Startopia is inspired by classic city construction games such as SimCity, except instead of building a city on a huge piece of flat ground you build up and sustain a giant space station. Players are led through five tutorial missions on the basics of setting things up. It might take a few missions to understand the unpacking system, but soon a basic facility is up and running. Basic amenities, however, won’t satisfy any civilized race for long. The game gradually introduces new buildings for the three different levels of the station: Engineering, Entertainment, and Bio-Decks.
Having three different playing fields to run at the same time turns the game into somewhat of a juggling act. One mission has managers set up a hospital on the first level and entertain those who are healed on the second deck. Neglecting the second deck will garner warnings. The constant running between decks is another facet of the challenge and increases the general difficulty. As if babysitting three levels aren’t a handful, managers must eventually take over adjoining deck sections of the giant donut space station. And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to worry about rivals trying to expand.
As in SimCity games, random events help spice up Startopia. You’ll have agents trying to sneak aboard and try to assassinate your alien population or sabotage buildings. They’re easy to spot with their trademark creeping, but hard to stop if they prowl to a different deck during a harried time of building. Solar flares provide welcome energy, the currency of the galaxy which visiting traders will be happy to take off your hands, especially the main trader Arona. Arona’s deep Aussie voice and laughable wit will distract you from his sky-high prices. Other events, visitors, and witty comments from your computer assistant abound.
There are minor issues within the game that distract you from the challenge of it all. The camera swivels with the right control key, but often the view strays towards the ceiling or plummets to the floor, a minor irritation that becomes can become a problem when frantically fending off attacks or hunting spies. Robot AI is decent, considering the number of areas to patrol, but the amount of trash generated is hard to control, causing you to set aside pressing matters in favor of menial micro-management.
These inconvenient frustrations don’t destroy the game but may force some players into early retirement. The intense gameplay, though, will likely call said retirees back to active duty.
System Requirements: Pentium II 450 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, Win98