Xbox One, PS4, PC
March 27, 2021
Spacebase Startopia is an original mixture of economic simulation and empire-building strategy paired with classic RTS skirmishes and a good dose of humour dashed throughout. The game is an updated version of the 2001 original which simply went by the name “Startopia”. Is this a space base you should jump over the moon to join, or are you better off staying down on earth and missing it?
Spacebase Startopia is developed by Realmforge Studios and published by Kalypso Media, with the latter being well known for their popular Tropico series of games. With that said, it should be a given that the strategy elements of this title are heavily polished, which they most certainly are.
Your mission is to attract an assortment of alien visitors to your space base so that all of the different races can live together in harmony, keep them happy and satisfied, and continue to expand your operations. It is a fairly simple premise, but one that does provide some room for you to play as you desire whilst still providing a challenge.
You construct a variety of buildings using your “Fuzzys” – robots with the sole job of constructing your plans across the ship. Each building carries a different purpose, all working in unison to ensure your base continues to thrive. Some constructions will recycle garbage, tend to the ill, act as a jail for wrongdoers, allow you to use resources to create one-time-use gadgets, or a host of other possibilities. As you progress in the main campaign you will also need to research buildings before you can build them, so you have to weigh up where you spend your prestige points (gained from positive visitor reception) and what buildings will be the most important to have first.
It is an absolute must that close attention is paid to the different parameters that will determine if your base is successful. This includes ensuring there are outlets for your visitors to bathe, eat, drink, and entertain themselves, along with placing and monitoring different tools that will ensure the base is free of garbage and has a clean atmosphere. There is also an inherent need to ensure that there is security for your visitors, as without this they are likely to be robbed and left unsatisfied.
You are also tasked with hiring different alien races to work within some of the buildings and decks. There are 9 different alien races in total, each having its own unique job designation, so you do have to pay attention to which units you decide to hire as failure to do so will result in some of your buildings not operating as they should. As your workers operate they will gather experience, allowing you to promote (level up) that unit to operate more efficiently.
Most of the actions you perform within the game will utilise energy, which is essentially the game’s main currency. Energy is used to create new buildings, hire new units and promote them, along with a variety of other necessary avenues within your space base. Energy can be replenished by recycling the garbage that naturally accumulates throughout your base or through other methods such as being generated by some buildings within the fun deck. You can collect garbage yourself to recycle, or allow your cleaning bots to do this slowly over time. This is important to keep on top of as without a steady income of energy you will not be able to progress your base very far. Every building and construction uses a set amount of energy, so even if you have space, it is always a smart idea to balance what you have and what you need. There is also a fairly important stat screen to monitor your base and visitors’ status, so you can check areas that you may need to quickly improve on before your visitors decide to leave.
There are three different decks that you must tend to on your space base, all of which warrant close attention to ensure everything works in unison. The “sub” deck is where you will spend most of your time, as this is the area that you will construct your buildings, clean up garbage, and ensure you are keeping within parameters that satisfies your visitors. The “fun” deck is self-explanatory, with it being the section that you will place constructions that provide some entertainment for your alien pals. The third is the “bio” deck, one of the more interesting aspects of the main gameplay loop.
“The empire building and management gameplay loops of Spacebase Startopia are satisfying and engaging, and I often had a great time playing god and ensuring my base was in top form…“
The bio deck is where you will terraform sections to create varying biomes to allow flora to grow and generate resources for your base. A unique aspect is that you can choose to be active or inactive for different results. If you choose to harvest the plants yourself, you will still receive the necessary resources, but the plant will be destroyed. If you hire a handy group of Dryads to tend to these plants then they will harvest the plants for you and plant new ones in the process, but this is done at a slower pace. These resources are split into varying categories such as fibres, medicine, food, oxygen, etc. Ensuring you have plenty of resources is key to having a successful base as you will need these to create gadgets and other items useful for your continued operations.
The empire building and management gameplay loops of Spacebase Startopia are satisfying and engaging, and I often had a great time playing god and ensuring my base was in top form, along with utilising the free camera to zoom right down and see how all of my little visitors were spending their hours. It is genuinely a fun experience to just sit back and watch your visitors interact with everything on your ship as you develop further, and it can be far too easy to forget you are supposed to be managing the base instead of watching them.
