Developed by Realmforge Studios and published by Kalypso Media Digital, Spacebase Startopia is a modern reboot of the beloved Startopia RTS series. This installment marks the first time the series is available on console and was coincidentally released just a few months shy of the series’ tenth anniversary. The story is mostly on the backburner this time around but centers around a garbage-loving race of aliens who received a bouquet of flowers and saw it as an insult, leading to a declaration of war. As the only neutral Starfleet personnel in the area, it’s the player’s job to construct a suitable space vacation destination to appease the warring alien races.
Spacebase Startopia is partially accessible for players with fine-motor impairments. Full disclosure, this title may very well be more accessible on PC given that it’s a strategy game, but for this review our focus is the PS5 release. The console’s need for a controller means many of the more precise actions needed to run a successful space station have to be accommodated to a limited number of buttons. Almost the entire interface of Spacebase Startopia requires holding a shoulder button while simultaneously pressing a face button to navigate. For example, the construction menu requires that L1 and square be pressed simultaneously, and since there is no way to change this, it can be quite exhausting. During campaign missions, Spacebase Startopia has several objectives that task the player with removing bombs from the premises. The on-board AI makes the suggestion that the player should use a group pickup option to grab multiple bombs at once, but the grouping tool doesn’t seem to register that the bombs can be collected, leading to the tedious task of collecting them individually with limited time before catastrophe occurs. The option to keep a selection held when sizing a building is available but is mostly superfluous given you can also choose from a list of pre-built blueprints of varying sizes, and this is a much easier alternative. Even selecting multiple combat units requires multiple buttons, but giving players the option to do this by holding a single button, maybe X, and highlighting units would’ve been more suitable. The camera is manipulated using the left stick for vertical and horizontal movements and the right stick for 3D rotation, and these don’t ever need to be moved in tandem, so even players who play with one hand should have no trouble with the camera. Mission objectives are sometimes not explained properly, making certain scenarios harder than they need to be. One mission tasks the player with building a factory to construct circuit boards; however, the building is stagnant once built, and it doesn’t specify whether you need specific workers or some other parameter to run it, so the objective never completes. Selecting the factory itself doesn’t correct the issue either, as doing so only gives players the option to deconstruct or move the building, despite having slots intended to show which objects are being produced.
Visually impaired gamers will unfortunately find an inaccessible experience in Spacebase Startopia. There are no colorblind options of any kind, and this truly feels like a missed opportunity given how many icons can be above your visitors’ heads at any time. Zooming in provides momentary relief, but visitors pour in so quickly that it isn’t long before icons start blending together and become unreadable. This feature also tends to be problematic when two or more visitors have the same needs. Barriers exist in the menus as well; many of them are small and difficult to read even for those without visual impairments. The menu cursor is a dark purple, which blends into the blue menu background and makes it difficult to see what you have currently selected. When taking into account how much time is spent in menus, it’s hard to understand why an option to enlarge them wasn’t included. Bodies of water are an important part of keeping visitors happy on your station. The trouble with this new mechanic is that water can only be placed in the biodome sector of the station, and the issue with placing it stems from the visual aid used in placing buildings. When a building is selected for placement, a large outline of said building appears and is green to signify an appropriate spot and red if it isn’t. The same principle is applied when placing water, but the indicator either turns red or disappears entirely, making water impossible to place. Harvesting other resources bears issues of its own, as even when employees are actively toiling away in the biodome, and you see robots putting crates in the cargo hold, you are never told how many you have. Considering that resources are how you build defenses, this is a big blunder. If you’re being attacked, it’s difficult to tell which deck it’s on because the radar is 2D and has no deck labels. Subtitles unfortunately are not customizable, but when they appear, they do so in a dialogue box, so I don’t consider this a barrier.
Those with auditory disabilities shouldn’t have trouble with this title. The ability to hear thankfully is not a requirement to properly enjoy it. Many of the game’s mechanics such as the bombs mentioned above and the evolving needs of visitors have visual indicators, and even though these blend in when there’s lots of them, they do the job well enough. The on-board computer is quick to warn the player of any impending disasters (or create them and insult the player as they fail to cope), and the alien races don’t make audible sounds, but each has physical traits and quirks that make them easy to identify when zoomed in.
Spacebase Startopia doesn’t do anything that reinvents the real-time strategy wheel, but it’s a lovingly created return of a beloved franchise that has been dormant for far too long. Even if some of the jokes don’t land quite as well, the game plays mostly identical to its precursor, so even if there are some barriers to overcome, there’s plenty here for old and new fans alike to enjoy.