Gaming in general is a massive time sink. As players of such games we sit around for hours on end, racing fast cars, shooting people in the face, pretending we are overpaid footballers and left scratching our heads for days at the toughest puzzles.
It may sound tedious, but it’s what we do. It’s a gamer’s life.
Vostok Inc. in itself is just as big a time sink as any other game. It’s hugely addictive, pretty funny and mixes a couple of genres well enough to just about define itself as a proper game in its own right. But it’s also a grind. A humongous, massive, gargantuan grind in fact. Quite possibly more so than any other game I’ve ever played.
But it’s still enjoyable. At least initially because the more you ‘play’ it, the bigger that grind will become and the more you may come to despise its entire creation.
A cross between Clicker Heroes (without the manic clicking) and Geometry Wars (without the utter precision), Vostok is all about making money. Lots of money. So much money in fact that money isn’t the word I should be using. Moolah is much more representative.
Tasked with visiting multiple galaxies, with the express intention of building upon the planets found within, Vostok Inc. places you firmly in the shoes of a greedy space capitalist who is after dough. With your trusty lieutenant Jimmy by your side, and a whole host of strange alien races to encounter, you’ll need to mix some twin stick shooting with basic planet colonisation, all in the hope that you can see your bank balance reach stratospheric levels.
There are six different galaxies for you to explore and by blasting your little ship around, will happen across orbit lines of planets. Following these will inevitably lead you to finding a suitable globe to land on, but in your way will be waves and waves of strange enemy ships, all lead by a boss character who delightfully pops up on screen every now and then for some conversation time with Jimmy. These ‘chats’ lend to a bit of a backstory for Vostok Inc. and the simple but humorous way they have been implemented means that it is well worth taking them in. Unfortunately Jimmy himself is a bit of a loud mouthed chatterbox, and when combined with his repetitive and gibberish way of speaking, does become pretty damn annoying, pretty damn quickly. And like most of what is found in Vostok, the more you have to listen to him, the more you really wish he’d just shoot off and find some other fool to pester.
Jimmy’s speech bubbles can however be overcome quickly, so don’t affect the game too much, giving the twin stick shooting and galactic space travel mechanics more of a chance to shine. Flying around in your ship is smooth and pretty precise, with a limited time boost allowing you to get away from trouble without too much hassle. Stopping to fight back against enemies will be something you’ll want to do though – again, like much in this game, at least initially – as each one you rid the galaxy of will see additional cash drops coming your way. When the main aim of the game is to make cash, your first few hours with Vostok will see you trying to grab the shiny stuff any way you can. The shooting is rather decent – never on a par with a full-on proper twin sticker, but decent nonetheless – with a wide variety of weapons letting you bring plenty of variety to the table.
Fight enough, grabbing yourself cash in the process and you’ll be able to upgrade your ship with an extensive list of add-ons, from better radar systems, faster boosts and more shielding capabilities. The weapons system itself allows you to make better, more powerful creations too, mixing gun types to bring you further varieties of death bringers. Cash allowing of course.
The enemies that come your way are simple, fairly dumb affairs, but the odd random screen lock, seeing Vostok take on a much more limited Geo Wars style single screen fight, filling your proximity with multiple enemies is a clever little addition. Granted, there will be times when you are looking to just explore the galaxy, and these locked-in fights can disrupt the flow, but Vostok is most definitely a game of two halves and this is just one of those parts.
Boss fights are cool too. They are never too tricky that you’ll find yourself throwing your pad across the room, but they will keep you on your toes at all times, ensuring you are left utilising the different weapon sets that you have created as you go. Some will find pleasure in holding back and piling a powerful laser into the faces of all comers, whilst others will want to get up close and deal as much damage as possible with the more ‘shotgun’ orientated guns at your disposal. With four weapons types allocated to the D-pad at all times, a quick switch on the fly is simple enough.
