or boarded by pirates, which is when you’ll need to use any drones and mechs you’ve built to blast the crap out of them. This could’ve been used to inject a bit more tension and excitement in the game, but it ends up falling a bit flat. All you’ll really end up doing is directing your squads to where the fighting is happening and then leaving them to it.
Once you’re done with the campaign, you can try out the freeplay mode where you can play against the AI and set the victory conditions, as well as things like the base size and length of the game. There’s also an online multiplayer mode which you can play with up to four players. Here you can either play co-operatively, or you can do your utmost to destroy their economy before sending your mechs to finish them off, like the evil little space tyrant you are.
Spacebase Startopia doesn’t have quite the same charm and humour of the original 2001 classic. The campaign missions are short and fairly repetitive, and the combat feels really basic. It’s a shame, but even with an online multiplayer mode, this shallow simulator is not a particularly engaging experience.