Space is often called the final frontier but I like to think of it as the path to millions of different frontiers. After all, the universe is full of planets and moons that our descendants may land upon and begin exploring, changing our understanding of many subjects with every step they take. Undoubtedly, following those footsteps there will be a number of companies whose main aim is profit, and in trying to find resources will send out their own teams to extract such items. Space Colony: Steam Edition focuses on that scenario, putting players in charge of a group of Blackwater Industries employees, with the focus of maintaining their well-being while trying to meet company goals.
Space Colony: Steam Edition is a remastering of Firefly Studios’ Space Colony which released in 2003, and was a game I played quite a lot. In fact it was one of the games that got me into the strategy genre, mixing the needs of the individual colonists with the quest to meet the demands made of them by the company. This plays out in a few different modes including a Story mode and a Galaxy mode.
In Story mode you have the choice of taking the company down a military contractor route, or one that focuses more on the needs and wants of the wider civilisation. On either path you’ll need to reach a financial goal through mining and trading, as well as other goals involving the happiness of the employees. This is all done while trying to fight off the elements of space and the planet you’re on, including alien attacks. Though I suppose in this scenario the humans are the aliens being attacked by local creatures.
Base building and maintenance is the key to survival and you need to manage the finite resources available. Once you have your domes placed you’ll need to provide a place for colonists to eat and sleep. Pretty soon after that a nutrient extractor is required to harvest the local flora to provide food, or you could build a space chicken farm for meat. However not every planet has the necessary resources for basic food, which means you need a bio-research lab to seed edible plants. Building these isn’t enough though because someone has to work those machines.
Every single colonist has their own set of skills and can only operate some of the machinery. You may find that Venus, the main colonist in the game, is the only one who can use the extractor, but to feed the entire colony, and to bring in an income, you may need a second person on the job. Therefore you can invest in a library or chair that grants almost instant knowledge for a price so someone else can train in the job.
These are the necessary items but every individual has their own preferred way to relax after work, which may include soaking in a jacuzzi, talking to other colonists or working out. You need to check everyone’s stats to see what their interests are to maintain a healthy mindset, otherwise they’ll have a breakdown which could see some of your equipment get destroyed. If you’ve got a small team then managing everyone is quite easy, but once a team exceeds six people you may find yourself struggling to meet everyone’e expectations.
The story mode does require steady progression but it’s Galaxy Mode where you can pick and choose which missions to take, each one having their own goals and difficulties. I found this mode preferable to the story because even though the same gameplay rules apply, of having to follow company orders, there is a greater degree of freedom. If one mission proves itself too tough then you can simply find something else to tackle.
Space Colony also has a Sandbox Mode where you can do whatever you wish on the various planets, be it focus on becoming an industrial giant or a tourist attraction. Outside of that there is a map editor where you can use all the game’s assets to create a planet. I decided to create a hellish lava filled landscape where the only resources of value were in an area that would require a considerable investment in retrieving. That would be perfect as a last planet in a story line, and luckily the game also has a scenario editor where players can string together maps and come up with a plot.
As an upgrade Space Colony: Steam Edition looks nicely polished, though it is a touch strange seeing an industrial machine walk through a building as if it wasn’t there. These same buildings that can be destroyed by encroaching fauna in a few hits. The character models also look good and their movement is smooth, if a little slow at times. The voice acting holds up from the original release, giving the character’s their own personalities though some are a bit two-dimensional and unlikeable. Sometimes I would even forget about the existence of a character because they didn’t really assert themselves, or appear to be important.
Space Colony: Steam Edition brings a classic game to the present with a great deal of polish applied. In a way it is surprising just how well the gameplay has held up after twelve years. Every character brings their own quirks and needs which have to be managed, though some characters are more prominent than others. The strangeness of seeing some things interact properly while others ignore it can take you out of the zone for a moment, but, as far as sim management games go, Space Colony is one that is worth checking out.