I’ll be the first to admit; when it comes to Sid Meier’s Civilization games (or any 4X game for that matter), I am far from what you would call “well versed.” While my Steam library is more than chalk-full of various strategy titles, the dedication and time committal which is inherent to the genre has been a deterrent, as I prefer to focus my time playing many different games rather than hunkering down and sinking dozens of hours into a select few.
When I heard about Sid Meier’s Starships, I was intrigued at the onset, as it was being touted as a more pared-back version of the flagship series; a design choice that is attractive to genre newcomers, such as myself.
Still, I was a bit confused when I actually got down to playing it. After a quick installation, I double-checked the system requirements (just to be safe), only to find that the game was just as likely to run on my decrepit eight-year-old laptop as it was my relatively new gaming rig. Curiosities aside, I also ran into an oddity after booting up the game; there were almost no graphics option to tweak, which is a bit odd considering that most Sid Meier games can be quite resource intensive once you crank up the visuals.
And then it hit me. I was playing a tablet game.
A quick Wikipedia search confirmed my suspicions, though I should take the time to clear the air; I don’t have a problem with tablet and mobile games. On the contrary, some of my favorite games from the past few years found life on iPhones and iPads, and there are plenty of stellar indie titles which have made the jump (successfully) from PC to the mobile space (including Sid Meier’s own Ace Patrol, which is another PC/mobile release). However, games that are developed with mobile devices in mind don’t always make the transition to PC with their dignity intact; the Steam front page is a reminder of that fact, with plenty of titles being hastily ported just to make a quick buck.
A few hours in, it became quite clear that while Starships does have some connection to the recently released Beyond Earth, it is by no means a transposed, or even distilled version of the in-depth strategy games that many have come to know and love, not to mention sink hundreds of hours into. While the Civlization games tend to focus on victory through the advancement of your society (through science, building, and military control), Starships tilts towards victory through map control. While you start out with one planet, it’s your overarching goal to venture forward into space, and bring other planets under your control. Planets can be controlled by paying for them or by completing various objectives, all of which raise your influence, allowing you to expand your civilization even further.
Much of your time will be spent completing missions and objectives, which pop up when you visit an unexplored planet. These missions will run the gamut, ranging from simple escort missions to navigating nearby sectors, but for the most part it all boils down to maneuvering around space while being confronted by another squadron of starships.
It’s here that I quickly realized one of Starships‘ biggest flaws: the absence of any sort of multiplayer. While I’m sure many potential gamers will be just fine playing on their own, much of the enjoyment of strategy games comes from taking your skillset and testing it out against another human player. Unfortunately, however, Starships is restricted to single-player sessions only, and while this might be suited to those looking to hone their strategic skills, it quickly becomes dull after so many hours.
Aside from the AI, which is easily exploitable once you come to recognize how it operates, the game never gets in-depth enough to warrant coming back to it. There are upgrades, tech trees, and even remnants of the diplomacy system from the core Civilization series, but it’s all been gutted and skinned to the point where there isn’t much choice or freedom in how you go about playing. It’s terribly underwhelming, and it all came to a boiling point where I took the time to realize that at any given moment, you only have control of a lone fleet of starships, which seems at odds for a game about conquering space.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long to lose my enthusiasm at the prospect of finally gaining a foothold in the 4X genre. As much potential as Sid Meier’s Starships may have had, its squandered on a game that is not only shallow in its strategic offerings, but is too exploitable and simplistic. A warning to any potential players, especially those who are novices in the genre (much like me): you’re much better off taking the time to play a fully-baked strategy game.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
Rather than offering up a bite-sized entry into the somewhat intimidating strategy genre, Sid Meier's Starships serves up a half-baked entry that fails to provide much in the way of strategy.