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A video game published by Eidos Interactive. The premise of the game is that you have been hired by one of a few different intergalatic organizations (the particular organization varies from scenario to scenario) to setup and maintain a space station which either orbits a planet you aren't very interested in or simply floats freely in space (the game isn't too clear about this). Sounds like Simcity in space, right? Well, like any good game, the Devil's in the details.

Seeing as how you are in space, the, ahem, space you have to build in is rather limited. The space station which you are in charge of is in the shape of a torus. You build along the exterior wall of the station (think bicycle tire, you build along the part that touches the ground). There are three levels, and each has a specific use. Each of the levels is divided into equal sized sections which can either be opened for free, or in later (harder) games, be opened for a small fee. As you open more sections, the curvature of the station becomes more and more apparent. This is really quite neat.

Each of the three levels has a specific use, as I mentioned before. The most basic level of the station is the 'Technology Deck' which houses most of the basic (and vital) functions of your station. One can install housing structures, food dispensing machines, Lavotrons which double as restrooms and showers as well as cargo holds for storing incoming or outgoing goods and Stardocks to allow trade ships to dock. There are about 25-30 different structures which can be constructed on the technology deck and most of them are there to make money, or energy, which is the resource unit in Startopia. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that some of the most important structures one builds (Recyclers, Factories, Sickbays) require a specific race of alien to work in them. This means that the player has to seek out specific alien races which wander around their station and hire the best candidates (each alien has a rating for loyalty, skill, and dedication). The next deck is the Leisure Deck, which houses all of the recreation facilities on board the station. These range from basic shops to stuff like the Oroflex, a large alien being which swallows customers whole and provides an 'interesting sensation' for a few minutes. The third and arguably most interesting deck is the Biodeck which is basically a big terraformable landscape which can be crafted to the player's specifications. The point of this deck is that the player can hire Karmaraman farmers (think purple Rastafari) who will try to raise whatever will grow in the environment you have provided. Once the plants have grown to maturity they can be harvested and will provide goods, depending upon what type of plant. The trick is only certain types of plant will grow in certain environments so it can be an interesting challenge to harvest specific crops. Also, the races of aliens that populate the station will enjoy spending time on the Biodeck, but certain races perfer certain climates to relax in. My favorite feature of the Biodeck is the race of monks who, when hired, will construct massive pillars and structures to worship at. I also enjoy the fact that they can walk on water.

Well that's just about all one can gleam from a text description of a game without actually playing. There are, however, many other facets of the game which I can't do justice to here, like the incredibly entertaining trade system and the combat/security systems. If you want to, you can convert your space station into a floating penal colony. This game is varied and interesting that it's hard not to find something to like.
PC CD-ROM, 2001
Developer: Mucky Foot Ltd.
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

Startopia is a strategy game which bears a striking similarity to Theme Hospital and Theme Park, which is unsurprising when you consider that Mucky Foot is one of the developers to have spun off from Bullfrog in the late 1990's. The general gist of the gameplay is described very well by waterhouse in the previous writeup.

The single player game is very nicely put together, with a series of missions gradually introducing you to new races and facets of the game (such as trading, building hospitals, prisons and leisure facilities, dealing with security and litter, and of course keeping your visitors, residents and employees satisfied). The trading is quite cool, really Elite-style stuff, and can completely reverse your fortunes in a tight spot.

There is also a sandbox mode. The multiplayer game is a nice diversion but hardly going to set the world alight when there are more confrontational strategy games that seem more appealing.

The graphics are pretty fantastic for the most part, with loads of detail crammed into each type of building and room. Some of the larger facilities such as the space dock are very nicely animated, and there are lots of whizzy DirectX 8.0 spot effects (you will doubtless spend the first few hours going "woo" as your droids construct new and snazzy buildings). The sound is great too, as pretty much everything makes some kind of noise if you get close to it. The music is a bit ropey though, and can quickly get repetitive.

Although there is a lot to recommend Startopia, as it is highly polished and clearly has been playtested extensively, it does still suffer from some of the same problems as Theme Hospital. The interface is not very intuitive, with one wrong click sometimes cancelling a stack of actions (especially when building rooms or dealing with the pattern buffer). A lot of the information it throws at you will be a mystery at first, and some buildings don't have an immediately obvious purpose.

The core problem is the same one that has plagued the genre since Sim City - once you've built up your space station, there is little incentive to continue or to start again from scratch, although the missions go some way to combat this. As a plus point, the game is orders of magnitude less cheesy than the Theme games (which I always thought were a bit crap).

Overall, I would recommend this game without hesitation to genre fans, but would question whether it will hold most players attention for very long. If you like this kind of Bullfrog-style strategy and are desperate for a fix, snap it up straight away. (And by the way, I would personally rate this game higher than Black & White. It may not try to push the technological envelope, but nearly everything about it is superior to Lionhead's overhyped confection.)

Easter Eggs: The profiles of the inhabitants of the station contain many in-jokes, most notably the names of planets in the Gaem system, which are references to various ex-Bullfrog and Ion Storm game developers. The display screens in the security center building contain the message 'Danger Will Robinson!', a reference to Lost In Space, of course. The intro is an over-long and shitty reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

By holding down F11 and typing cliveroolz you can toggle between normal, ZX Spectrum, and hi-res Spectrum modes.

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