In space, no one can hear you scream – unless you’re on the Black Hole Drop ride aboard the galactic utopia, Spacebase: Startopia! I’ve been waiting a while to get my hands on this game, I love the resource management and simulation genres, allowing you to step into the shoes of someone else and either create a paradise or watch as everything around you crumbles due to neglect and making terrible choices. I’ve completed eight of the ten scenarios, but has it been a fun experience? Read on to find out…
Spacebase: Startopia was developed by Realmforge Studios, the development team behind the Dungeons series and the latest Tropico 6 DLC. Although this game is very different from their previous games in terms of the setting, the underlying mechanics and concept are quite similar. The publisher is none other than Kalypso Media, a publisher which needs no introduction to fans of games in the resource management and strategy genres. I’ve reviewed a number of their games over the years, playing them for many more before creating this website, so my excitement was instantly at 11 before I even installed the game.
Based on gameplay I’d seen beforehand, from the Kalypso Media YouTube channel (subscribe HERE), Spacebase: Startopia looked like a game that would be hard to initially get to grips with. Whereas this was true, and I did struggle at first, the latest patch has made it much easier for new players, so I’ll be reviewing the game based on the version you’ll be playing if you buy it today…
Spacebase: Startopia is a game that doesn’t really have a story as it’s more focused on addictive and deep gameplay. The overall gist is that you’ve been placed in charge of a new space station, a doughnut-shaped intergalactic venue for work, pleasure, and harvesting. It’s your job to create the most efficient self-serviced attraction, enticing random alien species to stop by and either find employment, spend all their moolah on the entertainment, or become part of a secret religion that has taken refuge in your Bio-Deck.
There are ten scripted scenarios to play through, each one presenting you with new buildings and passengers to both create and satisfy respectively. Some of these may only take around thirty minutes to complete, but the later ones can easily take over an hour if you’re going for all the trophies and wish to fully utilise the new features you’ve just unlocked. For those of you who wish to just play casually, you can also play the open-ended Free Play or compete against others via the online multiplayer.
Back in 2001, a game launched called Startopia (which is now on Steam) – Spacebase: Startopia is essentially a remake of that game. I’ve not played the original version, but looking at the images on the store page, the new edition looks and plays like that one did, only with prettier visuals.
If you’re the type of person who only likes trophies, Spacebase: Startopia will probably take you around 10-15 hours to obtain the platinum (bar one trophy, which I’ll get to later). However, if you want a fun and in-depth space station management and strategic simulation game to casually play, without worrying about the trophies, then you will easily sink many more hours into the game – let’s take a look at why…
There are numerous things you have to monitor and adapt to, whilst playing Spacebase: Startopia, if you wish to be successful with your scenario mission. You’re in charge of the entire construction process, which spans three industry-specific decks, but you have no control over the tourists and inhabitants who visit your station. Instead, you have to monitor how the little guys feel, via the station’s social media, and fulfil any needs and wants whilst being mindful of your overall objective and cashflow.
As stated above, you have three decks to build on, each with eight sections (which can be unlocked with energy – your cash, in the game). The Sub-Deck is where you build industrial facilities, security stations, medical facilities, and personal grooming stations. The Fun-Deck allows you to construct an arcade, a disco, a galactic cat cafe, and even a lottery machine that provides your lucky gamblers with new hats to wear. Finally, the Bio-Deck is a place where you can terraform and change the environment so that certain plants can grow and be harvested for survival and building purposes.
As you expand and create new facilities, more people will want to visit. As they do, you can either keep them as tourists or enlist them as staff to help you run the station, requiring you to pay a wage in exchange for their service. Different species like different things, some may like the thrill of riding the Black Hole Drop ride, yet others may be more interested in relaxing in the bar or cat cafe. If you don’t have what they want and/or need, you’ll find yourself with a bunch of angry aliens, reducing the overall happiness and enjoyment within your exciting eutopia.
The game likes to throw a spanner into the mix every now and again, giving you a choice between two outcomes. These pop up at random, offering you both a positive and negative aspect within each answer. For example, the one in the image above will give you 10 energy every minute for each empty slot, yet take off 5 for each occupied slot (your cargo storage bay). However, the second option reverses it and gives you 10 for each occupied slot yet takes five off you for each empty one.
