Guest Author - James Shea
A sim game set on an alien space station, StarTopia also has a great Douglas-Adams style sense of humor.
The player takes the role of an administrator, responsible for gaining revenue (in the form of energy) by convincing guests to spend money at the station. To do this, the player must keep the station running and build plenty of attractions for the guests. The station is divided into three decks - the technical deck where the more business-like events take place (housing buildings like Sick Bays, Research Laboratories, Docking Bays, and Security Control), the recreation deck where you will put most of the buildings that you want your guests to spend money at (such as various stores, hotels, and bars), and the biodeck, where you can conform the terrain to match your guests' particular preferences. There are a multitude of alien species (no humans, which is fairly unique). These range from the standard Gray aliens to the piggish Groulien Salt Hogs to the monk-like Zedem. Each alien race has a unique specialty - the Grays are best at medical pursuits, the two-headed Turakeen are great researchers, the Salt Hogs will do the dirty work that other races disdain, and so on. You can hire a guest (the more skilled he or she is, the more expensive he or she will be) and they will staff whichever building they prefer racially.
Most of your structures and equipment comes in pre-packaged boxes. Right clicking unpacks these boxes and gives you a blueprint. Some blueprints are solid structures that can't be changed, while others are modular rooms that can be made larger or smaller and must be filled with equipment to work. When laid down, the building will be constructed by your Scuzzers - maintenance droids that, depending on their model, will either walk, roll, or hover. You don't have control of the entire space station at first; it's divided into sections on each deck that you must pay energy to access (by opening the giant bulkheads that separate the compartments). Rival factions (which may be rivals either in a peaceful, financial sense or in a more violent and hostile sense) may exist on the station as well, and these rivals will have their own bulkheads in separate parts of the station.
There is a story mode, a sandbox mode (with many changeable variables), and a multiplayer mode (though whether or not it works with GameTap is questionable). There aren't a lot of recurring characters except for Arona, the greedy, swindling merchant who you have to rely on at certain points in the game.
The graphics have held up pretty well despite their age; the aliens and the design of the structures are still pretty neat looking and well done. As a sort of neat touch, the station is curved slightly (the entire thing is a donut shape) which can be kind of seen as you move through the various segments. The sound is really well done as well; there's a separate "voice" for every alien race, and the music changes depending on which level of the station you are on - quiet and serene on the engineering deck, wild and exciting on the pleasure deck, and on the Biodeck there's only ambient noises.
Out of all the "tycoon" games that I've played, this one is still my favorite and still the most unique. I would definitely say it is still a fun and viable game.
NOTE: StarTopia is available on GameTap!