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Review: Starship Corporation (Steam)

Introduction
Did you ever think managing a virtual factory just wasn’t enough? I sure have, in spite of the countless economic and industrial simulations that I have played and reviewed for the past couple of years. As a Sci-Fi fan as well, I wanted something more in-depth and Starpoint Gemini Warlords was the right solution at the time. Gaming industry veterans Iceberg Interactive didn’t stop there and they fully supported the Steam debut of Coronado Games and their unique Starship Corporation. Released on Steam exactly two years ago and spending all that time in Early Access, the title is finally ready to emerge towards a full retail version. What’s so special about this one, you may ask? Moddb reports that Starship Corporation has been playable in some form and capacity since 2013 in fact. The title has expanded a lot since then and it doesn’t stop at the designing and production phases of the ships. It manages to prove that without proper testing under any and all potential circumstances, the product would never be approved by either the client or the regulatory agency, safeguarding the procedures. Confused yet? The plot thickens even more.

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Story
You see, it would have been fine and dandy to just slap a sandbox mode after the nearly mandatory tutorials offered by Starship Corporation. The dev team insisted upon a storyline, which I found intriguing enough. The spatial civil war trope aside, political machinations and a novel-worthy sibling rivalry will keep you entertained, if not distracted from maintaining your shipyards above the proverbial sinking line. You will obviously feel the pressure by ending fiscal years in the red (in debt). Keep them in the black, or as the game insists, in the green. Get used to watching a lot of graphs and spreadsheets, since that is actually the easy part of running a galaxy-wide corporation which builds vessels of any shape, size and purpose. I really enjoyed how the Campaign Mode, offers the option of renaming the CEO character (that’s you, by the way), his or her firm’s name and pretty much any subsequent decision involving the research and development of new ships along with the expansion into new solar systems.

Without further ado and no spoilers at all, I can safely assure you that at least from the financial perspective, the campaign’s difficulty is well balanced. Your company invariably starts on Mars, which following a devastating civil strife that crippled Earth’s own economy, now controls the star system. It sure is a departure from far too many games and movies which always portray Mars as being the “poor relative”. The backwater world (ironically devoid of any actual water) where only rebellions and penal colonies can proliferate. In Starship Corporation, the Red Planet is finally having its share of the spotlight, as humanity’s finest industrial hub and the focal point of your corporate endeavors. Your company was founded by a visionary who managed to steer it towards survival through even the harshest economical climates. He was your father and now the burden of carrying on the family legacy, has fallen upon your shoulders. Your dim-witted brother would see things otherwise, but I’ll let you discover the ways to dispose of his influence, on your own.

Initially equipped with only a shipyard, two obsolete ship models and zero political/trading connections, it may seem like an uphill battle ahead. Fully voiced tutorials shall guide you step by step, so the situation is far from helpless. You even have advisers during the campaign, yet you should always rely on your own sharp wit and management skills since they’ll have their final say. Just like they should. You won’t be wandering aimlessly either, since the action is divided by turns which represent the quarters of a fiscal year. The starting year is 3020 and the galaxy can become your oyster, if you prove to all your potential clients and trading associates that you can deliver a quality product in a timely manner. Ship design and assembly funded by 3rd party commissions shall form the bread and butter of your corporation, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t build a few vessels for company use. They will serve you well in reconnaissance, as salvage missions along with clearing minefields and debris/asteroids can yield a substantial bonus towards your quarterly earnings.

