Garbage. When you start up Spacebase Startopia for the first time, the last thing you expect to be dealing with is huge amounts of garbage. Yet, the aliens that visit your space base are notorious litterers, and the introductory mission has you dealing with this mess. It’s a tedious start to the game with not much to do apart from collect garbage and put it in the recycler, but you do it hoping that the following missions will bring more interesting scenarios.
At its core, Spacebase Startopia is a management sim about running a space station where aliens can come to work and be entertained. Some aliens might want to spend their time in the disco, some are content with wandering around the bio deck to engage in some nature, and others are more unscrupulous and look to commit crimes and leave the station with their ill-gotten gains. Managing each of these aspects should be interesting, but there is little to do after the initial station setup.
After the first few missions you will be tasked with building you station to meet certain goals. These range from carrying out trades with ships that dock at the station or taking out a dangerous creature that has somehow found its way aboard. Each build of the station will be roughly the same. You will always need berths for aliens to rest in, medical stations to treat them, a ton of garbage bots to keep littering to a minimum, and the entertainment facilities. There are other buildings like security and the brig as well, but once you have the core group of buildings set up, your role becomes one of idly watching things chug along, with the occasional choice to make. Some choices are an easy good vs. bad, while others are choosing the best of two bad options. These can impact how fast illness is spread or losing the ability to trade for a few minutes.
To expand and improve the station there are two forms of currency. Energy is the prime currency you will use to buy the different amenities as well as spending in trade. It is generated by aliens visiting your different attractions and recycled litter being recycled, but can fluctuate as the different buildings require energy to function. Playing on normal difficulty there was never any real danger of running out of energy to keep things moving. Prestige is the other currency and this comes from how highly aliens rate your station. It can then be spent to unlock things in the research tab such as new buildings and upgrades for your combat mechs.
One slightly annoying thing about research is that it doesn’t carry over between missions. Each level transports you to a different station and you must unlock items that had been unlocked previously, dumping you into the same early game loop to eventually reacquire the building that would help you reach your goal. It just makes Spacebase Startopia repetitive and a bit dull.
Even the combat adds very little excitement, as you fight to repel hostile creatures or pirates that have decided to invade your station. To fight back you have the security drones and a mech, provided you have a security station and have enough materials from your factory or trading to build mechs. Sending them to fight the threats uses an unwieldy combat menu, but boils down to clicking on a target and sending bots to fight. Even the AI assistant states that all you do in combat is click on a target and send the bots to fight. It is not exactly the most interesting thing to do.
Speaking of the AI assistant, I cannot think of a more irritating companion. The aim appeared to be to create something that would put down the player despite success and try to make it funny. Unlike games like Portal where this managed to make GLaDOS an almost endearing adversary, Spacebase Startopia’s companion is just constantly belittling the player despite the successes you make. There is a fine line between making a character funny and memorable, and creating a character you just look to switch off in the menus.
When it comes to switching off, it is not only the companion that quietens down. Playing on Xbox Series X, Spacebase Startopia crashed no less than five times back to the Home dashboard, and it was almost like clockwork. It would happen at least once per mission, and I am not sure what would cause it. There was also the bug of different voiceovers chatting at the same time or the voice switching by itself for a minute before reverting to the original selection. There did not seem to be any bugs in the actual gameplay portion, but the menus on console can be so unwieldy.
Spacebase Startopia’s major issue is that there is no meaningful challenge, or ability to plan ahead. With other management games the scenarios are interesting because you are constantly planning ahead and weighing up options, be it considering a transfer in a sports management title or negotiating treaties in a political sim. With Spacebase Startopia once you have your buildings in place there is very little to do apart from occasionally promote a worker, send some bots to fight, make some decisions, or pick up garbage. So much garbage.