When you’ve managed to fight off your enemies and find some sort of gap in the shooting madness, the rest of your time in Vostok will focus on the 40 planets which can be found dotted around the galaxies. Wormholes allow for quick progression from one system to the next and this is essential the further you progress with your money making plans.
Dropping in on a planet will give you the opportunity to build one, two, ten, a hundred or a few thousand buildings on its surface – whether those controlling the land wish you to or not. Each structure will then begin to extract the goodness from its soil, in turn giving you back a cash return, with further sub-buildings and upgrades delivering an even larger cash reward. With mines and FARMs providing the stepping stones to greater, bigger buildings, you’ll need to populate each and every planet as much as you can, all in order to see your rate of extraction and earned Moolah per second increase. The more buildings you have spread across a greater number of planets, the more you will become cash rich. And as we spoke about at the beginning of this piece, Vostok is all about the Moolah.
Initially this all starts off fine, with each and every visit to a planet allowing for new buildings to be built, seeing your cash stream increase steadily. But as you progress through the galaxies and unlock further planets and more buildings, the repetition found in having to then head back to previous globes in order to upgrade them with new buildings, time and time again, gets a bit much. Factor in that your travel time will be broken up by numerous space fights that pay out little in comparison to the buildings you have sanctioned, and you’ll find that Vostok eventually becomes a repetition filled struggle.
And so that leads us back to the grinding that holds Vostok together. Grinding that is, in my opinion, too big a deal to really ignore.
With further galaxies only unlocked after beating the end of section boss – who himself is made available only once Jimmy has decided you’ve created enough cash – and then bigger, better buildings only becoming open for construction once you’ve met certain criteria AND have a big enough bank balance to warrant their building time, you’ll need to be playing Vostok for some time in order to completely unlock all its wares. Or at least you’ll need to leave it running in the background whilst you head off to do something a bit more enjoyable – like washing the plates after dinner or taking the dog for a walk. Even then you’ll probably find yourself well short of the required funds needed in order to help your galactic enterprise turn that Moolah slowly – very slowly – first into the hundreds, then the thousands, millions, trillions, squillions and more that is required for progression opportunities.
You could of course spend a bit of that waiting time just scouring the galaxy for more shooting battles, or head out to the furthest reaches of each solar system in order to rescue managers, consultants and executives who have found themselves drifting in open space, but the small rewards you get from doing this, as opposed to flying from planet to planet hoping that you have enough cash to add a new building, means that you’ll rarely feel the need to do so. Even by rescuing the money men, and then gaining access to some ‘virtual pet’ style minigames to break up the monotony of the wait will hardly seem like it is worth it.
The wait does become a little more bearable should you wish to aim for 100% objective completion stats, because with 500 odd of them in place, there is at least something little to aim for whilst you wait for that money to roll in. Although then again, much of those are linked to how much money you make, so the vicious circle rolls round to land its teeth into you.
For at the end of the day, all you’ll really want to do in Vostok is see your cash reserves rise. And that means sitting back and waiting for your balance to increase enough to warrant further investment. Something which may well take a few more hours than you are prepared for!
And that is where both the good and the bad in Vostok hit home. To make money, you need to spend money, and to spend money, you need to make money. That damn circle once again means that for all Vostok’s good intentions, for as decent as the twin stick shooting mechanics are, for as fun as the gibberish Jimmy is, and for as deep as the ship customisation options allow, you’ll eventually find yourself just frantically flying from one planet to the next – just in order to hit the construct button as quickly as you can, before flying off to the next and rinsing and repeating. All while hoping that the pesky enemies don’t lock in on your position.
Unless of course you’re just happy to sit there watching your bank balance rise. Which is, unfortunately, something that I’ve been left to do for too long. Especially as unlike the aforementioned Clicker Heroes, Vostok doesn’t allow any progression or money making gathering when the game is off.
Gaming is a massive time sink, and Vostok is the biggest of them all. What starts off nice and delightful will eventually turn into a time eating monster. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure that is inherently a good thing.