I’ve always wanted a good space station management game. There have been a few I’ve played but none made me feel like I was running a sprawling space station full of strange alien creatures with their alien needs off Spacebase Startopia. Spacebase Startopia may not be a perfect game, but it offers engaging gameplay, humor, and a wonderfully colorful art style to make it my favorite Starase management game – and that’s surprisingly something I had to look for a long time.
Spacebase Startopia is a business management game with some strategies and even some combat elements. In it you play as a commander – a remote workspace manager who is supposed to operate a large space station. The needs of the ward are your concern and this can range from air quality to places to eat and sleep to the cleanliness of your ward. You’ll even have to deal with security guards, briggs, and even cool mechs that you can use to fend off pests and pirates.
These space stations are not just large flat surfaces to build on. In Spacebase Startopia, you are actually working on a cylindrical space station that is constantly spinning – I’m assuming to provide artificial gravity. That’s a neat detail, and it also makes for an interesting form factor to consider when building your facilities and amenities in cylindrical spaces. The stations usually have three floors: the lower deck, the fun deck and the biodeck. Each of these three floors has their own needs, considerations, and facilities that you can build. As your need for more space increases, you can open more of the space station by devoting energy to opening bulkheads. Be careful though: some of these bulkheads haven’t been opened in ages, and who knows what’s behind them – even though it’s usually just junk.
I think banning crossover facilities is an odd design decision – for example, you can’t build a disco on the lower deck, nor can you put a brig on your fun deck. There are even similar building functions between floors. For example, both the lower deck and the fun deck need garbage bots and O2 cleaners to keep your alien residents happy. And keeping your alien visitors happy is one of your main goals in Spacebase Startopia.
Aliens will visit your Startopia station for many reasons: some want to relax and get a room for the night, others want to party, while others may be sick and see a doctor right away. There are facilities to be built to meet these various requirements. You can customize any of these facilities to your liking: by defining an area and equipping it with the right equipment. Or you can choose from a number of blueprints to quickly create these areas. If you’ve got a particularly good configuration, you can even save your blueprints for later use. Of course, facilities aren’t free to build and maintain, and you need to find the right people to manage them – alienate them – whatever.
Your main currency in Spacebase Startopia is energy. Energy is collected from your visitors when they use facilities and recycle garbage. There is also a secondary currency called Prestige which is used to unlock new facilities. Prestige is earned from satisfied customers – the happier your visitors are, the more prestige you will accumulate. But aliens visiting your station aren’t just there to consume merchandise and play on the fun deck – they’re potential employees too.
Each of the stations in Spacebase Startopia has specific requirements, which types they control. If you’re looking for doctors, hire Gresularians, Telgors garbage collectors, etc. You don’t post classifieds either – all you have to do is hire from aliens on your ward. Fortunately, once your station gets livelier, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of manpower. The more your employees work, the more experience they get – and once they get enough experience they can be promoted, etc.
Everything on Spacebase Startopia’s management page is pretty well implemented and fun – if not perfect. Sometimes aliens inexplicably ignore their interests. I’ve had sick aliens ignoring the medical facilities even when the facilities were manned and without queues. If you want to die of the space plague, a choice is yours – I just want you not to do it on my ward. But maybe my biggest problem with Spacebase Startopia is the half-hearted real-time strategy and combat elements.
Fight in my management game? Sure, why not? I just finished a game with a similar function – Cartel Tycoon. While it was implemented in a way that made sense in this game, I’m not too keen on Spacebase Startopia’s use of combat. In some scenarios – and while playing against players in multiplayer – you can try to disrupt your enemies using various methods of sabotage. You can send bombs, propagandists, and even pirate groups to disrupt your enemies, while also establishing ways to defend yourself against similar attacks against yourself. There are even some big mechs to choose from. Mechs have their own infrastructure aspects and require special elevators to travel between the three decks. While these combat parts don’t necessarily add to my enjoyment of the game, I would have preferred it if it wasn’t a thing. This type of competition could be interesting in a multiplayer match – but I haven’t had a chance to test this properly in my review time.
There are several ways that you can play Spacebase Startopia. There is a campaign with ten campaign missions that become increasingly difficult as you play through. There’s a multiplayer co-op mode where you can play through the campaign with a friend – and a multiplayer versus modes where you can compete against each other to see who is the better station manager. There is also a tutorial mode that I would have liked to have integrated into the campaign mode. Even with the tutorial missions, it took me a bit to get things going before I started really enjoying this game. The new user experience could only have been handled a little better.
Spacebase Startopia is an attractive game that is fun just to play with. There are too many city building or management games out there with a terrible user interface and sluggish gameplay. Not so here – everything is smooth, the user interface is great for the most part, and the art style is right. There have been a couple of times I’ve missed UI elements, but I’m writing that up to a tutorial that could use some help. I enjoyed the humor that Spacebase Startopia uses. You even have the option to choose between three different narrators, one of which is a tribute to GLaDOS and another is a nod to Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Spacebase Startopia is one of those rare games that I’ll probably be playing for a while after reading my review. I really enjoyed the presentation and the humor. I would have preferred if there had been a more comprehensive tutorial, but learning the ropes of station management isn’t all that difficult. I could have foregone the combat options, but sabotaging friends in multiplayer can potentially be great fun. Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Spacebase Startopia and will most likely visit them from time to time.
Spacebase Startopia is now on Steam and on PlayStation 4 | 5 and Xbox available.
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