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Sid Meier's Starships review: Beyond earth and beautifully bite-sized

Hayden Dingman | March 12, 2015
I wish there were more strategy games of Starships's scope and scale. I love Civilization, I love Total War, I love Europa Universalis IV, but every time I sit down to play one of those games I can practically see sand falling through the hourglass. Cue the crazy time-travel montage where the day/night cycle progressively speeds up and suddenly I wake up and it's three weeks later, there's drool on my chin, my beard is burly and lumberjack-esque, and I've finally--finally--completed a single campaign.

Engine failure

I do have a few small knocks against Starships. For one, it could use a major upgrade in the art/UI department. Even more so than Civilization: Beyond Earth, the UI elements in Starships look...ugly. It looks like menu design from ten or fifteen years ago — definitely not the level of production I'd expect out of Firaxis. This is far from the company's peak (which I'd pinpoint as the minimalist design used in Civilization V).

I mean, just take a look at this:

It's bad. The typeface, the colors, the use of empty space, it's just not very attractive. The maps themselves are better, though you're bound to notice some low-res textures on occasion. I'm not sure if that's because it's a budget title, because of the short time-scale this was made in, or because it needs to run on both PCs and tablets. None of those answers are great. The game should look better than it does.

There are also some quirks with the game's win/loss predictions. Each mission, you can ask the game for details and receive a "You have X percent chance of success." These predictions are apparently pulled at random out of a hat. I've had missions tell me I had a 40 percent chance of winning, only to have me win the battle in the first turn. I'm not that good at the game.

Bottom line

Starships probably isn't going to inspire the same sort of love as Civilization. I don't think we're going to look at this title in a year and see people with thousands of hours logged, or see people poring over strategies on forums. It's got depth to pore over, but I just don't know if it has the staying power of Civilization with its near-infinite strategies.

But maybe. There's certainly precedent in the board game space, with titles like Settlers of Catan for instance. And that's really the scale Starships should be measured on, because it's one of the few times I've seen something so identifiably board game-like that nevertheless could only exist as a digital title. And I like that. I'd like to see more of it!

If nothing else, Starships proves we can have a satisfying turn-based game without the baggage of a thirty-hour campaign.

 

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