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Spacebase Startopia review: It does exactly what it needs to

It's life, Jim, but not quite exactly as we knew it 20 years ago

Nostalgia is a dangerous beast, as I'm sure you all know already. Like a lot of people, I have almost pathologically fond memories of the original Startopia, a management sim about running a donut-shaped space station (so in this case, the nostalgia beast is some kind of tentacled monster that lives in a space bin and eats robots). Any reboot, sequel or remake of Startopia has a lot of built-in good will, but also a lot of rose-tinted expectations to meet.

Spacebase Startopia is not technically a sequel to - or indeed a remaster or remake of - the Startopia of 2001, and I'm not entirely sure what the deal is with the IP or how anyone is getting away with this. Spacebase Startopia might be thought of as three small aliens stacked in a Startopia coat, I suppose? Or, to put it another way: it's a fun strategy-management game set in space, with jokes and fun scenarios and all that good stuff. It's sort of what you remember Startopia being like to play if you think of it now. But not exactly.

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When you get to a very specific level, Spacebase Startopia has a bit of an unavoidable cereal-aisle-at-Lidl vibe. You know, the Chocolate Wheatoids and the Rice Crunchies with mascots called Pow, Crinkle and Blammo. So where, 20 years ago, the aliens who farmed plants on the top deck of your station were purple hippies with four arms, in 2021 they're graceful Poison Ivy types with big bulbous flower heads. And look, Chocolate Wheatoids are probably functionally indistinguishable from your branded breakfast of choice, but they're not what you ate as a kid, godammit, so it is with Starbase Startopia. There's a bit of a mental block to vault over to start with, but once you manage that, then you'll probably have a (extraterrestrial star-) whale of a time.

Stations in Spacebase Startopia are split into three: the aforementioned bio deck on the top, the fun deck in the middle where you can build massive discos, and the bottom deck for basic needs like sleep and food, as well as more industrial stuff like your factory, security forces and research lab.

The management aspect is trying to keep everyone happy, within the constraints of a space station. Opening bulkhead doors for a new section costs more and more every time, so you naturally tend towards being conservative with your space. But you also have to make sure you're placing enough robot bins and air filters, because the closer everyone is packed, and the busier it is, the more likely people are to get sick. And if that happens you'll have to build more med bays, and who needs that?

Spacebase expands where you'd expect a modern game to do so. As well as sustenance, rest and health, visitors need entertainment. Some will prefer gambling, for which you can build arcades, or literal lootbox fruities that dispense hats (which your vistors will then wear as they walk around), while others want to visit the alien cat café. You may have to deal with thieves, who really ruin the vibe, and there's always the chance of random events interferring with things such as asteroids, bombs from rival bases, or inspections from bureaucrats. I do feel moved to say that this time you can build a giant Gundam-esque mech for your security team, though, which is pretty damn cool.

Every few minutes your visitors will vote on whether they like or dislike the station, giving you a percentage score. Your clout is also represented in points, which are a currency for unlocking higher tier aliens and different building types. So in other words: the better your station is, the even more betterer you can make it.

There is multiplayer, if that floats your boat, and it comes in both competitive and co-op flavours. But for my money this wasn't the best part of the original Startopia anyway - though it extends the game's life past the single-player campgain, if that's a big selling point for you.

But the campaign is fun, you know? The scenarios aren't life-changing, with different, simple goals to meet that encourage different styles of play like making X amount of money, or completing X amount of tasks. But they make you feel like you're actually really bloody good at running a space station and, more importantly, they'll throw some classic Startopia-style curveballs at you, right from mission one.

Here I'm terraforming my bio deck to have a radioactive bit, because I want to grow plants I can harvest for minerals.

The world already has perfectly good wheels, so I'm really happy that I can play a Startopia game in 2021 that a) has a pretty bio deck for me to terraform, b) has grey aliens wandering around and occasionally going upstairs for a disco dance, and c) works the infinitely serviceable "AI companion is robot that hates meatsack humans" schtick without, as I feared, trying really hard to be a comedy game.

Spacebase Startopia isn't here to rock your world. It's here to gently wrap a friendly arm around you. It's a game that does exactly what it needs to do, and does it well. I can take off my rose tinted glasses and offer it an assured Han Solo-style salute.

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