Reviews

Spacebase Startopia – Game Preview Program – Review

The original Startopia was first released on PC back in 2001 and while the developers closed their doors a few years later, Startopia has been fondly remembered by fans. With strategy and management games getting increasingly popular on consoles and with industry greats Kalypso Media at the helm there are high hopes for Spacebase Startopia so let’s take a look at how it fares on the Xbox Series X.

On Spacebase Startopia you’re tasked with running a doughnut-shaped space station for a variety of lifeforms, you’ll have to keep them healthy with medical bays, recycle their trash and create a safe, happy living environment to bring more visitors to your station.
There’s the ongoing management of energy which serves as the currency in Startopia.
The game has a unique aesthetics with the circular shape station gives everything a curved effect, it’s instantly noticeable on the first tutorials, and really comes into effect as you play on larger sections and start to unlock more sections of the doughnut.

Spacebase Startopia is released under the Game Preview Program, which means it’s still a work in progress, but players can get hold of the title early, in the understanding that it’s not a finished product.
Titles like Grounded make a great example of how well the system currently works, and with releases like ARK: Survival Evolved and We Happy Few being great examples of the changes we’ve seen as games have progressed through preview into a full release.
One thing that’s a little alarming with Startopia is the price tag, often Game Preview titles are reduced, I remember ARK: Survival Evolved was originally half the price under the preview program, and I think it’s a fair trade-off for developers to get users on board early to help provide feedback through latter stages of development.
However at £44.99, Spacebase Startopia is on the more expensive side, considering Planet Coaster is only £39.99 (and on Game Pass), it’s safe to assume that some will be put off taking the risk on an unfinished product at this price point.

Looking at the overall performance of Startopia and depending what you concentrate on, it’s a giant contradiction to itself, voice acting, animations and overall graphics are incredible, with high attention to detail and some witty comments from your bot-host Val.
It’s bright, colourful and screenshots will showcase how good everything looks, you can get up close and personal to just about everything and it’s highly impressive.

However, on the flip slide, there are still some glaring issues which will put people off.
Firstly there are graphical glitches which are tough to miss, these are dependent on the camera angle, as shown in the video below, but while they look really severe in this instance, they’re usually less noticeable, but it’s worth outlining how distracting they can be.

My main complaint though is on the menus, a task as simple as building the medical bay is straight forward, because the world-renowned white cross is easy to spot, but most items are only depicted by a logo and very few are as obvious as the medical bay or recycling plant.
In a game such as Farm Together, you get a clear overlay saying what the item is, what it does, and also how many you own, but on Startopia, there’s just the icon resembling what it is and it’s energy cost.
As you spend more time with the game you’ll start to remember the main items, but for newcomers, it’s confusing and greatly reduces accessibility.
This isn’t helped with the tutorials which often do a great job of telling you what to do, but how to go about completing these tasks is often left to guess work and trial and error.

With the absence of clear tagging and a full explanation it’s a little difficult to get to grips with the whole energy currency, some items will deplete your energy to make your station a better place to be, bringing in more visitors. While others will increase your energy may be at the cost of a little happiness or causing pollution which then requires air conditioning to help manage the atmosphere.
Without any clear description of what a new addition will do, (or how to make it do that) it feels like your constantly battling against the game in areas that should be straight forward.
Stepping into a Skirmish both against AI bots or human players is a minefield until you get to grips with the best ways to get your station growing, otherwise, you’re already facing a losing battle before you’ve passed the half-hour mark.
This isn’t helped when win conditions seem so varied that it’s difficult to track, I managed to win my first Skirmish in 28 minutes, for “High Attractiveness”, when all I’d done is placed 1-2 of each available room, and researched a few extra such as the disco and cafe for the fun deck, these conditions can be changed and tightened up, but without any information on them, it’s not until you’ve played and won or lost because of each when you’ll even start to get an idea of what targets you should be aiming for.

While that might all sound pretty negative, there are certainly high hopes for Spacebase Startopia, with a few graphical glitches aside, the overall production value is extremely high, and the level of detail is fantastic, it’s hard to complain too much when those graphical issues are likely to be fixed pretty soon.
I do feel some work needs to be done on the delivery of missions, and maybe an overlay that pops-up when you highlight a room/item would go a long way to telling people exactly what they’re about to spend their hard-earned energy on.

I’d also like to see a full sandbox mode added as soon as possible, rather than battling through a single-player skirmish with myself, it would serve as a much easier training ground while people get to grips with what everything does. I’d personally prefer to build a giant station trying to entice and please as many visitors as possible, rather than constantly battling tasks, missions or other players.

The biggest issue though is sadly the price, £44.99 for a beta is pretty high and I feel reducing the price down to £30-£35 (just while it’s in the preview program) would bring in a much wider opinion of how the game is progressing, if the game was complete, polished with all the above issues fixed then I could easily recommend it at £45, but seeing Planet Coaster at £40, and even Kalypso’s own Port Royale 4 and Tropico 6 at £49.99 the £40-£50 price point is perfectly fine for a game in this genre, but not when they’re in beta. The thing worth remembering is, as with all titles in the Game Preview Program, there are no guarantees issues will be fixed, and Kalypso Media would surely have more incentive to bring Spacebase Startopia up to their usual standards if it had the hype and following that would inevitably come with the game being at a more accessible price point.

Gameplay - 7
Graphics - 8
Sound - 8.5
Story - 7.5
Value - 5

7.2

There's plenty of work still to do, but Spacebase Startopia is warming up nicely. I can't help but feel the price tag is a little high while in beta, but if the issues are fixed, then Startopia could be a great title.

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