PC CD-ROM, 2001
Developer: Mucky Foot Ltd.
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Startopia is a strategy game which bears a striking similarity to Theme Hospital and Theme Park, which is unsurprising when you consider that Mucky Foot is one of the developers to have spun off from Bullfrog in the late 1990's. The general gist of the gameplay is described very well by waterhouse in the previous writeup.
The single player game is very nicely put together, with a series of missions gradually introducing you to new races and facets of the game (such as trading, building hospitals, prisons and leisure facilities, dealing with security and litter, and of course keeping your visitors, residents and employees satisfied). The trading is quite cool, really Elite-style stuff, and can completely reverse your fortunes in a tight spot.
There is also a sandbox mode. The multiplayer game is a nice diversion but hardly going to set the world alight when there are more confrontational strategy games that seem more appealing.
The graphics are pretty fantastic for the most part, with loads of detail crammed into each type of building and room. Some of the larger facilities such as the space dock are very nicely animated, and there are lots of whizzy DirectX 8.0 spot effects (you will doubtless spend the first few hours going "woo" as your droids construct new and snazzy buildings). The sound is great too, as pretty much everything makes some kind of noise if you get close to it. The music is a bit ropey though, and can quickly get repetitive.
Although there is a lot to recommend Startopia, as it is highly polished and clearly has been playtested extensively, it does still suffer from some of the same problems as Theme Hospital. The interface is not very intuitive, with one wrong click sometimes cancelling a stack of actions (especially when building rooms or dealing with the pattern buffer). A lot of the information it throws at you will be a mystery at first, and some buildings don't have an immediately obvious purpose.
The core problem is the same one that has plagued the genre since Sim City - once you've built up your space station, there is little incentive to continue or to start again from scratch, although the missions go some way to combat this. As a plus point, the game is orders of magnitude less cheesy than the Theme games (which I always thought were a bit crap).
Overall, I would recommend this game without hesitation to genre fans, but would question whether it will hold most players attention for very long. If you like this kind of Bullfrog-style strategy and are desperate for a fix, snap it up straight away. (And by the way, I would personally rate this game higher than Black & White. It may not try to push the technological envelope, but nearly everything about it is superior to Lionhead's overhyped confection.)
Easter Eggs: The profiles of the inhabitants of the station contain many in-jokes, most notably the names of planets in the Gaem system, which are references to various ex-Bullfrog and Ion Storm game developers. The display screens in the security center building contain the message 'Danger Will Robinson!', a reference to Lost In Space, of course. The intro is an over-long and shitty reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
By holding down F11 and typing cliveroolz you can toggle between normal, ZX Spectrum, and hi-res Spectrum modes.