You can switch between a couple of different options to further scrutinise your performance along with the standard view. The O2 viewer will let you see the atmosphere levels within your base, blue being the optimum and red meaning you should place a filter within that location as a nearby building is emitting too much harmful air. In the bio deck, you can also change your view to only see the current plants within your biomes, so you can monitor areas that may require some tweaking.
It can be a truly awe-inspiring moment when you take a step back and watch your large base operating at full capacity, everything working in unison and all the inhabitants co-existing together. It’s a really important feeling for any empire-building game to get right. Without that sense of accomplishment, your experience can be left greatly diminished. Thankfully, Spacebase does not have this problem, partly due to the charming cartoony graphics that make viewing your base a real treat and partly due to the game’s solid design. Although with that said, there can sometimes be too much going on in any one screen once you get into the thick of the game, with different menus and pop-up notifications making things overwhelming.
The single-player mode is comprised of various levels, each with different objectives that you must complete to succeed. This can range from gathering a certain amount of energy or resources, or tending to ill visitors and curing them of their ailments. The objectives become harder as you progress, and it certainly did provide me with more of a challenge in later missions as you are left more to your own devices. There is also the option to free play, which just lets you do as you please and not have to worry about any pesky objectives.
There are these neat little moments where you are randomly offered two choices that generally provide a positive and negative boost to a certain building or area, with AI VAL providing some often hilarious comment on your decision. Spacebase has a good dose of humour imbued into its story and character designs with the aforementioned VAL, the AI that accompanies you throughout your journey, being particularly humorous. I also liked the unique alien designs and their races’ names, which typically aligned with their given role in your space base. For example, the “Celebramer” race is tasked with providing entertainment to your visitors.
The dialogue of VAL is often pretty hilarious, although I did find that after long sessions it did teeter on the edge of becoming a little too over-the-top. You are also presented with 3 voice options for VAL, choosing between a standard robot voice, a more human-like voice, and my personal favourite, GLaWin, which is a parody of GLaDOS from Portal.
There is a fairly basic RTS combat mechanic in Spacebase Startopia but it’s not the main focus, thankfully. It was the aspect that I most disliked about this title, and one that I found could have been left out without detracting from the overall experience. The combat is fairly simple, giving you the ability to create a selection of different mechanised units with the sole responsibility of defending your little utopia from would-be enemies. Combat essentially boils down to instructing your mechs to go and fight the enemies as they appear, with a limited selection of abilities to choose from. The combat is neither fun to watch nor engaging, but more so just another thing that you need to factor in when keeping your visitors happy and safe.
In the beginning, the mechanics and gameplay seem pretty easy and when coupled with the cartoony graphics it can give the wrong impressions that there will be little challenge to this title. But as you continue through the campaign or decide to challenge yourself in free play mode, it can be quite a juggling act switching between the different decks, ensuring everything is operating smoothly, and keeping tabs on the various parameters to ensure your base continues to thrive.
- Unique alien designs and setting
- Humorous dialogue from VAL throughout your journey
- Engaging and streamlined empire-building mechanics
- The colourful and visually appealing design and aesthetic are a nice touch
- Combat is lacklustre and uninspired
- The main screen can get a bit too full of information at times
I had a great time with Spacebase Startopia, and that’s coming from someone who’s not typically a fan of this genre of games. I just don’t usually have the patience to sit down and manage a little empire, but Spacebase does provide a somewhat streamlined experience when it comes to empire-building simulation games, never becoming as overwhelming as some of the Tropico games, for instance. That does not mean the game cannot pose a challenge when things get going, however. There is still plenty for you to micro-manage and keep track of to ensure a successful operation. I just wish the combat mechanics were more engaging, as it stands they feel almost unnecessary. With all that said, I feel it is perfect for newcomers to the genre presenting a fun and cartoony experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Likewise, people looking to scratch the itch of creating a civilization without some of the more complex mechanics and politics that can go hand-in-hand with the genre should get a kick out of this title too.
A multiplayer mode is included, but at the time of reviewing, I was unable to find any matches to join to test this aspect out.