Need to know
What is it? A spiritual successor to Startopia, a classic space station management sim.
Expect to pay $45/£41.39
Release March 26, 2021
Developer Realmforge Studios
Publisher Kalypso Media
Reviewed on GTX 1080 Ti, Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
Spacebase Startopia is an enthusiastic homage to one of my favourite management games. More than an homage, really, as it lifts pretty much everything from the original Startopia, right down to the name—it’s more like an unofficial remake. Back in my giant donut-shaped space station, I should finally be content after two decades of waiting, but instead I’m a bit conflicted.
At times the similarities can be so overt that it feels like Startopia with a visual upgrade, but hewing so closely to the original also emphasises the ways in which it misses the mark. Like the terrible, terrible gags.
We got off on the wrong foot, Spacebase Startopia and I, when it introduced me to my relentlessly irritating virtual assistant. Clippy ain’t got nothing on VAL, an AI buddy who keeps track of your objectives, drops the occasional suggestion and ceaselessly puts you down. An AI that’s also a dickhead is pretty well-trodden territory, but VAL’s missing a key ingredient: it just isn’t funny. The writing lacks the wit of Glados or even the original Startopia’s AI, also called VAL, but the delivery is the real problem. All three voice options sound like they’ve been run through a text-to-speech programme, making them completely incapable of teasing out chuckles with tone or timing.
(Image credit: Kalypso Media)
Along with invasions, other random events crop up that offer more compelling management wrinkles. Sometimes you’ll be tasked with making a time sensitive choice, for instance, with a range of positive and negative consequences. Some of them give you only bad options, so you have to pick the one you think you can stomach the most, but these events also give you the chance to get some extremely handy buffs. You’ll also get offers, like someone asking to offload a bunch of trash for a nice payout, or offering to clean up some of your own trash for a fee. There are lots of ways to get in and out of a jam.
One of these events also taught me a valuable lesson: maybe it’s OK to let a plague take root in your station if you’re also in the business of curing people. There aren’t many opportunities to be horribly ruthless, but this is a big one. I have some regrets about my behaviour and some aliens to apologise to.
I wish there was more of that: tough choices and corruption. The cartoon capitalism of Spacebase Startopia feels like fertile ground for these kinds of shenanigans, but they are so rare. While it does tend to be at its best when it sticks as closely as possible to its predecessor, it’s still a shame that it’s so reliant on a single game. Maybe I should be glad there aren’t more misses like the new RTS layer, but management games have developed a lot over the last two decades, offering so many ways to build on Startopia instead of replicating it. I guess living in the past isn’t such a good thing after all. But it can be fun to visit for a few days.