Graphics
Finally, a GameMaker: Studio project that didn’t stop me from taking screenshots through the Steam Overlay. This graphics engine is still sporting a few issues of its own, such as the lack of font scalability on resolutions above 1080p. If you’re playing on a native 4K monitor, then you’re either forced to “embrace” the pixels which come along with the downscale to full HD or go for a compromise at 1400p and almost read the texts without requiring a magnifying glass. I went for the latter option, naturally. On 1080p, the downscaling reminded me a bit too much of Factorio. Still, Starship Corporation looks quite decent regardless of resolution.
The testing phases of the ships you shall assemble have taken an obvious inspiration from FTL: Faster Than Light, as the vessel structure and crew management are also rendered in 2D, but at least we have different visual styles. Starship Corporation went for an isometric look instead of a vertical cutaway perspective. As far as its performance is concerned, I never had any issues with crashes, glitches or frame rate drops and I’m certain that this game can be enjoyed even on a budget laptop. A word of advice, the title boots up rather slowly even on an SSD. Be prepared to wait a minute or two if you’re playing from an HDD. Fortunately, the save games and scenario loading periods are not plagued by this issue.

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Audio
Indeed, the tutorials were just to my liking especially since they were voiced. It spells “user friendly”, not having to simply read one dreary text after another, when trying to learn the ropes before diving right into that merciless galactic environment. Expect to spend at least a couple of hours on the training levels and follow those audio instructions closely. During the campaign, you’ll notice that many NPCs aren’t voiced and you’ll just have to read the messages they regularly send. Soundtrack could use a bit of variety since it’s obviously limited and will quickly become repetitive, not to mention having to listen to the same selection of songs for several hours on end. Or far more than that, depending on your spare time.

Gameplay
The game did remind me to some degree of Production Line. You supervise the construction of a new transport design and you still have to manage the testing and future sale of the finished product. The clients are pretentious and the safety standards are considerably draconian. Essentially, a 4TPY (four turns per year) gameplay, the random factor shall play its role and ultimately ensures that replayability is a large part of Starship Corporation’s appeal to strategy fans which aren’t afraid of dipping their toes into economy every now and then. Mod support is what changed many of this title’s competitors. The aforementioned Factorio likes to complicate matters a lot, yet still managed to gain a sizeable fanbase which streamlined the gameplay through so many modifications, that its developer decided to encourage and host them on a separate yet still official website, instead of 3rd party sites or just Steam Workshop. An example to follow, Coronado.

I especially enjoyed the interaction with different star systems once you finally established trading routes and leave the “safety” of the Mars Union and its controlled Solar Alliance. There are nice references to other Sci-Fi works of fiction such as the Homeworld series or even the Alien franchise (through the presence of a shipping rival named “Weyland” and a distinctive corporate logo which is familiar indeed). What I would like to see more though, is competitor aggression. It’s a huge galaxy with many star systems after all. There should be a fierce battle in regards to offering the safest, strongest or fastest ship designs on the market. Just like in Production Line, the research tree can be bought to some degree, if the rivals have already accomplished the innovation in question. At the very least, it shall ensure that you won’t fall behind on offering the latest technology to your customers.

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Letting the competition deal with the research while you focus on building numerous ships with a quick turnaround, is a viable alternative to stretching your budget beyond its limits. As with nearly all the economic sims I played so far, I also recommend that you avoid taking a line of credit in Starship Corporation. Rather than being indebted and hoping that the next delivery shall still yield a meager profit after you paid the quarterly installment, just start small and never expand into the uncertain. Only after you’ve completed a fleet and have multiple clients which always request new contracts, can you hope of starting a vast network of shipyards catering to several star systems and factions. I could write a few more pages just on the complexity of the testing phases and crew management. There is a lot to discover and the tutorials are merely a taste of the sheer freedom of choice offered by the campaign, not to mention the sandbox mode. They should all keep you busy for quite some time.

Verdict
You know the game isn’t for everyone when the main complaints stemming from its negative Steam reviews, refer to “walls of text” and “rough tutorials”. If you find the tutorial to be difficult, I’ve got some bad news for you buddy. In all seriousness, It can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience once you get the hang of it. And that is just a matter of time and patience. You wouldn’t even be reading this or considering purchasing Starship Corporation, if your idea of an ideal video game is limited to lining up headshots or aimlessly clicking on magic beans and colorful beads. Don’t let me down. Coronado Games hasn’t and I’m looking forward to new features through which they can further improve the current formula for their ultimate Sci-Fi shipyard simulator.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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