A day in the life of a Space Station designer
The game itself looks rather confusing and overwhelming, but it’s actually quite simple. Each mission will generally start in the same way, you create a storage area for all the resources you’re going to mine from the Bio-Deck, build a medical station and general use facilities (showers, sleep pods, etc…), then head to the Fun-Deck and build a nice big disco and a cat cafe. This should begin to generate revenue and please the basic species who visit first.
The next step will be to manually pick up all the trash, create a trash station that converts it into energy, place some walking bins, and erect a charging station for your mechanical janitors who do everything from constructing buildings to picking up trash for you. This is when you’ll either need to focus on your objectives or start looking at what your visitors are complaining about, giving you a hint on what you may need to think about building next or plan to research once you’ve obtained enough points.
You don’t have access to everything when you begin working in a new Spacebase (a new mission), you’ll have the very basic facilities with everything else locked behind a research table. You’ll need to not only obtain enough points, by people visiting and using your facilities, but you also need to meet certain criteria such as having three plant pots with plants in them to unlock the creation of UV lights. I’ve had to restart missions a number of times because I’ve become sidetracked and not focused on my end-goal – the unlocks and start of each mission may be the same, but you have to adapt and adjust in order to progress from that point onwards.
Once you’ve come to grips with the basic structures and their use in your space station, it’s time to begin looking at utilising the more advanced and interactive facilities. If you find you have a lot of thieves and abusive inhabitants, you can build a police station that’ll send out drones to scan and flag those who are doing naughty things. If you have a Brig, you can even arrest them and rehabilitate them into nice creatures. The Police can also construct massive robots which can be directly controlled by yourself in order to squish giant bugs, fend off enemy forces, and defend your creations. In some missions, there’s another company trying to do what you’re doing, so you end up fighting over segments and control of the station.
Should you wish to make energy fast, you can erect a merchant dock, allowing you to entice ships to buy and sell with you. I’ve really only used this feature in the missions which require it, but when playing Free Play or online, I imagine this’ll be essential as it generates much more than compacting trash.
Another aspect you need to be very aware of is the flow of traffic in your station. The robots I mentioned above can only move about if there’s enough room for their big butts to squeeze past – although it’s fun and more efficient if everything fits together like a giant intergalactic game of Tetris, you’ll need to reserve some room should you wish to build some super-sized security. Also, the regular-sized aliens will quickly increase in numbers, causing long queues at the elevators and to use the facilities. This means you’ll need to create more of these in order to reduce their stress and anger – remember, you don’t have control over who lives on or visits your station, but you can make their time there more pleasant.
Also, Spacebase: Startopia allows you to simply pick from three sizes of blueprints – rooms that are already planned out, you just have to pay for them. But, as you get more into it and confident with your construction skills, you can manually plot out the ground space and items within each room, similar to what you do in Two Point Hospital. You could, if you wanted, literally turn an entire segment of the Fun-Deck into one massive disco…
Realmforge Studios have copied a similar trophy format as their Dungeons 3 game – which is both good and bad in my opinion. Basically, each of the ten campaign missions has three trophies assigned to them, one for simply beating the chapter and two that are linked to unique bonus objectives. For example, in the latest mission, I had to build three robots for one additional trophy, and having none of them die gave me another. This makes obtaining the platinum very straightforward as the mission briefing screen tells you exactly what the criteria for each of these are without having to even leave the game and check.
However, there is one trophy which I’ve not yet got, one which will haunt me forever, I imagine. You have to complete a mission, that revolves around angry aliens coming aboard and converting your visitors to their religion by shouting at them, without having more than 10 aliens get angry. The best I’ve got is 88 creatures being pissed off, I have no idea how I’ll drop it to only ten! So, although the trophies are technically straightforward, there are a few which may be a little tricky.
The bad thing about having trophies like this is that it removes any incentive for changing your playstyle and trying out the Free Play mode to hit additional objectives. If we look at games like Tropico 6, there are trophies for completing each stage as well as some random objectives which you can obtain in any mode. If you like the game and have friends to play against, I can imagine you’ll lose hours just playing against each other, but if you just want to play on your own and/or get the trophies, there’s really no need to deviate from the campaign.
Also, there is a DLC option in the menu, so I think DLC may eventually launch for the game – the Deluxe edition has clothes but I’m thinking of new missions and/or facilities. But, Looking at both Tropico 6 and Dungeons 3, they added DLC packs but no additional trophies… Hopefully, if we get DLC for Spacebase: Startopia, they’ll add new trophies – It’ll give people a reason to play them and they’ll make money as more people will buy them. I’ve never understood why developers put out new mission or story-based DLCs without rewarding the players for playing them.
