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In the average strategy game you may have to worry about feeding your troops and kitting them out, but it's rare that you actually have to care about their mental well-being and whether they prefer saunas over Jacuzzis. Thus it was with great intrigue that I sat down to try my hand at Space Colony, which is all about managing personalities and situations as you take charge of a team of 20 misfit colonists as they bumble their way around the galaxy.
Although it doesn't look like Firefly Studio's previous games Stronghold and Stronghold: Crusader, Space Colony has similar gameplay mechanics. The main single-player campaign follows the exploits of your heroine, Venus Jones, and her deliberately mis-matched crewmates. It also branches off into economic missions (in which you focus on building up your base and attracting tourists) and military missions (in which you battle with the neighboring life forms). Additionally, there's a galaxy mode (with standalone campaigns), a sandbox feature and an editor, so you won't be short of things to do. The pay-off for the rather inflexible 2D isometric look of Space Colony, which doesn't allow for zooming or rotation, is buckets of detail. Like Stronghold, when you've got everything up and running, it's a pleasure to sit back and watch your base whirling with life.
As for the colonists themselves, while most of them are overblown caricatures like the stuck-up French Babette or the plummy Charles, they're mostly a fun bunch. This is aided in no small part by their varied personal dialogue lines -they're constantly surprising and amusing you as they trundle around, sulking, flirting, fighting and generally getting on each other's nerves.
Ego and id
The idea is to basically keep these little dears content, which is measured by their personal satisfaction charts - the more you massage their needs, the more they massage your bank balance. But each colonist has particular skills, likes and dislikes, which you have to control by what you choose to build. For example, Ashia Green is a fitness freak and responds well to lots of gym equipment around the place, while Greg, a sleazy narcissist, just wants to lounge around in the hot tub all day.
There are lots of sci-fi influences woven into the gameplay from the likes of Aliens and Star Trek. Seeing a tubby middle-aged Indian lady in a green sari frantically brandishing a laser at a group of furball aliens is a golden moment.
It's a shame that it doesn't have a 3D engine to allow for a few more interesting camera angles and perspectives. But Firefly's Theme Hospital meets Red Dwarf approach, which could have so easily turned into a second-rate Sims, has instead produced a game with a great deal of charm and humour.
Download Space Colony
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
When it comes to real time strategy, you're usually dealing with tiny, anonymous people that you'll happily sacrifice or leave to starve for the good of the whole. Space Colony, the new management strategy title from Stronghold developer FireFly Studios, hopes to avoid this cold Vulcan logic with a caring, sharing approach that would make Bones proud. Putting you in charge of a small group of space colonists, it's all about managing the varying needs and whims of a group of lonely frontiersmen.
"We see the human side of gaming being a big growth area," explains FireFly's Director Simon Bradbury. "You might be used to having a hundred workers in a castle to deal with, but in Space Colony a stiff challenge might be 10 people. You're going to have to get to know those 10 people well, because they're all cooped up in a small space. It's not just about feeding them, it's about maintaining their needs -their needs for hygiene, their needs for social interaction and relaxation, plus which characters get on with each other and which don't."
You'll need to keep each and every one of your colonists happy in order for them to actually get up the motivation to work for you. Of course, there's no single way to please everyone, and each character has their own desires and drives. Take Stig for example, a Norwegian biker. He'll need constant entertainment, with things like a Zero-G machine to relax him and a disco so he can get down to some serious moshing at the end of a hard day's graft. But build stuff for Stig, and you might end up alienating Tammy, a 40-something Southern barfly who gets queasy in a Zero-G machine and would rather drink until she's rat-arsed than slam-dive.
Once you get your lazy, bickering bunch of colonists to work, there are local life forms to worry about that also have their own unique attributes. Some of them will just happily go about their business without bothering a soul (which usually means they're plotting to nick your space contracts) while others will come into your base and leave slime everywhere, or in the case of the floating brain alien, actually change the personality of your colonists.
With influences from Aliens, Red Dwarf and a lot of old Star Trek episodes, Space Colony looks set to offer good measures of humour and frivolity, as well as all the atmosphere and detail shown in FireFly's excellent Stronghold. The 2D isometric viewpoint means that the game positively teems with life and is great to just sit back and watch. We'll be revisiting this promising little game in the near future, so watch this, erm, space.
With life simulators like The Sims growing in popularity, aspects of this genre are being combined with other genres in an attempt to tap into that success. In the case of Space Colony, aspects such as being responsible for the main character's sleep, food intake, emotional state, and others have been combined with city management and defense aspects such as food collection, currency collection, building facilities, and strategically placing defensive structures. Combining different genre aspects together can be tricky business however as the balance of the game can be difficult to reestablish. Unfortunately, Space Colony falls victim to this kind of problem but it doesn't necessarily need to be shoved out the air lock either.
Space Colony revolves around establishing colonies on different planets using a few strong personalities to accomplish the job. Although there are plenty of tasks that always requiring attention such as collecting resources, building structures or facilities, and keeping up with your primary character's personal needs, often you're waiting and watching your main character finish some mundane task. For instance, the sleep bar may start to get low so you instruct the main character to sleep and wait till the bar is replenished. When you wake up, the food bar is low and you need to go eat and follow a similar process. The main issue with the game is the tedium of watching and waiting for the various bars to replenish which is involved in numerous tasks from generating power to communicating with others to keep up relationships.
The other issue with the game is the city management aspects are rather limited and require little strategy. Of course makes sense in some ways because a complex and challenging system would distract from keeping the personal needs of the main character attended to. It does however make for a shallow experience.
The graphics and audio aren't going to set any new standards but are suitable for the game. It would have been nice to see more animations and the voiceovers can become annoying, but overall fit the game adequately.
Although Space Colony puts forth a decent effort in meeting the aspects of a life simulator, the flow of the game can be cumbersome. Unfortunately, the other aspects of the game don't make a strong enough presence to overcome this and even seem out of place at times. If you're not interested in games like The Sims, you may want to pass on Space Colony.
Snapshots and Media
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