Startopia

Published by Take 2 Interactive
Designed by Croteam
PC CD-ROM
Out Now
Price : £19.99

In recent times the shoot ’em up genre or FPS as it’s known, has tried to be clever. Stealth elements have been added, elaborate plots have been created and gimmicks have often been used. However at the end of the day most fans of the FPS want to get back to basics and just have a damn good blast. For many the wait for Duke Nukem Forever is unbearable as this is what most FPS fans have on their wish list. However a newcomer, Serious Sam, came on the scene last year and impressed many people with its no fuss, hard-core, ammo flinging action. In fact the only fault most people could find with the original Serious Sam was that it was too short. Serious Sam The Second Encounter is now here and with a whole lot more action to boot.

The most impressive feature of Serious Sam, and the sequel, is the game engine. It looks absolutely beautiful. Lush jungle terrain and magnificent architecture are all features of this beautiful game engine. However it is the ability to display stupidly large amounts of enemies on screen at any one time without slowdown on all but the lowest specification PCs that truly amazes. At times it seems like 30+ enemies are visibly out for your guts. This is incredible. If you had that many enemies heading towards you in a game like Quake III or Unreal Tournament you would see nothing other than a slide show, even on a phenomenal PC.

Perhaps no other FPS has captured the spirit of Doom as well as Serious Sam. What this game demands is a cool mind, an accurate shot and superb manoeuvrability. The incessant wave after wave of enemies will test your FPS skills to the full unlike most modern FPS games that have attempted to bring in stealth and tactics. In fact you could say that Serious Sam is the shooters’ shoot ’em up. Occasionally you get the odd break in the enemy waves and this gives you the opportunity to rearrange yourself in your seat, take a slurp from your drink and wipe the sweat from your moistened keyboard and mouse.

Various puzzle set pieces have been brought in, this time around, to give a little respite from the enemy waves. Rooms with crushing blocks, a room called Newton’s nightmare that continually revolves as well as rooms with walls that hold huge spikes and that seem to have a magnetic attraction for our Sam, are all included in addition to many more variants. To be fair the puzzles are not difficult but provide a welcome change of pace. Not all of these puzzle rooms are devoid of enemies though, the Newton’s nightmare room for instance soon becomes filled with enemies.

Speaking of enemies they are practically the same ones from the original game. One of the newcomers is Cucurbito the pumpkin, a man with a pumpkin head and who wields a chainsaw, he is not too much bother unless he’s allowed to come too close. Of course the original enemies are still as mad and determined to get you as ever. There are about 23 different enemies in total but some of these are just slight variants. The Beheaded Rocketeer only differs from the Beheaded Firecracker in their choice of weapon.

When you come across an enemy for the first time Sam’s NETRICSA (NEuroTRonically Implanted Combat Analyser) will notify you that data is ready for you to look at. With a double click of the right mouse button you can access the full data on the enemy. The NETRICSA also provides full info on goals that need to be achieved and how to go about solving the various puzzles that come Sam’s way, although sometimes it hints at what has to be done instead of spelling it out.

Some screenshots of Sam’s NETRICSA in action.

 

Published by Eidos Interactive
Designed by Mucky Foot Productions
Platform: PC CD/ROM
Price £29.99 Released: Out Now

System requirements
Windows 95/98/98SE/ME
Pentium 2 350 or better
64MB of RAM
8MB 3D Accelerated Graphics card

The ‘Theme’ (Theme Park etc.) games have always proved very popular but I have to say that every game since Theme Hospital has left me very disappointed. Theme Park World was very poor and Theme Park Inc. was only marginally better. In my opinion Theme Hospital was the best of the bunch with its addictive gameplay and sense of humour. Now why am I going on about these games when this review is about Startopia? Well I can honestly say that Startopia has all the ingredients of the classic Theme Hospital and with those ingredients Mucky Foot has created a superb game that shames anything that Bullfrog have turned out over the last few years.

