Review – Sid Meier’s Starships

It’s the worst of both worlds

At the end of my first game of Sid Meier’s Starships, the game crashed to the desktop during the final cutscene.  I reloaded, hit the “shore leave” button, and it crashed again.  Under normal circumstances, I would have been angry, but I couldn’t fault Starships on this one.  After having gone through the largest map in about two hours and never experienced anything resembling excitement or interest, I had to agree with the game.  It was time to go.

Sid Meier’s Starships is a striped down 4x game about conquering the galaxy as one of the factions of Beyond Earth.  The advertising plays up the link between the two games, but I can’t honestly say I felt the impact of the link nor any real interest in continuing my game from Beyond Earth.  Once the player selects a faction (each has a bonus), an alignment (another bonus), a universe size (bonus-less), and a difficulty (presumed bonuses), they’re offer to explore the galaxy with the fleet, of which you get one throughout the game, and their home planet.  During the opening phase, the player sends the fleet out to explore new worlds and complete tasks to gain control of those worlds.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much good to say about exploration, because there really isn’t much to discover.  Each world provides a one-time bonus, but feels the same as every other world after that.  The player can invest resources into improving planets, but I never felt an attachment to a given world.  My empire, much like Starships, was just a giant collection of blah.

This feeling continues on to the combat.  Battles take place on a 2D plane with asteroids, planets, and wormholes breaking up the empty space.  During the player’s turn, they move their ships, attack other ships, or use special abilities.  Thanks to the aforementioned obstacles and damage increases based on angles, positioning plays a large role in dealing damage effectively.  The inclusion of a torpedo that moves in a straight line each turn and zones out opponents also adds some depth to the combat, but that’s the extent of it.  It’s rare that one battle feels different than any other or that the player need employ complex strategies.  The strategy is get behind the opponent while exposing your ships as little as possible.  Sadly, the AI hasn’t even grasped that.  It shows little understanding of positioning and will rush headlong into torpedoes or drip forces into a fight single file as if lining up for death.  What little thrill that is possible to eke out from this simplified combat system is dashed on the rocks of incompetent enemies.

I could talk about the story, but it doesn’t exist.  I could say something about the art, but it’s purely functional and without flourish.  I could speak to the music, but it’s oddly annoying and repetitive.  In short, mediocrity plagues every aspect of Sid Meier’s Starships.  Nothing stands out, feels unique, bursts with flavor, or otherwise distinguishes itself.  Planets, ships, and factions all suffer under a samey blob that doesn’t permit stand out elements.  No part even shows a hint of even trying to stand out.  Sid Meier’s Starships is just boring.  Don’t buy it.

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