A new Sid Meier title has just arrived: Starships. If you’re anything like me, you were probably pretty excited when it was announced, and even more excited when the game finally arrived last week. At only $14.99, I wasn’t expecting a huge game like Civilization or Beyond Earth, but with Sid Meier’s name on the game, I was expecting to be impressed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case.
This is a difficult title to review. My first couple of hours with Starships were pretty great. I had gone in with almost no knowledge of what the game was about, so I was a bit confused by the modest ~700 MB download. I was a little surprised by the somewhat low-ish resolution intro video and the complete lack of game options (apart from sound and music volume…), but I vaguely remembered reading that this game was also headed to iOS. While Starships does look quite good, this lack of options, especially on the graphics side, suggest that this is a mobile title more than a PC title.
Still, I didn’t let that put me off. I started up a new game, randomly selecting a faction and map size, and so on. I elected to play on the lowest difficulty, because, hey, I had no idea what I was in for. I was a little overwhelmed by all the options available, but forged on, building my fleet of ships and conquering… I mean, “influencing” planets and expanding my empire. Like most strategy games, there were resources to gather, technologies to research, enemies to wipe out, and other factions to negotiate with.
Needless to say, I accidentally won my first game by building the required number of wonders across my planets. This was after maybe an hour or 90 minutes of playing. At this point I had unlocked over 60% of the achievements for the game. After my victory, I discovered a little button on the main menu that let me make an account and link my Starships and Beyond Earth games. Apparently playing one will unlock options in the other, and over the course of playing more Starships, I unlocked at least a couple of things for Beyond Earth. However, I have no idea what they are or how I got them.
Which brings me to a major feature that Starships is missing: a tutorial. I can’t remember the last game I played that didn’t have some kind of tutorial. Starships has a ‘Spaceopedia’, which contains some very basic information about the game. It was there I eventually discovered how I had won my first game, and how I might win others. There is also an ‘info’ button in the game, which also gives extremely limited information on how to proceed – a tutorial of sorts, but with no explanation of what is actually going on.
It was during my second and third games, on increasingly higher difficulties, and with different starting options, that the frustration started. What had seemed like a fun game with a lot of depth at first, was turning into a repetitive slog. Increasing the difficulty hadn’t really made the game harder, it was just making things take longer. There was no difference between the faction I had selected in my first game, to the others I tried after that – apart from having a different name and starting bonus that didn’t really matter after a few turns. Similarly, choosing harmony, purity or supremacy turned out to be purely aesthetic choices.
Once you’ve figured out the basics, the game boils down to this: you have a fleet of upgradeable starships, which you take from planet to planet, completing missions and earning resources. Unfortunately, the missions are all the same: kill everything on the map. Sure, there are a few where you have to capture or reach an objective, but this is still accomplished through destroying the enemy. This makes the minuscule amount of story feel totally irrelevant. You end up with such large resource stockpiles that you can quickly upgrade your ships and planets and everything else, making winning mostly about making sure you don’t accidentally let the AI build the winning number of wonders before you can achieve whatever victory you were going for.
I really wanted to like this game. It is built on a good idea, but the final product is disappointing, bland, boring, and repetitive. Sadly, I don’t think it’s even worth the small-ish price tag of $14.99.