Get a bunch of colonists, stick them in space, and you've got the basis of Space Colony - a new management game from Firefly Studios.The idea is simple: look after a variety of colonists who have come to seek life in space, each with their own personalities, likes and dislikes. As well as making sure they are all getting on, with as few fists flying and arguments going as possible, it is also the players' job to build their base up, as well as extracting nutrients and materials to trade.
The first thing to know about Space Colony is that instead of creating the people (like in a certain other life-sim game), you are actually given 20 colonists to look after.
There is a wide range of personalities on offer including a rocket scientist called Nikolai, an airhead called Candy and Tami, a Texan who loves country music but hates many of the other colonists. Venus is the first character you are introduced to, and takes a lead role in the game, trying to get on with everyone. With such a range of characters comes a clash of personalities, and keeping everyone happy and working together is a challenge in itself.
So how does Space Colony work then? The game itself comes in three game modes:
Firstly there is an ongoing story mode. This is the basis of Space Colony, where you work with a capitalist company, Darkwater Industries, with a stereotypical Chairman at the wheel. However after completing the first set of intense missions, the game allows you to make a decision. Do you either take the peaceful path (economic building and gaining tourism within a colony) or a militaristic path (Fight lots of corrosive aliens with heavy robot soldiers, just like in Terminator)? Which one you’ll decide depends solely on your character!
Secondly there is a Galaxy Mode where you choose a planet and complete the objectives, which come with it. All vary in objectives from gaining a higher percentage of tourism, to eradicate an alien base from the face of the planet.
Finally there is a Sandbox mode where you choose a planet and the way forward is up to you. This is always a favourite for any gamer, due to its diversity and incredibly exciting game play.
In addition to the three game modes, level and mission editors are also on offer. Players can create their own planets, and then build up missions. The mission editor in particular is very impressive and you can create pretty much any mission you wish. The player really gets a lot of control. These editing tools open the doors to a large fan community.
The main theme of Space Colony is to keep the colonists happy by adding different rooms and objects to the base, to satisfy their needs and to make strong bonding friendships between them: this an objective in itself! This idea is not far off the game play encountered in The Sims, except life on Earth is quite different to that in space. By doing this Firefly Studios
has made this game easier to play but still gives it the originality it truly deserves.
Like in The Sims, you can find out the needs of each colonist by simply clicking them. Their hunger, sleep, financial needs...etc are shown in bars, the fuller the bar, the more satisfied they are.
There are over 100 different buildings and objects available, with a wind range of weird and wonderful gadgets. In a sim game set in space, you can only expect to provide your characters with furniture like the Virtuality Chair and the Zero Gravity Playroom, and there is certainly a good selection of interesting objects. There are also objects available which are more familiar to you and me, such as libraries, social areas and discos. They still play a major role in the success of the colony, even though they’re a bit dated!
"So how do they afford all these techno gadgets?" you may ask. Well Space Colony deals in credits. In your base there is a banking machine, which offers out a set amount of credits every 'space colony day’, to you or me that’s forty seconds. But the main source of credits is trade.
Since your colonists are in space, they can’t just nip down to the local store to stock up on goods. All must be extracted from the area surrounding the base making this one of the major roles of the colonists. Hopefully that’s what you'd expect from such a game.
Food can be extracted from the ground using the Nutrients Extractor, and it is then transferred to the mess hall in the base by handy little robots. In addition, space chicken farms can be set up to breed outside the bass, and then turn in to food for the colony.
Raw materials such as iron can also be extracted from the ground. However, the Hells Angel Biker called Stig seems to smash out the raw materials, even titanium.
As well as using these goods for their own needs, the colony is able to trade off its supplies for profit, and as a result have more credits to spend on more items for the base.
The planets are inhabited by all different types of alien creatures, who will pay a visit to your base from time to time. This is what sets the game apart from The Sims and other simulation games, and one of the cool things that comes naturally with a sim game set in Space.
Although some are harmless, most of the alien creatures who inhabit the planets prove dangerous, causing power cuts and running riot amongst other things.
For this reason, base defence is vital. A number of robots and defence tools are available to protect the base from attacks.
So that’s how the game works, but how does it actually play then?
Well you might think that after building up the base the player would eventually be left with little to do, but there is always enough to keep you busy in Space Colony.
Even if your base is looking hunky-dory, you’ll see laser beams shoot across the screen as your defence robots protect the base from aliens, or better still you’ll get to take the buggers on yourself. Also, you’ll always has to keep the colonists satisfied by keeping their needs to a minimum, and you’ll need to make sure the characters are all friends too.
In addition, the trading of goods and the currency of credits gives the player something to aim for.
At the very least, gameplay in Space Colony won’t get repetitive – just familiar.
With the mix of management, action and trade, the game certainly has a long life, and there are always new objects and items becoming available as the game progresses.
What really makes the game however is the range of characters and humour that comes with them. As you play the game, you can really get to know the characters, and build up relationships between them. Also, even if the characters are all getting on well, they still may go crazy and need to take a trip to the Counselling Robot, or get depressed if you give them a real workload.
Although they are by no means bad, the graphics in Space Colony are not the strongest part of the game.
The game uses a 2D engine like in The Sims, although unfortunately you are not able to rotate the map or even the objects, which can make laying out the map awkward.
The animations are quite basic. For example, you will see characters walking through each other instead of stepping out of the way. In addition, when the characters step outside the base they will automatically change in to their space suit in a split second.
However, the outside world is nicely animated and gives the game a realistic touch. You will see trees swaying, an example of the way the game is brought to life.
Despite the 2D engine and simple graphics style, the game is very well presented and the main thing is that it looks pretty good. The game does not need state of the art graphics, and works fine with the engine provided. The characters and objects have been well rendered with a cartoon-like feel – if only you were able to rotate to see it from all angles...
The sounds and music in Space Colony are of a high standard. The game kicks in with an addictive electronic theme song that is cheesy but fits nicely.
There is a variety of in game soundtracks which all have an atmospheric feel. In addition, players can import their favourite MP3s in to the game.
The character voices have been very well done. Because there are different nationalities within the base walls, a number of different voice artists have been used and the dialogue is very varied, with not too much repetition.
Generally, Space Colony is a highly enjoyable game that proves to be a lot more addictive than you might expect. There really isn't much more that could have been added in to the game. Although 3D graphics would have improved the look of the game, it works nicely with the engine provided.
Whilst Firefly Studios could have come out with a Sims clone, they have given the game an original touch by setting in space, and gameplay is really quite different. Expect less of the micro-management, and a little more action.
With three game modes, editors, and a lot of humour on offer, there really is hours of fun to be had.