The objective of the game is to run an efficient space station. This is done by placing buildings that are essential and/or are money spinners. The real twist with the gameplay though is that specific aliens are needed for certain buildings. An example of this is the Grey who are medical experts. Only a Grey can work in a sick bay and operate the equipment in there. For you to attract a Grey, your facilities have to appeal to them. Your station has three decks, one of which is the engineering deck which contains the mundane buildings like the sick bay and energy collector. You also have the entertainment deck which contains the love nest and the disco and hotels etc. all the things that keep the aliens entertained. This also includes the large outstanding casino structures whose varied view rushes the adrenaline out of you. The aliens are made to play with the Crypto Code trading robot even making them addicted to the money-making system. But when the aliens truly realise the play, they create a mess out of there. Finally you have the bio-deck which attempts to offer a natural, open air experience to the aliens. A wide range of controls are available to tailor the bio-deck into a particular style. You can make it into a mountain range or a swamp, it is completely upto you.

The first thing that will strike you about Startopia is the quality of the text feedback. Everything in the game is subtitled. The tutorial has been wonderfully done as it is completely text based and it allows you to move at your own pace as the instructions have to be clicked on with the right mouse button to progress to the next topic. This means that you never feel like you’re being rushed and have time to take everything in. Another example of this is that the tutorial spots if you got a little ahead of yourself and advises you to restart that particular tutorial; if you are lost, it’s a nice touch. All the messages you get in the game come in the form of dialogue boxes that have to be clicked on for them to disappear so there’s no problems here either. There is nothing given verbally that isn’t given textually. The intro video doesn’t contain any speech so subtitling is irrelevant here. If you right click on any of the aliens that are roaming your space station you get (amongst other things) a series of icons and clicking on these icons (that denote such things as whether they require sanitation, medical assistance, if they are bored etc.) lets you find their opinion/answer. The aliens either shake their heads or gesture with their hands so again the deaf gamer is kept well informed. The F1 key can be pressed when the mouse pointer is over an object/building/alien and this gives you a dialogue box which gives a full description of the object/building/alien and this is a very useful feature given that the manual is sparse on facts.

Graphically, Startopia is the business. You can zoom right up close to the aliens and they still look fantastic. It is very easy to forget what you are supposed to be doing and get carried away just watch the aliens working around or dance in the disco. The graphics play a huge part in giving the game its atmosphere and Mucky Foot deserve praise for creating a game of such beauty. All the different rooms look great and the buildings that you can place on the pleasure deck are brilliant. Lighting effects have been used well and look stunning, particularly in the aforementioned disco.

The gameplay is fantastic and the pure addictiveness of it masks the great depth and challenge of the game. Keeping a balance in your space station is quite a challenge but the whole atmosphere keeps you glued to your monitor. The single player game is based around a series of missions the first couple of which are an extension of the tutorial. When you are done with the missions there is a sandbox (free form) mode that enables you to play either against AI opponents or by yourself. You can make a sandbox mode as easy or as difficult as you wish through a variety of options such as the amount of energy you begin with or the difficulty of pleasing you resident aliens. Multiplayer sees you and your opponents starting at different ends of the space station with the goal of becoming the sole owner of the whole station. Battles can be had on the space station and although they are not that inspiring it is good to see that they are there.

The few problems that Startopia does have are to do with its interface and the poor manual. To alter the price of facilities you have to right click on them and alter the price. This is fine at the beginning but later on in the game it is a pain to go round all the facilities. Accessing the tech, hiring staff and altering the price of the facilities should have all been possible by one central menu but it isn’t. The manual is quite poor in that it doesn’t explain the details that you want it to. Icons appear over the aliens head (like they did over the patients in Theme Hospital) but unlike in Theme Hospital were you had the icons explained to you in the documentation, in Startopia there is nothing. The manual really tells you nothing that can’t be learned from the tutorials.

Startopia is a class act and despite the few niggles with the manual and the interface the game is highly recommended by Deaf Gamers. Months of gaming pleasure are to be had with this title and I sincerely hope that it sells by the lorry load and Eidos commission Startopia 2. The ‘Theme’ games have had their day and Startopia is ready to replace them in style.

Click to goto the screenshot gallery >>>

Overall Game Rating: 9/10 Almost perfect, Startopia is an excellent game.

Quality of text: 9/10 In game the text is perfect but the manual is a little lacking.

Graphics: 10/10 Brilliant. The atmosphere of the game is helped no end by the quality of the visuals.

Interface: 7/10 It needs a centralised menu from which to make all the decisions.

Gameplay: 10/10 Very addictive. It has that classic quality about it.