by Derk Bil
reviewed on PC
Playing Sid Meier's Starships, I realized my relationship with Firaxis has become one of the love/hate kind. There is plenty to go around on the love side as I often find myself playing their games for hundreds of hours. I especially love endlessly clicking away at their 4X offerings which are usually very strong, and what they did with XCOM is downright remarkable. On the hate side, there is a steady stream of downloadable content, some of it fixing glaring issues with their base games, and all but required to get the optimum gaming experience.
Sid's latest game falls drastically short of the 'love' department and I fear it will not be long before it makes a solid move towards 'hate'. Sharing Civilization: Beyond Earth's theme and aesthetics, Sid Meier's Starships had me curious long before its release. The low price point, however, made me a little suspicious. A Sid Meier game at that price could only mean one thing: it must be desperately incomplete.
Starships is a roguelike game that shares some similarities with Master of Orion, dipped into a big bowl of Beyond Earth sauce. The link with Beyond Earth becomes immediately clear when you are asked to choose one of the three affinities; Purity, Harmony or Supremacy. Next up is choosing a leader - the usual suspects from Beyond Earth - and then size of your galaxy. The last thing to choose before being transported to the galactic map is the difficulty level.
Early on, the game gives you decent guidance on how to play as it explains concepts like resources, which are generated by planets controlled by your empire. Each planet coughs up Food, Science, Metals and Energy. The amounts depend on the population level which can be increased by spending Food, and the level of the upgrades which are upgraded by spending Metal. All of the resources can, of course, also be obtained through conquest but production is naturally more reliable.
Energy can be spent on spaceships, whether it's for repairing, upgrading or buying ships, all you ever need is energy. Science is used on spaceship upgrades and finally Credits are used to sell or buy resources and to bribe planets into your fold. Bribing is easy, but it's not necessarily the most efficient way to obtain new planets. Each time you visit unaffiliated planets - and are successful in the tasks they set for you - your influence over the planet grows, bringing it one step closer to being assimilated into your spacious space empire.
It's all very straightforward and, to be frank, mundane. The space combat sequences are a little more interesting though. If space - where there's no up or down, left or right - scares you, then you do not need to be afraid. Starships' combat is totally two-dimensional and as such reminds me mostly of boats in a bathtub. Unlike a bathtub, though, space has asteroids behind which you can hide for cover.
Despite that lukewarm description, combat is Starships' strongest asset. There's a healthy variety in scenarios and more can be unlocked by unlocking rewards in Civilization: Beyond Earth. That, in turn, is made somewhat more interesting by unlocking Beyond Earth rewards in Starships. Still with me? It sounds pretty cool but the impact of rewards is limited. By playing Starships you get access to some new map types and alternate starting conditions in Beyond Earth. By playing Beyond Earth, you unlock new battle scenarios in Starships or the option to play as a mixed-affinity empire, like for example Supremacy, with a dash of Harmony or any other combination imaginable. Provided, of course, you unlocked each and every single option within Beyond Earth. Unfortunately, all of it feels a bit shallow and cosmetic without any real impact on either game.
While we're on the topic of cosmetics; the full screen option is a little embarrassing. It's not really full screen. The Windows taskbar remains in plain view and 2K's support - believe it or not - suggest you auto-hide it to remove it from the game. I'm not kidding.
It is things like this that make Starships feel like it was a clever little independent game that had the Sid Meier tag hastily slapped onto it. The serving of Beyond Earth sauce does little to elevate the game. The wonky thing is, that the game itself is not all bad. Had it been released by some Indie studio I am sure some people would have enjoyed it. Unfortunately it huddles under the same umbrella as Pirates! Gold, Civilization and Railroad Tycoon and it is definitely not up to par with the standards set by those classic franchises.
Had it been released as a good sized piece of DLC for Beyond Earth, it might have felt completely different, but as it stands I cannot help but feel a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. I foresee an endless string of DLC to beef up the game to make it worth playing. Shame on me for falling for it.
Adequate fleet combat