Space Colony: Steam Edition Review

Score 75Space Colony: Steam Edition has moments where it really shows its age, but for those who don’t mind playing older games- this one does hold up pretty well.  Its quirky characters and multi-leveled gameplay should provide fans of the genre some enjoyment, however frustrating that may become.  Outside of some cleaned up visuals, this game remains largely the same, including some truly frustrating levels.  Those who don’t mind a few hiccups will be pleased with all the managing, mining and fast-paced strategy.

WHAT WE LIKED
º Inventive characters are fun to command and oversee.
º The game offers a real challenge to RTS and Sim fans.
º Understanding how to play is easy with a quick tutorial.

WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Can be ruthlessly hard through its dated design choices.
º AI can leave you scratching your head in frustration.
º Lack of variety in designing your colonist’s home.

Playing Space Colony, I was suddenly reminded of my childhood; not because it’s a classic PC game, but from the years I spent in my backyard gazing as far as I could into the stars.  I was an intergalactic dreamer, a grass-stained voyager and a lover of TNG- all I ever wanted to do as a kid was to go into space.  Nothing on this planet could compare with the travels in my mind- and where I might end up at the end of my journey.

Space Colony may not be about traveling through the vastness of space, but it is an interesting take on building an off-world civilization.  Originally released in 2003, as you can expect it was marketed as direct competition to The Sims.  Its original box art even share heavy similarities.  While it does offer the gameplay of a people simulator, the game branches off as an RTS with resource management challenges; but not without some hindering flaws.  The game can be marred with some annoying limitations and frustrating difficulty curves, but when you look past its shortcomings, there’s still an enriching experience to be had.

4You control up to 20 different characters as they live and work in biodomes on various different planets.  You’re given orders by your profiteering and ruthless employer Blackwater Industries; ranging from building extraterrestrial resorts, mining of minerals, or the destruction of alien races.  Before beginning a mission in the story mode, you’re briefed by the CEO Mr. Waterhouse, a comical stereotype of an elderly man with giant glasses, who fails to even attempt hiding his insurmountable greed.

One bit of charm that I feel this game nails is its over-the-top characters, all twenty having unique and memorable personalities; something you had to fill in with games like The Sims.  There’s a biker, a scientist, a redneck, a ditzy blonde; and in all honesty this game would’ve been a lot worse without them.  Each one has training in particular skills, making some infinitely valuable and others being nearly useless without further training.  When you issue commands to your subordinates, you’ll get a ‘Starcraft-esqe’ animation with hammed up and stereotypical voice acting, getting to know whether it’ll be a professional response, or sarcastic resentment.  It takes them beyond just pieces you move on a board, but people who you trust differently.

steam-screenshot-3Constructing the station is easy enough to understand; you start with a command bridge and build biodomes off of it to accommodate your crew’s personal living arrangements.  While there’s a ton of different entertainment options, the necessities of the ship seem pretty barebones.  You lay out one type of cot, and your crew chooses which one they put their sheets on; no decisions made.  I would’ve loved to see more creative options, so I felt like I had more input than picking the same boring chairs, generic dining tables and yet somehow- 15 different selections of potted plants.

Designing the station can get a little crazy, and you never feel like there’s logic to your layouts, because you build out as you obtain more funds and discover needs.  It’s not like the Sims where you’d pop in ‘Rosebud’ and build the perfect house.  In this game, you’ll have Medi Bay’s right next to the Disco Floor, Hot Tubs near the beds- and as you get later in the hectic game, you’ll start to feel cluttered in your own mess.  I’m sure I could’ve taken the time to rearrange everything, but there’s very little need considering your army of characters find everything alright.  I also had a problem rotating items, something I should’ve been able to do by spinning the mouse’s wheel, but found many other players facing the same problem.

Like in Civilization, what lies outside the lights of your base are hidden in the void of space.  Expansion is necessary in finding the boon of your current home.  Lava vents are a great source of energy, and crater water provides argon gas to use in weaponry.  Finding these sources and building the required machinery can get tough when you have indigenous creatures you’ll have to fight back in order to get at it.  Once you do start harvesting crops or minerals from the planet, you’ll start to feel like an intergalactic boss.

