Friday, March 13, 2015

Sid Meier's Starships - First Impressions

Spent some time with Sid Meier's Starships (once I got it working on my gaming desktop - it still crashes every few minutes on my laptop). I'm not refunding the game because I expect (as was the case with original Civ V and Beyond Earth) that it will get better, but not even the relatively-cheap price of $16 dollars makes this game worthwhile at this point. The fleet action grows quickly repetitive, because there simply aren't enough different options in combat or different components (there is Stealth, Sensors, Launch Fighters, Launch Torpedoes). Moreover, you could conceivably cram all of the different components into a big enough ship so there is little reason to build specialized ships. Heck, you can't even toggle between different weapon systems like lasers or plasma. There is a decent variety of different missions and maps but you can pretty much experience all of them in a single play through.
There is no attempt at a story or even a kind of grand narrative of Civ games and the victory conditions are a joke: it's either a tedious slog to conquer every planet on the map, or to just click end turn a few dozen times so you can buy every science advance or build the required number of cities. There is no diplomacy to speak of - there is either a state of peace or war, there are no defensive alliances, trade agreements, sneaky gang-ups, or espionage. There is no science progression either - you just buy the science advances you want, and you can just buy all of them. Furthermore, planetary improvements do not have any kind of maintenance cost so there is never any reason not to build each improvement on each planet.
Basically there is no feeling of depth or strategy to the game because you can build every improvement, research every science, construct every wonder in whatever order you want on a single playthrough (something that would be impossible in Beyond Earth and nearly impossible in Civ V). It makes me wonder why the game even provides an illusion of choice when the choice of what to build does not even matter.
Then there are the minor annoyances about the game: you cannot rename your starships or planet. When you purchase a new starship you have no control over what kind of ship you will get. The civilopedia is a joke - it is devoid of any kind of background about the setting (I was one of those rare players who enjoyed reading all the entries in Beyond Earth civilopedia), so there is no interest in the universe. The starships are never permanently destroyed (they just have to be repaired between missions) so there is never any sense of tension. Go on, the game says, if you don't feel like being tactically clever just repair your ships and try the mission again and again and again until the AI makes a mistake or you have enough resources to upgrade your ships. Much of the art and sounds are recycled from Beyond Earth. The only factions in the game are human factions - would it kill them to put in an interesting alien race to play against? And the biggest gripe is that the game could still be a fun diversion if it had multiplayer (especially local hot-seat multiplayer since it's made for tablets) but there is NO multiplayer whatsoever - online or local.
Despite all of these problems, there are some redeeming factors. The fleet battles are actually fun in small doses and feel like playing a board game. The art and graphics are very pretty, and it's fun to see how a starship grows and changes its looks throughout the game. The premise is neat and there is much potential in it. I hope Firaxis will make significant changes and/or drop the price.