Lunar Command is the updated version of Moonbase, a Lunar Colony Simulator where you have to supply the oxygen, water, power, heat and shelter for the entire colony. Starting with a virgin lunar plain rich in minerals and elements (but alien to everything human), you establish your shelters and life support facilities while keeping an eye on your population, supplies, and support levels from earth. You succeed only if your city becomes self-sufficient.
The idea of going to the moon once captured the imaginations of people all over the world. Once upon a time artists imagined green men were living on the moon. Later, science fiction writers imagined thriving cities built on the moon bustling with trade and interstellar commerce. Later in the 1960's, with the challenge of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the race to the moon began, and for the first time human beings set foot on the soil of another world.
The games introduction sets the tone by quoting President Kennedy: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And indeed, this game comes with a fairly steep learning curve. Until you have familiarized yourself with the rules and the dynamics of the game, it is quite hard and extremely unforgiving. In this respect, Lunar Command is very true to life, and exactly what it claims to be: a simulation of Man's first colony on the moon. As you will see, this is more than just "SimCity in space".
You are the commander of a mission to establish a new lunar colony on the moon (using technology based on NASA's own research). You begin with a blank, randomly-generated map, and an extremely limited budget. You have barely enough resources to get the basic facilities you need established, and there is a sense of urgency to establish these facilities and begin producing income before you fail completely.
There are several different factors to keep track of when building your base: habitation, power generation, radiation dissipation, and production. Controlling these things is fairly straight-forward. You build structures that provide one of these facilities, then you connect them using power cables, pipes, and/or airlocks. There are also other factors you will be in charge of monitoring: morale, productivity, scientific discovery, and self-sufficiency. These factors are heavily dependent upon the choices that you make as the commander of the base. If morale is low your people might be overcrowded or overworked. Maybe you can solve this problem by building a recreation facility. Productivity depends a lot on morale, having enough staff, locating the right natural resources, and sufficient resupply. Scientific discovery is primarily performed through laboratories and sending out exploratory missions to survey the map.
Self-sufficiency is your eventual goal. It costs several thousand US dollars per kilogram to send cargo to the moon. Because of this, it is unbelievably expensive to supply your base using only materials from Earth. The success of your base really depends on minimizing the cost of resupplying your base. You get some support from NASA for the first few years, but this will not be enough to sustain you for long. Your main expenses will be salary, food, water, and hardware. Salary depends on how many people you have working on the moon. You can reduce the cost of imported food by building a hydroponic greenhouse (this has the added bonus of improving morale). You can reduce the cost of hardware from Earth by building repair facilities, that way you don't need as many spare parts. That leaves water. Water is the single most expensive thing that you have to ship to the moon, and you can't live without it. It is possible to find water on the moon through exploration. It may exist in some of the craters. Then again, your map may not have any water; but, if you are lucky enough to have it then you should definitely mine it and never sell any of it.
Your main source of money comes from extracting the moon's resources. More advanced bases can also perform some manufacturing, which can bring in a lot of money. These commodities each have a price, based in part on demand, what you're producing, events that take place on earth, and scientific discoveries. This price is always changing, but more often than not the prices will seem incredibly low. It can be depressing to see the price bottom out on your goods, especially if you're worried about having enough money to resupply the base for that year. Later on, you may decide to have some tourism at your base. This will be particularly lucrative if you happen to discover some place of importance, like the site of the first Lunar landing.
There is an optional arcade element to the gameplay. You can choose to manually land the lunar landers that periodically arrive at the base; this is really difficult to do, and crashing the lander is not a good thing. If this appeals to you, then turn it on but for your first playthrough it is best to leave it on automatic.
The game does have some recorded sounds, but you'll only hear them to alert you to various problems in the game. They're not bad, and do help the game somewhat, but are not at all necessary. The graphics are on the lower end given the time period in which the game was made. They aren't really improved upon from the game's predecessor Moonbase. However, they are functional and serve their purpose well enough.
On the downside, if something is going wrong on your base it can be very hard to determine the cause, as the stock market prices seem to always have a downward trend. The interface can be very challenging. There is no option to replace buildings, and demolition is very expensive. Also, it seems very easy to accidentally bulldoze your power plant, which will more or less shut down your base. Your success is also very much at the mercy of random events over which you have no control: war on Earth guarantees that prices for your goods will be rock-bottom. Once you do finally have your mega-colony and are earning millions of dollars every year, you will probably have more-or-less seen it all when it comes to this game. Once you've built everything there is little else to do. It can become boring quickly, but on the plus side the replayability is fairly high, because starting over with a new base continues to be very fun. Take what you've learned from the last time around and see if you can't design a better base the next time.
I'm going to score this game a 3; but I'd give it a 3.5 if I could. Despite its shortcomings, and once you get over the steep learning curve for this game, it becomes quite addicting. The challenge of getting everything functioning and keeping things stable is engrossing, but soon enough you'll soon find yourself constantly watching the stock market in order to determine the best time to sell off your supply of LLOX. This game will easily manage to steal several hours of your time.
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