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Space Station Sim (PC) artwork

Space Station Sim (PC) review

"It is not the most complex simulator ever, or the most rigorous, or the longest, but that is a good thing. It is a short and to-the-point opportunity to give some thought to one field of science that we don’t often think about."

If you study anthropology, you will learn that the most astonishing trait of humans is their ability to adapt to their surroundings and survive, or even thrive, in the most adverse conditions. If you play Space Station Sim, a game that is very appropriately described by its title, you will walk away with the impression that humans are extremely fickle beings that require constant attention, like really demanding flowers. People have these whimsical needs, such as nourishment and a moderate temperature, and they really can’t live without their oxygen. It’s a little difficult to get all these things in space.

SSS is much more entertaining than you would expect from a simulator. It’s not really at the sake of realism, because NASA have been involved in its development and everything about space stations has been given the real names, accurate voiced descriptions, etc. The different space agencies of the world cooperate in the development of this station not only by pooling funds and resources; there are some machines, vehicles and structures that have been developed by and belong to one particular agency.

Although the game isn’t very difficult to get to grips with, there is no learning curve. No tutorial, no nothing. After you have created your own astronaut, you’re launched (hee! “launched”) straight into the main gameplay section: the inside of the station. Nobody tells you what to do or how to do it. When I began playing I went through the different stat screens and quickly noticed that the O2 bar was decreasing and the CO2 bar was rising in a very worrying way, because my two damn astronauts just wouldn’t stop breathing. I had one of them switch on one of the ship’s O2 generators, but that didn’t help much. My astronauts were on the very verge of passing out, asphyxiated, when I finally figured out that you can exit the station mode entirely, then order a shipment of supplies.

If you’ve managed not to choke your extremely valuable scientists, your basic objective is to expand the station. Add new solar panels to get more energy, exercise machines to give the crew something to do, scientific experimental machinery to conduct groundbreaking space research (you can watch a hamster bounce off an aquarium’s walls in zero gravity), a shuttle, heat dissipation panels to lower the temperature, O2 generators / CO2 scrubbers / Decontaminants to keep the atmosphere breathable… You can even allow the Russians to send space tourists on holiday to your station in exchange for their delicious, delicious cash, although I probably would have rejected this option had I known that “holidays” for the Russians apparently means getting electrocuted by fiddling with priceless astrophysics equipment, ruining said equipment and endangering the very lives of everyone else in the process. Cultural barriers, man.

It is a mistake to underestimate the importance of buying new stuff. The pace of the gameplay is a constant switching of modes: you buy a bunch of machines and have them sent, then move to the station and have the astronauts repair old equipment, go back to buy a new research facility, move to the station and have the astronauts conduct experiments with their new equipment…

All this management is entertaining because Space Station Sim contains just the right amount of challenge. We, the humans, are a painful and horrifying death waiting to happen when strolling around in space, but in exchange you are given full control of the enormous budgets of not one, but five major space agencies. Thus, at any given moment there will be at least one bar in your stats page quickly moving towards the red zone, but chances are very high that you can just switch to the control room and send new machinery to remedy the problem.

It is not the most complex simulator ever, or the most rigorous, or the longest, but that is a good thing. It is a short and to-the-point opportunity to give some thought to one field of science that we don’t often think about. Kids who seriously want to be astronauts, or just have an interest in space exploration, will love finding out about all the work that allows a space station to function.


MartinG's avatar
Freelance review by Martin G (June 29, 2008)

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