Startopia is another one of my nostalgia games; thankfully, this one holds up pretty well. I feel like strategy games are less crippled by outdated graphics, and just about everything else about this game is absolutely lovely.
Startopia is a real-time strategy / city-builder where instead of building a city, you’re building a functional space station. The game has a handful of missions and a sandbox mode. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are other missions that can be downloaded. Most of the missions are fairly lengthy, and are really enjoyable to play (and re-play). There is an optional tutorial, but the first mission guides you gently enough that you shouldn’t need to play it unless you’re completely new to this type of game.
As the space station supervisor, your main goal is to keep your space station running at an energy-positive rate (energy is the only real currency in the game), and to keep your visitors and residents happy. Some scenarios start with a few things pre-built, but you will be responsible for building almost all the structures. Many structures will not function without staff, and only certain species of aliens will work at certain jobs, so you need to make sure you hire the right kind of staff.
Although you cannot directly control any of the denizens of your space station, you can interact with them and ask what they need through the use of the buttons under their portraits. This is also the interface you use to hire visitors (enabling them to become residents). Aliens with higher skill, dedication, and loyalty will cost more to hire, but will generally be worth the investment if you can afford it.
One of the things that this game does so right that many games of its generation did so poorly is the voice acting. There are only two intelligible voices – your assistant VAL and the space trader, Arona. Everyone else sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher through a room full of static, but that fits the theme so well, it’s hard to get upset.
And VAL. VAL is so enjoyable throughout the entire game. The voice actor is really fantastic, and VAL is pretty funny for an artificial life form.
One thing that sets Startopia apart from other games of its time – in the best of ways – is the biodeck. It’s a garden playground that allows the player to mold it to suit their needs or whims. The biodeck not only provides resources, but it’s damn pretty.
The only real downside is that the combat is clunky – and perhaps that’s being generous. Most missions have little to no combat focus, so it’s not a deal breaker for the game as a whole, but when you need to worry about it, it’s irritating. However, at the current price, this game is worth it just for the sandbox mode even if you never touch a mission (although I really encourage you to play the missions; they are mostly excellent).