Though it may look similar, Starpeace is a lot more than a simple Simdty clone. Set across a series of planets, the aim is very much about the acquisition of wealth rather than just looking out for the well-being of the local population, though that too is pretty important. Strangely, you start off with quite a tidy sum, $100 million, but it's amazing how quickly that disappears as you lay down your roots for a successful business empire. Before that though, you must first scout out each of the planets (of which there are currently four), the cities across them and the businesses that are currently set up. Once you've found a gap in a particular market, it's time to build a headquarters and, hopefully, start making some serious dough.
Easier said than done. Although there are plenty of hints and tips online, the game is far from simple to learn and the manual is pretty poor compared to the documentation that we had from the preview version. The confusion at the start isn't helped by the fact that from the off you are given a huge range of moneymaking options to choose from, from setting up residential blocks to retail outlets and heavy industry, for each of which you have to set wage levels, supply set ups and prices. Of course much of this is automated if you can't be bothered, but even so It takes a good few hours until you realise that far from building the next PepsiCo overnight, it's best to build a few shops, keep an eye on things until you start making a profit and then log off and come back when the money has stacked up (bearing in mind you can keep up to date while you are away from your home PC if you have a PC at work, or a WAP/SMS-enabled phone). Once you've paid back the $100 Million, that's when things start getting interesting.
You Scratch My Back...
Thankfully, Starpeace isn't all about making money. Once you've made a name for yourself, which shouldn't be difficult seeing as there are currently less than 1,000 people playing the game, you can start thinking about a move into politics. Each town has its own mayor, elected by the business leaders in each region. Those in office are the ones who set taxes, decide where businesses can or can't build and zone their cities to make sure industry is kept away from high-class housing for example. Get on the wrong side of a mayor then, and you may just find your company squeezed out of existence. But when it comes to election time, you can have your revenge by backing another candidate - so long as they 'help' you out once in office. Or you could kiss a few babies and run for office yourself, maybe even become President one day.
One thing that Starpeace is seriously lacking is atmosphere. Although quite a social game in that you can chat, send emails and even talk to other players, there isn't much in the way of real interaction and cooperation.
It would be helpful, for instance, if you could buy out other companies or buildings that they might want to get rid off. Annoying too is the way the server is backed up almost every half an hour, during which nothing can be done apart from looking around the map. Two minutes of waiting around may not sound like a long time, but when you're just about to finish some research, or see a building completed, it does get on your bts.
Though there are a few bugs and incomplete parts of the game (no tutorial for example), for all that Starpeace still remains one of the most engrossing and original online titles to be released. The first few hours are bewildering and even after many more there are many hidden complexities, but after a month, when it comes to start paying out (around $6 a month with discounts if you sign up for longer) you should have a pretty good grasp on how things work. And the good news is that once you've set up a business on every world and in every city, the developers will have added even more content, we're promised, a criminal element as well.
For now, though, the old adage 'you have to spend money to make money' rings true and, although investing in a copy of Starpeace is unlikely to make you rich, if you're fan of SimCity, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of it in return.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Starpeace is an online-only massively multiplayer game that allows you to run your own futuristic version of the Branson empire. Set vaguely in the near future you are immersed in a series of parallel worlds waiting to be colonised by disenfranchised members of an overpopulated earth. Granted a $1 billion loan, your task is to make a personal fortune as well as providing a new home for millions of other colonists. While immediately reminiscent of games such as SimCity and Corporation, Starpeace is a much more detailed game with multiple layers to it. A management game at its core, it also encompasses aspects of an RPG with the ability for gamers to become city mayors or planetary presidents. The depth of the game is immense in terms of corporate relationships and tech-trees. However, it's a strangely easy game to get into as a newcomer.
The real lure of the game is that player co-operation (or conflict) forms an integral part of gameplay - you simply can't succeed on your own and alliances between corporations is a must at some stage. Battling corporations may not seem the highest form of online combat, but it is surprisingly addictive. As an investor, you can form any number of companies, each of which must subscribe to a seal, or business faction, each requiring their own support buildings. Each faction allows a different set of research as well as varying benefits and drawbacks.
