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Sid Meier's Starships (PC) artwork

Sid Meier's Starships (PC) review

"An excellent combat system juxtaposed against mediocre empire-building makes Sid Meier's Starships a mixed bag."

I was excited to play this game after I watched some footage of it online. It looked, to me, like XCOM, but in space! And it is. Sort of. When you're in combat, anyway, and most of the time you will be. Your starships exchange fire with enemies while darting in-between asteroids and moons, effectively using them as directional "cover". Space, it seems, is simply packed with asteroids (which I will admit is a little unrealistic), but nevertheless provide the player with dynamic (and occasionally, changing) battlefields to fight upon.

Aside from that, the combat mechanics themselves are quite simple. Mostly you will be attacking enemy vessels, and there are four ways to do that: With lasers (long range), plasma cannons (short range), torpedoes (area-of-effect), and fighter jets. For defense and utility, you have cloaking devices and sensor sweeps. That's it! These six mechanics provide the primary functions of your ships. While this may be too simplistic for some, they nevertheless provide enough complexity to allow for emergent tactics.

The only other way to change how your ships work is to build "wonders" for your civilization, and each one will grant your fleet additional powers. Usually this is fun, as the powers are interesting and vary widely, but it is entirely random as to which planets can build each type, so if a civilization gets lucky and acquires the best wonders early on, you will find that they have a distinct advantage over everyone else.

I was a little disappointed that there weren't any cosmetic customization options for the starships. Your ships will change shape when you add new modules to them, but there is no customization beyond that. While this should be a minor gripe, it actually becomes problematic when you are fighting against enemy ships that look almost identical to yours, and this actually happens often because there are only three types of ship construction (and a proper game has eight players).

The other main thing you do in this game, aside from fighting battles and building your ships, is manage your colonies. This part of the game is reasonably fun, but mostly just boils down to looking at menus and spending your accumulated resources. There isn't a lot of depth here, and it seems to just serve as a bookend to the combat missions.

The diplomacy system isn't all that deep, either. Aside from declaring war and making peace, there isn't much else you can do. There are no trade agreements, no cease-fires or non-aggression pacts, really no minutiae to speak of. This area of the game is sorely lacking, and in some ways does not even feel finished.

Which leads me to my next point. Polish! This game sorely needs it! I found plenty of spelling errors in the text, and the clunky animations in combat left something to be desired, particularly when ships explode. It almost feels like the game was released too early, or perhaps the project was prematurely abandoned.

There's also a marked lack of features. For instance, there is no multiplayer! Why? This game would be a lot of fun against a friend, but instead you're stuck playing against the lackluster AI.

On that note, I think I should mention that this game is REALLY, REALLY EASY. Even on "impossible" difficulty, I found the game to be ridiculously easy regardless of the chosen win condition. The enemies are simply too easy to outsmart. Occasionally they will even take stupid actions on their own, like firing a torpedo point-blank into a planet or moon, causing area-of-effect damage to themselves and their allies. The AI seriously needs work in order to feel complete.

Finally, this game is short. You're looking at only a few hours per playthrough, even with eight players and an "epic" sized galaxy. Certain win conditions can extend it, but the basic win conditions will end in extremely short order. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that this game is a more casual experience than you may be used to, especially if you're a Civilization fan.

Sid Meier's Starships is kind of a mixed bag. I've criticized the game quite a bit, but I would still recommend it to a prospective player. Why? The answer is simple - It's fun. The combat is solid and the empire-building is enjoyable, even if it is on the simplistic side. It's a great game to play when you've got a few hours spare and perhaps don't want to commit to starting a long game of Civilization or Beyond Earth.

I enjoyed this game, and I hope it will continue to receive support and updates so it can become the great game that it should be. For now, though, all I can say is that it's worth the money - If you get it on sale.


Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (December 03, 2015)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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