Review by Gee4ce

Reviewed: 08/04/02 | Updated: 08/04/02

Take many great management games, bung them in a rocket and fly them into space!

The intergalactic war is finally over, leaving countless star systems and space stations lifeless. Picture it if you will, a giant metal donut, once effectively a space town, now floating through the void; a Torus if you want to use the proper name, a heap of... you know what if you don't. And guess what? Ten of these are your destiny...

Welcome everybody to Startopia, could all passengers please keep arms, legs, tentacles and other protrusions or appendages in the car at ALL times whilst I give you all the brief on this quite frankly fantastic game!

Yes, that's right, fantastic. When I noticed this game in it's 'DVD' box on the shelf of my local games shop I was of course very curious. My suspicions that this would be something very special were founded.

You start of one one of the aforementioned Toruses, gently led into the delicate process of station management by VAL (Virtual Artificial Life-form, who, incidentally, is voice by William Franklin, the guy from the Esso commercials) through six tutorials. Once you've taken the baby steps, it's time to get out there and bring no less than 10 stations out of the mire and turn them into something useful, be it a farm, a hospital, a prison, a factory complex, a research outpost, an entertainment facility or a military garrison, Startopia will have you doing all these things and more!

Your station is split into three decks; Industrial, Pleasure and BioDeck. The industrial deck is where you put all the important stuff (and that does NOT mean bars and brothels and other dives, it means factories and such). On the pleasure deck however you DO build bars and such, although the seediness can be managed by careful selection and management. Interestingly enough, your facilities affect those that visit your station. Plonk a Love Nest in there and your visitors will generally rise, although the religious folk will scream and move on. The BioDeck is the most intriguing; here you can terraform the ground to grow crops or provide a place for your aliens to chill.

Ah yes, your aliens. No less than nine races will stop by at your stations to do whatever they need to. Each race has distinctive characteristics and you can hire members of each one to do crucial tasks for you. Choosing staff is a big decision making process in itself. Each alien is rated on Skill, Dedication and Loyalty, out of five for each one. An alien with all 5's is all well and good for the station, but it's going to put holes in your budget.

Budget. There is only one resource in the game, and it doesn't really count as resource management; Energy. Not only does it power your station but it pays for things to, so don't buy too much or the lights will start going out! You can set a fee for each facility on the station, but visitors may also release ADDITIONAL positive energy which contributes to your funds, so making your guests happy is important!

Trading plays a big part in the game once you have the relevant kit set up, and strategy comes in when one has to decide what is a good deal and what isn't! Sometimes some 'hot potatoes' will get passed on to you, leaving you to deal with them!

There will come times when you aren't the ONLY boss on the station; this is where combat comes in. Startopia's combat system is also delightfully simple. Four of the nine races are combat capable, and any employees you have from those races will take up arms when the time comes. You simply set muster points or target enemies and your workers do the rest. Your stations are divided into segments, and during combat you'll want to wrest control of your enemy's segments away from him. This process too is also delightfully simple; for you AND your enemy! The combat is a laugh however, and one of the funnier scenes is watching an alien doctor run out of the sick bay mid appointment to shoot a bad guy!

Talking of which, the game has some rather nice humor, from running jokes (like Mucus Wine, eew) to random humor throughout the missions. From time to time your assistant VAL will blurt something that doesn't fail to make you smile.

All of this is viewed through beautiful 3D graphics. Flashing lights, sliding doors and robots running all over the shop, it all looks very nice indeed, even on the medium settings. Sound is also very good, with everything making suitably 'spacey' noises.

Interface, interface, interface. To gamers as location, location, location is to an estate agent. Unfortunately this is probably one of the only things that lowers this lovely, challenging gem of a game from it's deserved throne. At first it seems simple enough, but sometimes in practice it can be annoying, particularly for the beginner. Once one gets used to its ways it does become simpler to use, but it's a shame it wasn't easy in the first place.

Unless you are a Star Wars die-hard like myself you may also find familiarizing yourself with all the aliens and structures difficult at first. I feel that perhaps the tutorials could have been a bit more comprehensive. I found that my playing of the demo beforehand had given me some ground knowledge and made the game a little easier to get into, but if you are picking this up to play right away for the first time, you could find it tricky at first.

Those things said however, the game is genuinely challenging, amusing, and most importantly, fun and good value for money. For those into editing, it is easy to create your own missions and already these and alien modifications have created a sizeable gathering on the Internet.

Despite the initially tricky interface and the steep learning curve, Startopia is a joy to play once you get used to it's ways. There is truly some quality managing to be done here, for SimCity 3000 etc. old-timers and newcomers alike. May the Force Be... oops wrong one! :)

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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