So right off the bat, I should clarify that I have not played the original Startopia, and thus won’t be making any comparisons here. Rather, this is a review from a fresh perspective. That said, I am a massive fan of such simulation, management, and base building games, so I was quite excited to give Spacebase Startopia a look.
First up was the tutorial, which wasn’t really the greatest. It guides you along the steps to setting up a base, but it doesn’t really explain what each building, resource, and such does. You’re just kinda placing stuff to check off each objective. It wasn’t until I got into the campaign that I really started to understand things, but even then, it was mostly a trial and error affair while I figured it all out. And despite the cutesy graphics, there is a LOT to this game, especially once you start working on the fun deck and have like 20 different buildings to place down there.
Despite that initial hurdle though, I quickly figured things out and was having a good time building up my bases and progressing through the campaign. There’s a good amount of variety with regards to buildings, units, resources, and the like and the management aspects are fairly polished. There’s this entire employment system, worker management, trading, and even sabotage for when you’re playing with AI or other players. It’s a fleshed-out experience for sure and the gameplay depth is pretty good for the most part.
However, that’s before you consider all the smaller problems on top of that, which unfortunately start piling up quickly. For one, the gameplay has a serious problem with pacing. At the start, it is simply too slow, but once you get things rolling, it is too fast. I would go from just sitting there waiting for energy and prestige points to accumulate to eventually having a screen full of issues I have to fix. There are no time controls, so no pausing, no speeding things up, and I feel this is a game that could desperately use them.
I was also not a fan of how “clicky” the game became as it went on. From random bombs spawning in the middle of your base that can only be removed by hand to having to shuffle around contraband goods whenever the galactic inspector arrived, there’s some really annoying micromanaging tasks thrown in there for seemingly no reason other than to add something else for you to worry about.
Then there’s the combat, which has its own pacing issue. That being that it is far too slow and clunky, regardless of what stage of the game you’re at. You simply build your units and mechs and send them towards the enemy. It will take them a while to get there (as movement speed is REALLY slow) and it will take them a while to actually dispose of the enemy (as the combat is also REALLY slow). Yes, there is a research tree and you can upgrade your damage, attack speed, and all that, but even that is not enough to save the combat from feeling like anything other than tacked-on and boring.
On the topic of replayability though, there are a few things to note. Yes, there is a sandbox mode with a bunch of victory conditions you can setup. You can play against AI or even other players in multiplayer mode – although I was unable to test the multiplayer prior to release. The sandbox is where I ended up spending most of my time, either just messing around setting up the most optimal base or duking out with the AI – which from my experience aren’t too aggressive, but then again I played on normal difficulty. There is also a campaign, but it is only ten missions long and I managed to clear the first five within just four hours. I would have finished it, but unfortunately I got softlocked right at the end of mission five. An enemy that was supposed to spawn did not and no amount of reloading would fix that.
And no, that was not the only bug I encountered. The devs included a list of “known issues” so I would know what was being worked on, but I ran into far more than what was included there. The bugs I found included:
- Sound cutting out randomly every 15 minutes or so and forcing me to wiggle the volume slider in the game settings to restore it
- Construction tasks getting permanently stuck until I destroy and replace the building
- Worker bots randomly stopping their work until I pick them up and place them down again
- Entire buildings ceasing to function for seemingly no reason until the game is saved
And those are just the ones I remember. It really made the game hard to play at times, especially when one of those stuck buildings was something like the elevator and you have this massive backlog of angry visitors forming in front of it until the game is reloaded.
On the performance side of things, I wouldn’t say it’s outright bad, but it definitely follows that base building trend of getting progressively less stable as it goes on. I started each run at around 80-90 fps or so and by the time I had built up my decks and had a bunch of aliens roaming everywhere, it would dunk to like 30-40 fps. Not entirely unexpected, but worth noting anyways.
I was also annoyed by the complete omission of any sort of control rebinding. In fact, you can’t even view what the controls are supposed to be. There are no tooltips with hotkey indicators, no control layout in the settings menu, nothing. It’s a 100% trial and error affair outside of the few basic controls taught during the tutorial. And no, the UI is not helping there either. It can oftentimes be difficult to navigate and requires a bit of wrestling at times when managing your inventory and placing objects.
So with all of that said, no, I cannot recommend Spacebase Startopia – at least, not in its current state. The underlying gameplay is actually pretty good and I won’t deny I had a bit of fun with it, it’s just the mountain of smaller issues on top of that that really make it a hard sell. Whether that be the gameplay issues like lack of time controls and clunky combat or the far more numerous technical issues – like softlocks and audio bugs – I simply cannot in good faith recommend a game with such issues. Perhaps this will be something I can change in the future, but as it stands, it’s a definite pass.
Quote: Spacebase Startopia may have some fun core gameplay, but the numerous design and technical issues on top of it really make it a tough sell, especially when some of those are outright softlocks.
You can buy Spacebase Startopia on Steam here. It is also available on Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.