This experience is overshadowed unfortunately by a steep learning curve, and some unforgiving missions.  In story mode, the game branches after its introduction planet between a peaceful path and a more combat centric one.  The first mission of ‘The Military Path’ puts you in control of four dogbots, no resources, and your strongest character Venus Jones.  Your mission is to travel around a long stretch of lava fields, battling giant bugs that release ferocious creatures that gave me flashbacks of Pitch Black.  Your target; a high ranking employee hiding in an abandoned command bridge on the other side of the map.  You must forge your way across using very limited tools and the weakest of your arsenal, as they pummel the unprotected base on the other side.

After many tries, I was finally able to clear the path and took my lonesome rescuer to the other side; the base seconds from being destroyed.  I celebrated; it was far more challenging than I expected the first level to be on easy mode. My forgiveness quickly turned to resent when the game started me on the next mission, exactly where I left off- a swarm of ‘Acidwings’ slamming into the doorway of the bridge.  Two seconds later, I had the choice of restarting the two-second mission of saving the base, or slamming my keyboard in frustration.  Looking online, walkthroughs suggest exploiting a force field glitch in order to beat the scenario.  This of course would be a prime example of bad design.

The peaceful mode has its share of problems as well.  There’s one mission where a rival company is mining titanium from the surface, and Blackwater Industries wants you to sneak in and steal the contract from under their nose.  Problem is, the map is so small, you can’t get anywhere near the quarry.  The approach then became sandwiching in as many bases as you can just outside of their lasers’ reach; not what I’d call strategy.  I then found out, again through a walkthrough, that I was doing it wrong by not exploiting the game’s shortcomings.

It was about this time I started seeing some real age spots to this game’s design; characters walk over harmful lava beds instead of walking around, sometimes wandering off all together.  Building a new digging rig, it would be great if I could see what the other characters were working on so I could decide where to reallocate from.  You get unexpected diseases from space rodents that the game doesn’t bother to explain how to cure.  If you’re going to re-release a game this old, I would hope the developer would go in and fix some of these issues instead of simply slapping a new coat of paint on it.

Once you get past these stages, the game does pick up, and the challenge of balancing your operators, the equipment and dealing with hostile aliens can get pretty challenging.  In all of this though, the aspect the game touts so heavily on gets washed out completely; forcing you in the middle of an alien infestation to worry about two characters sharing the hot tub and falling for each other.  I don’t want to be forced to make connections with my characters, I want these things to come naturally, without needing my involvement like some creepy stalker.  I had so much fun when I started this game up, but perhaps there’s too many moving components and not enough freedoms.

The game does offer a nice bit of variety, and a ‘Galaxy Mode’ outside of the main storyline.  In this mode, you choose different planets offering scenarios to clear; restore power to a facility, rescue a retreat from meteor showers, or build an android to dismantle a nuclear bomb.  There’s also ‘Sandbox Mode’, with eight different stages offering various planetary conditions.  The prospect of endless building will keep fans going for a while.  You can also build and play user created games, but without star ratings or comments it’s hard to tell anything about it without diving in.

Sound design matches the quirky and cartoonish design of the game, complete with a quirky synthpop soundtrack that really dates that game.  Thankfully, the main theme stays far away from the core gameplay, and what’s there is actually really good.  The sound of oxygen being pumped into the habitat, hover bikes speeding off to retrieve someone and all the bleeps and bloops you would expect from panels covered in colored buttons.  As I mentioned before, the voice acting is what really sells it and gives it personality, even if a few of the voices will become annoying for being overly hammy.

Overall, I had fun with this game, and it did fulfill a little of that desire in me to be a space traveler.  I found true frustration but also joy in the 10 hours I spent with my crew.  A few of their in-game lines will forever stick with me, like needing to build additional pylons.  I just wish the developers tooks some time to fix the problems they missed the first time around.

Publisher: Firefly Studios

Developer: Firefly Studios
Genre:Simulation, Strategy
Release Date: April 30th, 2015
ESRB: T
Version Reviewed: PC

(Note: Original images were lost, screenshots replaced with fan site photos)

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