When Gathering and Firefly Studios released Space Colony for Windows, the companies certainly challenged the old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Space Colony goes all out with its holographic cover, a clear attention-grabber and something that will encourage more than one gamer to pick the package off the shelf. Fortunately for Gathering and Firefly, the gamble works.
Space Colony is an out-of-this-world simulator that’s essentially a cross between the Tycoon games (Railroad, Theme Park, Roller Coaster, etc.) and The Sims, with an emphasis on the latter. While the genres seem quite different, Space Colony has meshed the god-like control of both genres into a surprisingly addictive game.
Space Colony delves gamers into a sim world in which they are responsible for colonizing a planet, making profits and/or doing a little alien battle in the year 2153, when Earth is no longer economically stable. Space mining and colonization is the new trade, and Blackwater Industries is your company.
As with any sim, the heart of the game is in the actual employees or non-playable characters. Space Colony has a plethora of characters from well-seasoned experts to absolute dimwits, each of whom has certain skills that allow him/her to perform mining, gathering and maintenance tasks. In addition, characters can learn new tasks by using a training pod, similar to having your Sims learn new skills. Employees receive credits for their labor, and in turn you sell the goods as any capitalist worth his space salt would do. Much like success in the Tycoon franchises, your profits in Space Colony depend on the happiness of your employees, and of course, all that happiness depends upon your management.
The main character is Venus Jones, who’s already able to perform most tasks and is rather simple to deal with as far as her attitude. Another favorite, although annoying to listen to, is Stig Svenson. The name explains the Swedish accent, but the voice will grate on your nerves after a short while. Some of the other characters include a recent death row escapee who hates almost everyone and an old lady considered to be a mother to the whole crew. The mere variety can be overwhelming and enveloping all at the same time.
Controlling these distinct sims can keep you on your toes as you try to ensure that everyone is working to maintain the colony yet has time for recreation, eating and rest. Each character has his/her special nuances, which are readily available either in the manual or in the actual game interface. Some characters require more food, for example, while others just want free time. The happiness meter for each character is certainly something you will keep track of as you build your empire.
The interface for the game is nicely laid out, and it certainly helps the gameplay remain approachable and enjoyable. Everything is easily accessible, and the various tools you need to build, maintain and protect a respectable space colony are right at your fingertips. You can easily see the active and inactive crewmembers, their happiness levels, certifications and current tasks, as well as a time clock that shows the times that are currently considered their personal and on-the-clock hours. As manager, you can adjust this level, but you’ll want to make certain they’re able to cope with the additional labor. Let one of them work too long, and he or she will begin destroying the base. It’s a lesson we all learned way back in the original Sim City games, but for some reason it’s one of those lessons whose limits we never seem to tire of testing.
Speaking of destroying the base, if you decide to colonize a base with alien life on it, plan to defend it. I don’t quite understand how an alien can just walk in and out of an airlock to get inside your structures, but apparently no one locks the air locks. Each employee has a small laser gun for self defense, but a group of malevolent aliens can quickly destroy your plans by destroying structures like showers, food courts, medical stations and the like, which in turn hampers your ability to keep your employees happy.
Space Colony has provided defense equipment to prevent such hostile takeovers, but the campaign doesn’t provide them until latter stages of the process. Once you reach the latter stages or decide to just start your own colony on a specified planet, you are provided an entire arsenal to choose from, but early on you’re essentially left to deal with the invasions. Military units do incur some cost, and some also incur costs to simply maintain their ammo supply. If you’re inclined to use force, you’ll have a lot of fun warding off alien attacks using equipment ranging from small lasers to a full-blown military robot. Just be prepared to pay for that fun.
And fun, ultimately, is the key to this game. Space Colony provides a number of ways to entertain gamers time and again. I personally enjoy mining resources and creating tourism centers to create revenue. Gathering resources consists of placing an extractor in the region where that resource is plentiful, then assigning an employee to actually run that machine. The gathered resources are collected by a warehouse robot and stored in the warehouse. Multiple warehouses provide more robots as well as more storage space. You can then use the resources within your facilities or sell them to obtain more credits. The credits can then be used to build more extractors or tourism facilities.
The tourism facilities provide a place for tourists to spend some time on a “real” mining planet. Sort of like Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Total Recall,” but minus the thrice-endowed alien. To promote tourism, you must build a separate landing pad for tourists, then a hotel, which can range from one room on up to a mega resort. Your tourism rating is then judged by what type of recreation, restaurants and exhibits you have to entertain visitors. Some examples include a tower for those who want to witness a mining camp in action, an alien zoo and, of course, a golf course.
The other valuable revenue stream involves refining natural resources to create more advanced resources. For instance, silicon can be manufactured into electronics, which can then be sold for more credits. Such manufactured resources require a fabricator, though, which requires not only credits to build but also credits to train someone to operate it. Once in operation, the warehouse bot(s) will supply it with the necessary resources to create the fabricated commodity. The list goes on and on when it comes to the choices one can make to create a space colony, which gives the game an incredibly open-ended feel and makes it virtually unending.
The graphic qualities of Space Colony are equally limitless, with everything having a crisp, clean 3D look to it. Vehicles, robots and resource extractors all move fluidly, with believable action and interesting detail. In addition, the tourists move around realistically interacting with the exhibits and recreational facilities while plants blow in the (solar) wind and solar panels rise and fall to capture the light for power. You’ll certainly want to take advantage of the larger resolution in order to view more of the spectacular area.
The sound in Space Colony isn’t too shabby either, by my main complaint here is the sounds of some of the game’s more-annoying characters, such as Stig Svenson, who’s got to be the most obnoxious character I’ve heard in a game. But hey, that’s what sims are for: diversity and personality. The sound effects also add to the overall experience, with the Nutrient Extractor having a cool whir as its blades cut vegetation and the airlocks having a satisfying whoosh when characters enter and exit. The soundtrack also keeps you going with some upbeat but not overbearing music throughout the adventure.
Overall, Space Colony makes for an experience that any Sims or Tycoon fan should jump right into. Although the campaign is more of a how-to, there are plenty of planets available with varying difficulties, promising hours of adventures whether you’re a fighter or a builder. For a $39.99 price tag, you will definitely get your money’s worth.
- Gameplay: 9
- Graphics: 9
- Sound: 9
- Replay: 8
- Overall: 8.5
- A worthy adventure, if sci-fi sims are your bag.
— Durward Holt