A trip away is most likely at the top of a lot of people’s wish lists at the moment – I know it is for me. Although this isn’t actually possible right now, Spacebase Startopia offers the opportunity to visit a luxury, multi-platform, donut-shaped space entertainment complex. Well, I say visit; you’ll actually be running it, which may not be quite as relaxing.
As the article title indicates, Spacebase Startopia on Xbox is currently in Game Preview, meaning this playable version is not the final release. There’s a free trial available too, but if you wish to purchase this edition you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content. The game is optimised for Xbox Series X|S, and thus is the first game of its type to enter Game Preview. I’ve been lucky enough to go hands-on, and gather some first impressions on how the game is shaping up.
As I briefly alluded to, Spacebase Startopia is a management sim game that also contains RTS and combat elements. The complex is laid out over three levels – the sub, fun and bio decks. Each has a very different purpose and requires you to manage different priorities whilst looking after your space guests, across all three levels at the same time.
As with most games of this ilk, it’s best to start off playing the tutorial. So that’s exactly what I did. This consists of five missions that explain how to get a grasp of what in the world is going on. The first thing that you’ll notice is the sheer amount of menus and buttons that surround the screen, and for that reason alone you’ll struggle to play Spacebase Startopia by jumping straight in.
It takes a while to get used to how to navigate around the spacebase, but what helps is a suspended free roam camera that you control with the thumbsticks and triggers. The D-Pad is used to switch between the three decks. You can zoom right in on details, meaning you can keep track of everything that is happening fairly easily.
This works really well, meaning you can watch the aliens boogie up close, or observe a conveyor belt of trash get recycled. Whatever floats your boat really, the control is yours. The colourful visuals and various alien creatures which visit create a vibrant sense of community aboard your spacebase.
You’re guided through the tutorial by a delightfully sarcastic, and borderline rude, AI program called VAL. Let’s just say that she isn’t too impressed by humans, or indeed by anything that you do as you play. Still, she brings a wicked humour streak to the action which juxtaposes the naturally drier tone a sim game normally has.
You’ll start off learning the basics, and there’s nothing here you wouldn’t have expected to see. It’s all about building to start off, ensuring you manage your power supply effectively as well as maintaining it. To begin with, you’ll be able to build such things as recycling and communication centres, as well as a “Berth” which acts as a central hub for all visitors. And that’s just on the first deck.
You can build discos and other entertainment for your guests on the fun deck, and terraform and grow resources on the bio deck. Different terrains will yield all sorts of resources, which can later be used to manufacture parts in your factory. You’ll be able to research new buildings and other structures as you play and your spacebase becomes more advanced. To keep all the various buildings operating efficiently, you will need to hire a suitably skilled workforce to keep them ticking over.
Quite interestingly, you will also find yourself in combat situations from time to time. To deal with enemies that board your spacebase, you’ll first have to build droids to defend the guests and staff members on board. It’s a bit like RoboCop, but in space.
However, your enemies will also use more indirect methods of trying to sabotage you. These include planting bombs on board, or using devices to siphon off your energy. Failing to stop these attacks can cause serious issues, so it’s important to stay vigilant.
Once you’re feeling more confident with how to play Spacebase Startopia, you can head into the main campaign. This consists of ten missions that will test you on everything that you learned in the tutorial, and more. It starts off fairly simple, and quickly starts to demand more and more of you.
Things will start to go wrong, however you can check the delightfully named “Spitter” social media stream, to quickly identify problems and introduce corrective actions. You can do this by reading comments visitors have left, which are grouped into categories. For example, hygiene issues, air quality and queueing are all bound to come up. If the first one does, look out for space cockroaches to zap, in a similar way to cleaning out those pesky rats in Theme Hospital. Thankfully they aren’t as fast here.
If the campaign is proving to be a bit much, there is a skirmish option to practice your Spacebase Startopia skills. Not only this, but you can play with or against others online too – expect the servers to populate as the game comes out of Game Preview and into a full launch.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Game Preview title without a few bugs, and that is the case here. Your buildings can be a bit glitchy-looking as you scroll your camera over them, and the game completely crashed after I completed a campaign mission, twice. However, these are minor niggles for a game that works well overall.
Spacebase Startopia on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S is shaping up to be a management sim in the truest sense. It’s got a few small twists thrown in there too, however it’s looking set to be one to watch for fans of the genre. It’ll be releasing in full on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4 and PC come March 26th 2021 so keep an eye out for our full review around that time. Massive thanks to Kalypso Media for giving us the chance to get hands-on with Spacebase Startopia in Game Preview form. If you wish to check it out for yourself, head on over to the Xbox Store.