Starport Delta Review: Just as Fun as Financing

Strategy simulation games are a niche genre but an appealing one. It can be endlessly satisfying to start with practically nothing and build it up into a thriving metropolis or a gorgeous, sprawling zoo. These creations are labors of love, and the best games in the genre realize that, and help the player nurture that love, overcoming obstacles and challenges and committing themselves to refining their creations into well-oiled machines that can flourish and thrive while they sit back, reveling in the satisfaction of a job well done. Starport Delta does not realize that. Starport Delta puts you through the ringer in its brief slog of a campaign, struggling to maintain a series of small, mismanaged space stations and never giving the player a chance to take pride in what they’ve made.

On the surface, Starport Delta is a passable simulation title, if you ignore its terrible, terrible sense of humor. It gives the player a decent variety of buildings to construct, a few different resources to balance, and a decent amount of threats to your space station’s safety. In a vacuum, these features are all a simulation like this needs to be, if not great, at least decent. But the devil is in the details. For everything Starport Delta gets right, it gets something else wrong.

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You’re started off with a sizable tutorial that takes up two levels. It’s decently comprehensive, but don’t be fooled; the real tutorial takes up roughly the first half of the actual eight-level campaign. This is a minor sin, and it’s excusable because some of the game’s systems are certainly less intuitive than others. Being reminded how to navigate the economy through your trade hubs and how to navigate your finances isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The bad thing is the economy itself. The cost of running your space station is easy enough to parse. The more inhabitants you have, the more you earn. Each building you add to your station requires an upkeep cost that’s paid out every in-game day. The goal is to make sure the profit you earn from your population exceeds the upkeep of the station. In addition to money you have to manage building materials, which are provided by mining depots; the more mining depots you have, the more you earn. New buildings cost both money and materials. It’s all fine from a distance, but no matter what level of the campaign you’re playing, it never feels like you’re earning fast enough. Before too long, you’re running low on materials or funds. And when that happens you have little recourse but to sit back and watch the numbers slowly, slowly creep back up. Worse, even if you can afford a building, making it could destroy you. If the funds you have left after building a structure are too low and you can’t afford station upkeep, one of your buildings, chosen at random, will be demolished. This can happen even if you’re still turning a profit, and it can cripple you entirely. If the whims of fate select a vital power station to be destroyed, not only will you be left without money, but your means of making more money could be shut down completely. The mental math Starport Delta demands of you every time you try to construct a building is mind-boggling.

The cardinal sin of Starport Delta is that it doesn’t give you enough to do. If you can’t afford the building you need to build to progress toward your goal, you might as well crack open a book. Once you’ve built enough housing and mining depots to keep yourself in the green, there’s little to do but wait. The only readily reliable activity you can do in your downtime are security scans, which are pitifully simplistic random encounters that happen once a day. You’re given a prompt selected from a pool so small you’ll see repeats by the end of level one. Once you’ve read it, just click on buildings associated with it until you find the one unit inside who looks out of place. It’s like Where’s Waldo without the challenge. Click on the odd one out and you’ll have the option of either “Rescue” or “Airlock.” This decision doesn’t change, regardless of what the nature of the “emergency” is. Alien bugs in the food supply? Rescue or airlock. Lost grandpa? Rescue or airlock. Reactor leak in the power station? Rescue or airlock. If you pick rescue you get pocket change. If you pick airlock you get slightly more than pocket change, but if you do it too often your station will be attacked by space worms. And that’s all there is to security scans. They have no depth, no complexity, and they add nothing meaningful to your experience.

When the game isn’t boring it’s difficult to the point of near-impossibility. Later levels throw threats at you like meteor storms and pirate attacks. If your station is fully shielded, meteor storms are practically a nonissue. Pirates are another matter. When a fleet of pirates arrives, they’ll appear at random points around your station and begin shooting it. If you don’t have a laser turret near a pirate ship, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. The ship will destroy two buildings, then leave. When it comes to defending your station, the achingly slow rate of resource acquisition is a death sentence, especially when you consider the risk that a building could be destroyed if you can’t afford upkeep. Sometimes the choice comes down to letting a building be destroyed by pirates because you can’t afford a turret, or letting a building be destroyed by lack of funds because you built the turret anyway. There’s no good option.

Starport Delta takes a serviceable simulation platform and just wrecks it. The bones of a good, solid, enjoyable game are here, but the meat that the campaign puts on those bones is rancid and sour. It’s an exercise in strained patience, trial and error, and ultimate futility. If you want to make something you can be proud of, something beautiful, efficient, and strong, don’t play Starport Delta. There are so many better options out there.

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Starport Delta releases on March 27, 2020 for PC. A digital download code was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.

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