It was only a few weeks ago that I brought you my first impressions of Spacebase Startopia, which was shaping up to be a promising game for fans of the genre. In fact, the game is actually a remake of Startopia, which was released 20 years ago for PC and received plenty of critical acclaim at the time. After a short delay, it’s now out of Xbox Game Preview and the full release is here, but how does Spacebase Startopia on Xbox stack up?
Spacebase Startopia is a management simulation game with some RTS elements chucked in for good measure. There’s a series of comic strip-styled animated cutscenes which link together the campaign missions and give a deeper insight into the game world which is populated by plenty of weird and wonderful creatures.
The good news is your progress will carry over from the Xbox Game Preview if you were one of the first to, er hem, get on board with Spacebase Startopia. If you did purchase the game before its general release, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content including in-game items, skins and a digital version of the soundtrack. Some of the music, such as the pumping beats played in the alien disco, is well worth a listen.
In Spacebase Startopia you are tasked with maintaining a three tier, spherical installation consisting of the sub, fun and bio decks. You’ll need to keep your alien visitors fed, watered and entertained whilst fighting crime and fending off any potential pirates that may attempt to board and cause trouble. Your main resource is energy; producing, storing and managing it wisely is the key to success.
As with most games of this type, it’s best to start off by playing the tutorial. It consists of several missions which explain how to get to grips with things. The HUD is pretty cluttered, with a fair 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.
There have been some UI updates compared to earlier versions of the game, which include some small improvements. For example, when you are building lifts a handy window pops up showing if it’s accessible from each deck without you having to physically check. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.
However, navigating the menus still feels clunky and takes some getting used to. You usually have to hold down LB or RB then press the relevant button to access what you need, which isn’t the easiest setup to commit to memory. Viewing your notifications feels especially fiddly and the game doesn’t always seem to respond to your button presses when you do so.
The C.R.A.T.E. system the game uses in order for you to move units and buildings (by packing them and unpacking them) again feels over complicated. It’s also quite easy to lose items, and it isn’t easy to find them again. This setup may well work on PC, but on console the reduced controller accuracy makes using your cursor utterly frustrating at times.
Despite these issues, the game is perfectly playable, but these problems make the control setup of a game such as this more difficult than it ought to be.
On the plus side, you now have greater control over how to view your alien leisure centre thanks to the free camera option, accessed by clicking the left thumbstick down. This further enhances one of the joys I found when first playing Spacebase Startopia, which was easily keeping an overview of what is happening on your station, as well as zooming in close to some of the rooms and watching your guests in action. It’s a genuine delight to see all the weird and wonderful aliens go about their business.
Everyone’s favourite sharp-witted robot turned narrator, VAL, is back and just as sarcastic as ever. The bitchy commentary is reflective of just how little it thinks of humans, which you’ll be constantly reminded of. You can choose from two other narrators, but VAL remains my firm favourite.
The campaign is the game’s main draw, and consists of ten missions which each carry a series of objectives for you to complete. These start off fairly straightforward and each one layers on some complexity in terms of new buildings and items to get to grips with. To kick things off, you’ll need 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, as well as terraform and grow resources on the bio deck. Different terrains will yield varying 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 as your spacebase becomes more advanced. To keep all the various buildings operating efficiently, you will need to hire a suitably skilled workforce to ensure they are all ticking over. What I do like, is that your rooms have built-in external space for guests to walk around, so you won’t be boxing people into corners. Clever.
The main way to enhance your space station is through the research menu, which unlocks new facilities and allows you to upgrade units. You’ll need prestige points to do this, of which you’ll receive a steady supply given you keep things running smoothly and build yourself a good reputation. This is achieved by monitoring guests’ feelings and feedback followed by taking corrective action to target issues on your station. The “Spitter” feed isn’t just a great play on words; it displays what guests’ impressions are in real time.
To upgrade your existing buildings, they need to be in their C.R.A.T.E form and all of this is done through a research lab, instead of each individual building as in other sim games. This is odd, because to do this you essentially pack up your building, meaning it can’t be used whilst being upgraded. So you either need to build another one, or deal with the disruption caused by temporarily removing the building as best you can.
Every now and then you’ll be faced with a decision to make against the clock, and there isn’t always a good option. Interestingly (and this is where the RTS elements come in), you will also find yourself in combat situations from time to time. To effectively deal with enemies that board your spacebase, you’ll first have to build droids to defend the guests and staff members on board.
Your enemies will also use more indirect methods of trying to sabotage you. This includes 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.
On the whole Spacebase Startopia is good fun, but after passing well beyond the halfway point of the campaign I came to the conclusion that it’s actually not that challenging or complicated for a sim game. This has been partially addressed by the introduction of three difficulty options, named Cadet, Commander and Admiral. Despite this you’re not kept as busy as in other sim games and as a result you won’t feel as much pressure as you might expect. You’ll rarely feel challenged or face failure as things tend to tick over quite nicely once you’ve set yourself up. It’s for this reason why a fast forward option would have been welcome, if only to speed things along and prevent things dragging, especially as you’re essentially repeating yourself in every mission with a few tweaks thrown in.
If the campaign leaves you wanting more, Free Play (which is effectively an offline sandbox mode) offers a space to hone your Spacebase Startopia skills. As well as this, you can play with or against other players online, taking in Quick Game, Campaign and Free Play options there too. Quick Game is the only option which lets you matchmake; the other two modes will require friends to play with via invite. Of course, the online scene all depends on how the player base fills out going forward.
For the most part Spacebase Startopia runs pretty well. There has been no sign of the glitchy buildings as I found when it was in Game Preview, however it did crash on me just the once, but luckily it had autosaved only five minutes before. The opening cutscene is still a little jagged too, but overall the game runs with a smooth frame rate on Xbox Series X.
Rather strangely however, the music will randomly stop then fade back in, depending where in the station I was focusing on with my camera. This only ever lasted for a few seconds, however it is very noticable.
Spacebase Startopia is a full price game, and despite what’s on offer still manages to feel expensive. The ten part campaign feels pretty linear and repetitive overall, so I’d recommend cranking up the difficulty for a longer lasting challenge. It’s simplicity makes for a fun experience, but again prevents things from getting too hectic. As a result it’s hard to recommend it (especially at full price) over other sim games out there such as Two Point Hospital, especially now that comes in the JUMBO Edition form, for example.
Spacebase Startopia on Xbox is a sim game which is full of character and offers a solid experience, especially for those who are fans of the genre. However, the clunky control scheme and uncomplicated formulaic gameplay may prove too much of a barrier for some.