Space Colony combines character management and city building in a light-hearted science-fiction setting. Players manage a rag-tag crew of space-farers who have set out to form a new colony. Each character has different strengths and abilities that could prove crucial to the colony's success, but they all must be kept happy, or at least satisfied, if they're to use these skills for the good of the community.
The personalities and desires of each of the 20 crewmember characters are all quite different, so keeping the whole group happy requires a strategic sense of balance. The crew is led by Venus Jones, an ambitious 23-year-old adventurer who plans to retire by the time she turns 25. Venus is joined by such other distinct individuals as a burly biker, a French debutante, a retired athlete, a valley girl, and an old man who constantly quotes Chinese philosophy.
Space Colony features over 100 different buildings. In a theme reminiscent of Mucky Foot's Startopia, players develop a deep space home for the diverse crew, one building at a time. Basics like power and life-support are important from the start, but other facilities soon become highly desired as well. As the key to success is in keeping the crew happy, there is long-term value in buildings such as meditation chambers and discotheques, which allow characters to appease their more recreational wants and needs.
Space Colony does play slightly like The Sims. You have to manage relationships at a mostly basic level and keep those under your command educated, clean, and rested, but you also have to deal with larger issues that affect the whole colony.
There are three main modes of play: Campaign, Mission, and Sandbox. And that's probably the order you should play Space Colony. After a trip through the skeletal tutorial, the Campaign mode starts you on baby-steps and ramps up the difficulty as your goals become more varied and your colonists more numerous. Campaign lets you explore the workings of Space Colony - how to manage relationships, basic base design, industry and commerce, keeping the base supplied with sufficient oxygen and electricity, etc. - and will give you a firm grasp of what's possible during the Sandbox and Mission modes. The story, which involves being abandoned on a hostile planet, is more fun than serious, and helps to introduce the various technologies you'll need. Mid-way through the Campaign, colonists start to suffer from a mysterious illness, which you have to research and cure using the available technology. Getting there can be tricky business because you have to train people and buy the right equipment before things can get underway.
Managing the base building is not as much a problem as managing the people. While mostly self-sufficient, your colonists - each with a different look and personality - have to be taken care of and managed. Jobs need to be assigned and since each colonist comes with a different skill set, only certain characters can perform specific jobs. On top of that, the skill sets can be upgraded so one colonist can be more efficient than another at the same skill. And running a space colony is all about efficiency. To this end, maintaining base morale is key. (A happy colonist is an efficient colonist.) This is where managing relationships has the most bearing.
Because each colonist is unique, chances are they'll be inclined to dislike at least one person - you can't like everybody. Many factors can smooth over bumpy relationships, such as disco dancing, working out, relaxing at the bar, and, of course, just plain talking. When you're trying to manage many people and keep relationships friendly, the pause button quickly becomes the most used feature of Space Colony because there are so many things to consider.
In Pause mode, characters can be given orders and situations examined. It provides the opportunity to make sure you're using the colonists to the best of their ability, who their enemies are, how much "food" has been harvested, see if silicon has gone up in price and is ready to be sold, examine the power situation, setup base defense, re-organize living quarters and arrange tourist amenities. There's a lot to do and if you're doing it on the fly you'll run into problems later on - there's just too much to manage without pausing the action.
The interface and menus is mostly streamlined. The profile and status of each colonist can be brought up by clicking on their portrait at the bottom of the screen, then more detailed information can be accessed. Accessing building options is simple, too. Click on the buttons on the left side of screen and construction items pop up. Click, drag, drop. Nice and easy. The same can be said of keeping the commerce side of things under control. There's a lot of information available at any one time but it's all kept nicely and conveniently off-screen until you need it.
You'll run into some frustration with SC's presentation. The action cannot be zoomed in or out easily. To get a wider view of the colony the resolution has to be changed! The default setting feels uncomfortably close, particularly when you have a large operation and the colonists are spread out. Finding a specific colonist isn't a problem (thanks to a "Find Colonist" button) but when they're in constant motion, they're hard to keep track of. Adjusting the setting to 1024 x 768 is probably your best bet - then you won't have to click on a colonist, click on the mini-map, then click on another location to get them on their way. And when the construction tabs are open the entire screen isn't obliterated. Besides, having a wider view is easier on the eyes and you can appreciate the deft animation and color.
The audio suffers a little. Not so much from the individual colonist, but when they're all talking at once and a computer update comes through it's easy to miss ques. And, in what is quickly becoming standard, Space Colony also lets you import your own MP3s for background music.
How long will you be playing Space Colony? A long time. Not only do you get the three different play modes, there is also an option to load up user-created challenges (which are created by the included mission builder). If you like sim and city management games, Space Colony has a lot to offer. It might not be the best way to be introduced to the genre because it is so deep in the gameplay department, but those accustomed to the genre will eat this up and have a great time.
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Space Empires V, Space Bucks, Space Empires 4: Gold, Age of Empires III, StarCraft, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Sid Meier's Railroads!, Star Trek: Armada 2
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