As of the last update, Spacebase: Startopia has three difficulty modes, granting you more initial help or increasing the threat based on what you pick. I personally didn’t have an issue with the ‘normal’ difficulty until I reached the ninth mission, which is where I reduced it to the easiest one. There are no trophies based on the difficulty you pick, so you’re not held-back or restricted should you wish to adjust it to suit your skill level.
I’ve not personally tried out this mode myself, as I’m a single-player fan and have nobody else to play it online with at the moment. But, looking in the menus, you can start a quick game, play the campaign, or set up a Free Play session where you get to define the rules. These modes are for up to four players and can be done via matchmaking, browsing the lobby, or directly connecting to your friend through the use of a created code. So, if you and your friend are really into games like this, you can link up and play for hours.
I’m not quite sure how the MP campaign works though, I’ll see if I can grab someone to try it with me and update the review accordingly.
I strongly recommend that you play through the tutorial chapters before you head into the main game. As we got the game pre-launch, the original tutorial wasn’t very helpful, it didn’t highlight things all the time and would end up just repeating the same things over and over, unaware that you can’t do as you’re told because it’s not told you how to do it yet! But, as of the patch a few days ago, the tutorial has been completely overhauled and is now much more user friendly.
As such, despite being up to mission nine, I sat down and went through the tutorial again, coming away from it feeling like I’m now the best Spacebase manager in the universe!
Spacebase: Startopia looks great, I love the bright colours and cute looking aesthetics – everyone is so derpy and creatively designed. I particularly like it when you build the lottery machine in the Fun-Deck as you’ll start to see people walking around with random hats on – plus, I’m sure I saw a few aliens with bikinis on. The UI is easy to understand and the developers have managed to implement decent controller support, even though it can feel overwhelming at times due to the various button combinations required to open certain menus.
In terms of the audio, specifically the vocals, I think Salli (from It’s Quiz Time) has finally met her match! You have the choice of three voices, one sounding very similar to GLaDOS, yet her personality stays the same – she’s a sarcastic and very blunt A.I. who isn’t scared to tell you how bad you’ve done or put down any achievements you make. Her comments and dialogue provide comedy to the game, guiding you through the various stages whilst also being very critical about everything you do. Even though she can be mean, it’s helpful she has a voice as I constantly miss the notifications to the bottom right of the screen due to how small they are.
At the moment, there are three issues, two of which are linked and all three have been reported. First of all, if you try and close the game (the PS5 version) on the PS5 by pressing Options then Close Game on the home screen, the game will crash. You’re exiting it anyway, so it’s not a big issue, but it’s done it every time on me. Similarly, the game has crashed whilst suspended in sleep mode – not every time but about four of five times so far. I imagine these will be resolved soon via a patch.
The big issue lies in the games’ performance. I don’t know what the specs are but I think it’s 4K/60 in the PS5’s native edition (my review code only gave the PS5 version and not both the PS4 and PS5 as you’ll get). It begins fine, very smooth and responsive, but as you expand and build more facilities, you’ll begin to feel frame drops and stutter. It’s not enough to ruin the game, but it can get very noticeable. I’ve suggested an option to force the game down to 1440p for those who would like a more stable framerate, yet leaving the 4K option for those who want sharper visuals.
For a remake of a 20-year-old game, Spacebase: Startopia looks and feels very modern, providing hours of strategic entertainment with its resource management and economic simulation. The game may look complicated and overwhelming but, as long as you play the tutorials first, the controls and mechanics make it very easy to play on the console. You can play the campaign solo or with online friends, as well as lose many hours in the Free Play mode (again, solo or online). I’m disappointed the trophies weren’t more creative, and with the performance within the native PS5 version upon launch, but considering these were my only complaints and they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game, it’s not a big deal for me.
If you like strategic planning, economic simulation, and resource management games, you’ll love Spacebase: Startopia. As a fan of these games, I didn’t have any issues with the difficulty until mission nine but there are three difficulty options if you find it a little too tricky.
- - Cute and colourful graphics
- - The A.I. is fun, despite being very aggressively sarcastic
- - Various difficulties so everyone can enjoy the game at their own level
- - Can be played solo or online with strangers or friends
- - After you've finished the campaign, there's an open-ended Free Play mode
- - No misc trophies, just mission-based ones
- - There are a few technical issues on launch, but these should be fixed soon
- - I found the game jumped from being easy to difficult quite harshly in the final stages