Cheaper Isn't Always Better
When starting the game you often just need to find an area of a city that isn't covered by another company's services or products - as soon as competition arrives things get interesting. As well as being able to juggle the costs of your suppliers and outlets you can research different aspects of both production and retail. Let's go to a bar: as a bar owner I can lower the price of booze to attract more customers, alternatively I can offer different services - from ethnic cocktails to lap dancing - and encourage customers that way. Meanwhile, the competition may be offering higher quality drinks with bouncers at the doors and a proof of age system. Often the winner of these battles depends on the clients - different class workers look for different types of bars - the low class will drink anywhere so long as its cheap and fun, the upper crust rarely go near bars unless they are exclusive. Simple so far? Let's add another layer, then... the above choices also affect your prestige - running seedy X-rated bars, for instance, has a negative effect on your prestige and that affects your chances of becoming the local city mayor. So what? Well mayors get to zone all the land in a city and set and gather the taxes, so as mayor you can tailor the city to meet your own needs to a large degree. Mind you, upset too many gamers' businesses and you will see them move to other cities - so it becomes a real political juggling act. And that's where the RPG element comes into play - mayoral elections are just that - you must run an online campaign to become elected. Get the job and do the wrong thing and it won't be long before you find yourself un-elected.
Let's Make Lots Of Money
The combination of the financial and political arenas makes for some interesting situations and competition can get quite fierce. Alliances are formed and veritable wars can be fought for control of commodities or areas in a city. The pace of the game is quite fast - five game years pass in a day - but, even so, it can take quite a few days to start to make significant money and advance in the game. Despite this, the pace of the game is relaxed in that it is safe to let your companies ran themselves for a few days, financial ruin is not something that happens overnight (unless you've stretched yourself very thinly).
Graphically, Starpeace is more than adequate and the whole shebang runs in a very enhanced browser-based system. Nice features include the ability to personalise your portraits and check your companies via the Web. Ranking systems help to engender more competition into the game, and there are numerous categories for success as well as an overall 'score' and the prestige of being either a city mayor or planetary president.
All in all, Starpeace is an excellent business simulation with a lot of hidden depth and subtley addictive gameplay. We found the beta to be a bit too 'friendly' and we expect a much more competitive atmosphere with more gamers online. The few game worlds that are operating at the moment do suffer from periods of excessive latency - although, to be fair, they are not running on the final servers as yet, nor with full bandwidth. Even so, Starpeace is a fun game to play and while it didn't immediately appeal to us it certainly didn't take long before we started to enjoy it. SimCity and Corporation fans should flock to Starpeace, but it is also a game that will appeal to gamers from other genres. With businesses ranging from ore production to toy retail stores (every area of business is catered for in depth), if you fancy a change of pace and a complete absence of camping then take a good look at Starpeace - it might surprise you as much as it did us.
The City Of Fallen Angels
Organised crime is coming to Starpeace
Already planning for the future, Oceanus is working on a great add-on to the Starpeace galaxy, one where the player can elect to build up their business on the shady side of the street, using real-life villains as basis material for certain aspects of the game. Players can choose to operate in the murky worlds of extortion and vice, or run the future version of the Pinkertons or X-men.
The fun doesn't stop here, though. Tied in with the rest of the game the producers foresee organised crime units attacking the wealthiest of companies and perverting the course of elections. The player's criminal identity will be hidden underneath a mask of a normal business account and if the computer-controlled crime team is corrupt, nobody will be able to discover who the boss really is. Fighting the criminal classes will be ultra-secretive good guys operating in similar ways. Hiring themselves out as both bounty hunters and counter-espionage agents the detectives will be on a constant hunt for clues as to who is behind the murders, extortion, or whatever.
This aspect alone is a fantastic idea that will sit brilliantly in the sometimes mundane business world of Starpeace. We can't wait to try it out.