Written by  :  Ola Sverre Bauge (241)
Written on  :  Nov 04, 2004
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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Highly addictive, if not as original as some claim.

The Good

Dungeon Keeper 2 in space doesn't necessarily sound like a good idea. But Mucky Foot apply their golden touch (or is it golden tread), throw Populous, Sim Farm and Theme Park into the mix and create a very tasty stew. Maybe it's just me; I never liked real-time strategy before DK2, and when I did get hooked on it, it seemed too short, leaving an itch for Startopia to scratch.

Anyway, substitute airlocks for dimensional portals, droids for imps, energy for gold, aliens for monsters and a power plant for your dungeon heart, and you've got the general idea. DK2's naughty feeling is echoed in that you get to build "love nests" manned by the winged Sirens, while the Theme Park flavor is increased by catering to a similar set of visitor needs, such as building food stands and toilets - or Dine-o-mats and Lavatrons, as the sci-fi equivalents are called.

It's not entirely derivative of DK2, but it does stand quite unashamedly on its shoulders. Inventions of its own include the fact that your environment isn't excavated; you're reclaiming toroidal space stations and expand your territory by opening bulkhead doors, at a cost. You also get to do some interior decoration, right down to placing lava lamps in your love nest or sick bay, and eventually terraforming on the upper biosphere deck, which is thankfully free apart from the cost of hiring farmers.

The gestalt of being in space is excellent; I found myself accepting it without blinking, this vision of a seedy metal-canister mall where disease and litter are among the biggest problems and people sleep in automated tin cans.

The music is funky without being tiresome even when played hours on end, which is quite a feat and a real boon for any strategy game. And be warned, this can really suck you in; it's the only game that has had me glued to the screen for twenty hours straight.

The Bad

Some interface niggles hamper this from really flying, such as when you stash a crate with a droid in it somewhere and forget about it only to have it rot, or the extremely fiddly way of rotating buildings. Or the somewhat inconsistent use of the right mouse button, or the fact that the game happily lets you rotate the view uselessly straight up into the ceiling - several times, I've been literally crying out for a "reset view" button or a "rotate building" key.

I do miss the extremely satisfying creature pick-up and slap-clicking from DK2; here, you beam droids and crates into your inventory stack. While this lets you shift large quantities more effectively, it just doesn't feel half as cool. And though the game is quite humorous, there are fewer laugh-out-loud moments like when you first build the torture chamber in DK2.

Fairly stable even on Win98, never taking less than five hours before dumping to the desktop. Still, no hangs, the triple-slot autosave works really well, and the fact that I'm annoyed at a pause every five hours speaks volumes of Startopia's addictive quality.

The Bottom Line

You should try Startopia even if you don't like strategy or god games; if you do like them, you need this one. And if you thought Dungeon Keeper was a bit too sadistic, this should be exactly your cup of tea.