I buy more games than I play. I think everyone does this a little. But I also buy games I know aren’t that great, just because I’m curious. I’m curious to know what’s out there; what the virtual world offers us today, how it ticks, and what I could do to improve it. This has led me to buy games that I rarely play, and take chances on titles with such bad marketing and presentability that their only other buyers will be confused pensioners and clueless parents. Raph Koster calls it ‘Designeritis’: the almost scientific need to acquire and analyse as many games as possible, then toss them aside like an ungrateful teenager.
Well one such whim was a game called Space Station Sim, recently on offer at my local GAME for a rather amusing £1.95. How can I say no to research at that kind of price? Titles that do something I’ve not otherwise had a chance to do always perk my interest, regardless of how interesting the activity may appear at first glance. Making a spacestation sounded intriguing, so I payed the price of a bare sandwich and took a look. Review follows!
Space Station Sim – A Review
First impression of the graphics fits a game of such low price. This is budget, you guys. But while looking like rough-edged interactive edu-ware from the late 90s, the actual shots of the spacestation itself and the cutaway views are actually pretty okay. So we can forgive the ugly human models. One thing that did piss me off was that Alt-tabbing buggered up all the character textures. And the most recent patch still doesn’t seem to have noticed this.
Sound, again, not amazing but passable. The music can be kinda funky but that’s cool with me. One thing that did occur to me, is that for a pro-science game it went for the rumble-in-space route of sound ambience; rather ignorant I felt. Serenity aptly demonstrated that space being realistically silent can still be ambient too. Perhaps the worst thing about the sounds was the rioting (yes, there can be riots in your two-man spacestation). I’m sorry, but that jeery “ban the bomb” sound of a protest crowd does not convey discontent on the International Space Station. The reasoning here is kinda… obvious?
The gameplay is what I’m really interested in finding out about though, and it’s here I think the game lets us down (and you thought it was going to get better). Because it could have been a game about engineering, but instead it’s just a woefully shallow Sims in Space with some basic management tacked on.
I feel that sounds harsh because I didn’t really dislike this game. For example, I should mention it is hilarious (whether this was intentional is unclear). And to give it its due, despite being predictably NASA-centric, it incorporates international elements fairly well. There are 5 space agencies involved in the game: NASA, RSA, ESA, JAXA and CSA. And your astronauts can be from any of them, although their actual backgrounds are pretty limited. One thing I found hilarious, was the event where the space tourist turned up. Not because of the douche himself, but the NASA announcement:
“*sigh* we just got word that the… *sigh* RUSSIAN SPACE AGENCY has granted a… *angst* SPACE TOURIST, to visit the station, for an UNDISCLOSED AMOUNT OF MONEY”
Yeah, those cheeky, capitalistic Russians, eh? How dare they let civilians into space. Also, the tourist is a fat Texan in a hawaiin shirt… I’ll leave it at that. Anyhow, Astronaut making is usual character creation guff, with basic appearance settings (shirt/hair colour) and personality (brave, playful etc). This part of the game was probably the worst though; I would much rather they made the astronauts all the same and gave us more control on the station.
As it is, building the station is fairy comprehensive, but the interface and control in putting it together is terribly clunky and sometimes convoluted. However, it does take an admirable amount of things into account; such as contamination, O2, CO2, Water, Power, etc you get the idea. All parts must be put into place with a launch via a rocket or shuttle which is cool, but the whole part where the astronauts have to place the components from the cargo bay of a shuttle is not seen; it just appears on your station after a launch video.
This is just one of many areas I was hoping for something different. As it is, there is only an hour or two’s fun in this (and that’s how long it takes to figure the interface out, probably). This may seem pretty obvious considering it cost £2, but it’s worth pointing out it was reduced from £15. You can’t judge a game by it’s price. You just have to know it’s going to suck.
I should say that the final blow that turned me off a game I was willing to play a bit longer was the game over scenario. One of my astronauts got a bee in her bonnet at some point and despite me trying to cheer her up, a short while later I was told the astronauts had ‘revolted’ and I was fired. They could have sent her home and let me try and cope without her. No, zoop, that’s it. End of game.
Okay, fair enough. End of game, indeed.