Filling the Void

The first couple of reviews I had planned (yes, there was a plan, honest) begins with a theme: Colony Simulators! Hey! I have to warrant this self-proclaimed title of 'Uber-Geek' somehow, so even if you've got a better suggestion for a subject to prove my Geekness, you're too damn late. Colony simulators... yeah, you heard me. A game where-by you, the player, must manage, protect and maintain a colony that is often situated in a hostile environment, eg: space or non-terraformed planets. And the first one of these games to get a shout-out is the aptly named Space Colony! You could be forgiven for thinking that Space Colony is just another SIM game; the cover of the box does have similarities with certain EA products, but in this case, I for one, shall look no further as the two games have a distinctly different vibe to them.... oh and one of them is set on other worlds with aliens and laser beams and all sorts of lovely stuff. When released back in 2003(ish) Space Colony received mix reviews and had to compete with a plethora of other SIMS type games marching on the High Street trying to persuade the 'God-Gamer' to micromanage the lifestyles of the banal and insipid. In many ways, Space Colony was over-looked and, despite being developed and produced by the likes of Gathering, Firefly and Take 2 Interactive it never really got an awful lot of love from the average gamer, which is something of a shame, and let me tell you why (in my opinion, of course...). Space Colony comes from the same production companies as the Stronghold series and shows the same kind of finish and polish with a manual which has had a fair bit of thought put in to it for those that are absolutely fresh off the bus with this kind of game (64 pages of full colour pages, for starters). The premise of the game is simple: Blackwater Industries, an intergalactic company with the moral flexibility and general compassion for its employees reminiscent of a psychopath's chainsaw, has a chain of colonies dotted around the galaxy, each tasked with a different purpose ranging from tourist venue to intensive mining facility, sends out a selection of individuals to sort out the problems the colonies seem to have or to produce enough money / minerals / pharmaceuticals etc. to make it worth Blackwater Industry's while. Enter the Space Cadets: predominantly, the player will be following the well-rounded Venus Jones who happens to be very good at her job and is fairly easy to placate. After that, there's her good freidn Stig who's the local mining expert and bug-splatter, Dean the medical officer (who is incredibly useful on the more difficult missions) and Tami... who's... well... she's got a good heart. Add to that another 16 characters, each with their own idiosyncracies and skill-sets. It's fair to say that any given Colony can become a lively place, to say the least. The game offers a campaign mode which, after basic training, branches off in to two seperate paths - one economical and one that is more perilous and combative. It also has a generic sandbox mode with some basic worlds in which to start a colony with no specific goals or objectives - simply to make the place work. There is a challenges mode whereby a planet with a very specific set of characteristics, some scripted, some incidental, is the setting and a selection of objectives will need to be achieved, sometimes within a specific time-frame. And if that's not enough, then you have the Editor Tool kit IN THE GAME! Not a tacked on addition, but actually part of the program itself - almost as if they knew that they were going to have a one-shot game and the developpers had thought 'well, if it gets a community, they may as well have worlds to pass around to one another.' and lo, they did it. Simple to use, complex to master but with enough fiddling you can, in time, create a vast number of scenarios that can lead from one mission to another, saving the properties of the previous mission and bringing them in to play for the next. Add to this alien viruses, a variety of different alien creatures, a solution for (nearly) every problem and a remarkably stable game engine environment and you have a winning combination (unlike some EA games I'd care to mention...). So why have I given it 4 stars in Fun if it's so darned well thought out? Well, it's a matter of opinion, again, and in some cases it's about micro-managing and balancing certain aspects of the game. Each of your characters has a relationship with all of the others on base, the better they get along with one another the better they work with each other... or if they particularly don't get on, the more likely they are to kick off and get in to a fight... and this is a CONSTANT task. It's easy enough to get folk to sit down and become friends (less so to get them in to actual relationships, though it is entirely possible and an enjoyable challenge to so, at times), just maintaining the relationships whilst in the midsts of a crisis can be somewhat demanding and may put off some players. In conclusion, this game is a bargain for the societal simulator enthusiast, if not for any other reason than it's simply different to all the others. And to those that have not played anything of this kind before it's got quite a range for the new-comer to get stuck in to. Due to its versatility, sturdiness and replayability I'm marking this one highly because it's not pretending to be something its not and does it with a fresh and reasonable sense of humour. 8 out of 10... and hey, I actually didn't want to vent ANY of the characters out of an airlock, no matter how much of a jerk they were... GREG! ;)