Space Colony, the latest game from Firefly Studios, is a mixture of many games. It has a little of The Sims in it, as the colonists you control all have personalities and needs, and can fall in love with each other. It has a little of Tropico in it, because you’ll spend a lot of time managing your space colony to gather resources, make money, and even entertain tourists. And it has a little of Firefly’s previous game Stronghold in it, as you’ll have to defend your colony from alien attacks. But while some games take bits and pieces of other games and jumble them together into a horrible mess, Firefly took those pieces and created something offbeat and fun.
At its heart, Space Colony is a city management game, which just happens to take place in outer space. So you do the regular things in the game -- manage resources, make money, and try to keep people happy -- but with a different locale. So instead of dealing with wood and gold, you have to collect things like iridium and silicon. And instead of working farms or slaughtering cattle, you have to create a green gloopy mess charitably called “nutrients.” And instead of building apartments or tenement buildings for your colonists, you build “bio-domes.”
That is, you shouldn’t have any problem figuring out how Space Colony works, because at a high level it’s all been done before. Where Space Colony becomes unique is that you don’t just direct anonymous workers to their tasks. The game comes with about 20 colonists, who all have different needs and personalities, and who you have to use to do all the work in the colony. So many of the scenarios that comes with the game turn into puzzles where you need to figure out how to get the most out of the 5-10 colonists you have to work with.
And to make things trickier, you have to keep those colonists happy, because the happier they are the longer they’ll work, and if they become too unhappy they’ll go space crazy and start tearing up the colony. So you need to make sure colonists have a place to sleep, and food to eat, and activities to entertain themselves with, and people to talk to -- but not just any people. Colonists can only fulfill their “human contact” need with friends, and so you have to manage relationships along with everything else.
Consider Venus Jones, the heroine of Space Colony’s campaign. She has some ability with most of the skills, making her a versatile colonist, and she’s generally easy to get along with. She’s also friends with Stig, another colonist, but she doesn’t much like Tami (nobody much likes Tami). But while Venus enjoys athletic entertainment (like the rowing machine and the disco), Stig is more comfortable hanging out in the sauna, and Tami only enjoys bars. So, given a limited amount of money and space, you have to figure out how to keep all of your colonists happy, and you also have to decide how to work the relationships. Do you pull Venus away from her work to get Tami to like her better? Or do you relegate Tami to a counseling robot? Or do you just ignore your colonists and hope they work things out on their own? (That could happen, depending on the difficulty level.)
As you might guess, a lot of the charm of the game comes from watching the colonists go about their daily routines. Because Space Colony is a 2D game, each colonist gets unique animations, and so, for example, they all look different when they use the disco floor (Slim break dances, and Billy Bob does a hoedown). They each get their own dancing music as well. Plus, the colonists actually talk to each other -- no sim-talk here -- and their voice acting is first rate.
You can also set up your space colony to handle tourists. But tourists need a special port to arrive in, plus special hotels to live in, not to mention lots of bars and restaurants and golf courses to play with, and so they require lots of space. They also create litter, which your colonists have to pick up, and they can use the entertainment facilities meant for your colonists, and so you have to decide if accommodating them is worth the effort.
Meanwhile, there are aliens to deal with, but like in Stronghold, mostly you only have to defend again them. To that end, the game comes with a variety of automated defensive systems, like lasers and hover mines, and so you don’t have to turn all of your colonists into space marines. And even when you have to go on the offensive, you can create robotic soldiers to do the work for you. However, the combat part of the game is definitely the weakest part, as Firefly apparently hasn’t played too many real-time strategy games to get a feel for how that type of game should work. Combat scenarios also have annoying problems, like you’ll hear that a building has been destroyed but then not have any idea where it was, and so it can be difficult to defend against attacks.
But, overall, Space Colony is a lot of fun. Even with all the types of games it squeezes into one box, it’s still relatively intuitive and simple to play. For example, the game comes with a manual, but I didn’t receive one, and I was still able to pick up the game mechanics quickly. So if you’re looking for an entertaining management / combat game, Space Colony is hard to beat.