Sid Meier’s Starships on PC, Mac, and iPad
Sid Meier is a name synonymous with the fine art of destroying a person’s free time, one social event after another. His influence is known throughout the stars as one which’ll have you glued to whatever screen is nearby. His recent attempt to devastate social circles was a salvo of Civilization: Beyond Earth. His love-letter back to the days of Alpha Centuri was well-received but lacked a little something special. We wanted to battle across the stars and gain supremacy not just colonize a rock. Luckily Sid Meier’s Starships has come along to fill that role.
Before we get into anything deeper here remember that Starships is not a Civilization game. The title is a spin-off from the Beyond Earth game which itself carries the tag of Civilization. That should mean it is a Civilization title we know but it’s not, because the name of the game says so.
That isn’t to say there’s no semblance of what made Firaxis a household name among gamers in Sid Meier’s Starships though. Heck that’s about as far from the truth as you could probably get to be honest. Many features have been snipped out to turn Sid Meier’s Starships into a more streamlined affair but the distinctive aroma of fantastic 4X gameplay still hangs in the air.
Sid Meier’s Starships takes the narrative of Beyond Earth off into the stars using — erm well, starships. Before dipping into a game, you’ll be asked to pick a Leader and an Affinity. There are eight different leaders on offer with each bringing their own minor benefits to gameplay. These vary from the long-term benefits of increased resource gains to quick-start perks like an extra ship or technological upgrades from the very beginning. For those concerned about this making one leader more powerful than the others we should quell your fears. These all pan out to be equally matched, focused more on augmenting the players personal play-style than any sort of quick victory scheme.
Another way in which you can customize your own forces to work in a way best suited to you is through the selection of Affinities. These come in the flavors of Purity, Supremacy, and Harmony, each one with its own benefit to further allow you to mold your fleet into the shape you feel best. No square pegs in round holes here. The array of options on offer is plentiful enough for everyone to carefully create exactly what they desire mechanically from an interstellar civilization (there’s that word again).
These two work in unison to build a galactic playpen of sorts where you’re invited to try different combinations to change up the gameplay. Thankfully, Sid Meier’s Starships makes this even easier by cramming each full game into no more than a couple of hours for the most part. That’s thanks mainly to its variety of challenging yet welcoming victory conditions. They’re nothing different when compared to the 4X conditions we’re used to seeing every day, not that it makes them any less worthwhile or satisfactory to complete.
Drifting around this playpen is turn-based but not in the totally traditional sense. You don’t move from Bootis 54 to Celarin 69 (hey, stop giggling at that number) only to be forced into watching opponents zip around the map. Every flight from world to world reduces the morale of your crew. When this starts to fade they’ll become less effective encouraging Shore Leave. This is literally where your fleet stops and the others get going.
They couldn’t make it another End Turn button since there’s already one in the battle portion of Sid Meier’s Starships.
Collecting the resources or necessary population to get the victory screen, which comes with a short ending cinematic that always seems to feel like the ending to Return of the King in that it gets longer every time you watch it, revolves around your ability to gain Influence on planets. Your first jump to a world is almost always greeted with some sort of mission or calamity that you must overcome for a modest reward and Influence. It’s in these short battles where the majority of Sid Meier’s Starships plays out and where you’ll enjoy yourself the most.
Before going into these, you’ll have to get your fleet together. Each of your vessels is totally customizable in terms of the weapons it can bring to bear and how powerful every one of its subsystems is. Using “Energy” you can buy new ships or upgrade your existing ones with more powerful weapons, higher armor statistics, or even the oh so satisfying ability to stealth. Seriously trust us on this one, that first time you manage to maneuver a ship around your foes and critically damage their shields is a damn sight more exhilarating that running around the back of your father as a child and hitting him in the nuts with a cricket bat accidentally on purpose.
As great as the technical customization is though, there’s a lack of visual modification that comes directly from your input. For one, each Affinity is blessed with a singular basic style of craft. This does change while the game progresses and you add huge laser batteries or cover ships in armor, it just doesn’t always feel like your fleet because the overall styles remain the same. Harmony ships are sleek and flowing like Andromeda, so why can’t a player use vessels like that when they vote to play Supremacy. It makes sense in a multiplayer game but in this single player title, a few more personal options would have been welcome.
The reason why this deserves a mention is that when you’re actually giving your fleet’s individual members more powerful cannons, the ships themselves grow in size. It’s actually an awesome thing to watch when that spindly little Corvette you started out with becomes a bonafide bad-ass ship even the Battlestar Galactica would have trouble facing down. Laser turrets sprout from expanded bulkheads head of multiple engines used to propel these machines of death across the stars and into your opponent’s face .