Space Station Sim
Publisher: Enlight Interactive
Developer: Vision Videogames
Release Date: November 28, 2006
I can't get enough of space. I've been fascinated by the idea of going to space for my entire life, and while the idea of actually getting there freaks me out a little bit, I think that traveling and living in space would be absolutely incredible. So I read everything that comes onto the news about the International Space Station or anything that is related to life in outer space or the discovery of new planets. Space Station Sim is a game that was designed with the help of NASA for players to simulate the day-to-day operations of a space station. Does Space Station Sim offer up the promised excitement of managing a space station, or does it burn up in the atmosphere?
In Space Station Sim, you'll play the role of the Chief Administrator of NASA. In this role, you'll be tasked with assigning astronauts to the space station and managing module construction and experiments on board the space station. You'll also be in charge of handling any sort of disasters that might occur aboard the station, like a pyromaniac space tourist or a meteor shower. The concept sounds like an exciting one, and running a space station certainly holds a lot of promise as a game. However, the reality of the situation is a lot bleaker than the promise.
The tutorial of the game is pretty basic and doesn't really do much to explain all the different aspects. The manual isn't really much help either, so you'll be using a lot of trial and error to determine how to best run and operate your station. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the annoying save system. There are too few in-game notes that tell you what the different modules do and what to expect when you build them, and the interface is simplistic but doesn't display enough information to be really useful. The presentation of the game leaves much to be desired. Trial and error is the name of the game with Space Station Sim, but because of the way the game was designed, it's more of a chore than a learning experience.
At the start of the game, you'll create your astronaut, using an interface that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a simulation title like The Sims. You'll have the option to tweak certain variables like sociability and scientific ability. The space station starts out quite small, with only your sleeping space and storage, and you'll have to work together with the various space organizations from Russia and Europe to get more astronauts and build additions to your station. These additions are comprised of all the things you'd expect to find aboard a real space station, like living quarters and scientific stations.
As you begin to build up your station, you'll find that you'll wish that you had some more information to work with. Through trial and error, you'll find that you have to use support structures to connect together the other modules, as most modules cannot support more than one connection. You'll also find that your astronauts need to be babysat, told when to sleep and eat, and when to perform experiments. Without direction, they'll spend their time doing the regular work required to keep the space station from falling into the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, a lot of your time is spent trying to keep them happy. If you don't pay close attention, they may up and quit, ending your game. Apparently they walk out of an airlock and leave it open, destroying your station.
Occasionally, the station will get a tourist, sent up by the money-hungry Russian space agency, and that's when things can get really annoying. You'll have to keep a close eye on these tourists, as they tend to get into the sort of trouble that will have you seeing the game over screen, like starting fires. You'll have to save often, but since there's only one save slot, you'll have almost no room to experiment with your station in any way.
Having your astronauts perform experiments will garner you some more money, which you can use to purchase additional modules for your space station. There are numerous modules to choose from that are designed by the different space agencies. Your space station can grow as large as you want, or it can remain small and more easily manageable. There's really no goal to shoot for, aside from completing missions, so your own enjoyment is the only thing that you're really playing for. Performing experiments doesn't benefit the human race, and making a larger space station just means that more things can go wrong.
The graphics in Space Station Sim reflect their budget origin. The models are fairly ugly, the textures aren't very detailed and are low-resolution, and the environments are fairly bland. But for a game that takes place in the cold depths of space, it doesn't look too bad. The space station looks like a space station, and the different modules have different appearances too. Unfortunately, the game looks quite dated by today's standards. There are clipping issues and texture problems, but nothing that detracts from the gameplay.
As for the sound, it's pretty sparse. There are several different musical tracks that play throughout the game, which help to set the space mood and aren't annoying. Sound effects are also pretty minimal. The only true standouts in the sound department are the communications from mission control, which are helpful and realistic. You can't hear anything in the vacuum of space, so the lack of effects and sounds really will put you in the space-faring mood.
The lasting appeal of Space Station Sim is fairly good. You can always attempt to build different space stations in different ways, and have different types of astronauts interact with each other. Although really, once you've played the missions and have built a large space station, you've seen most of what this game has to offer. There are no multiplayer modes or anything that you can do to compete against other people.
The president of developer Vision Videogames claimed, "One real day at NASA is more exciting than an imaginary day anywhere else," which certainly seems like a lot to live up to. Is an imaginary day at NASA, experienced through Space Station Sim, more exciting than a real day anywhere else? The answer is, unfortunately, no. Although Space Station Sim offers up a unique experience and is the only game that gives you the opportunity to actually manage a space station and the astronauts who inhabit it, it doesn't offer the sort of excitement and intensity you'd expect. As a simulation of the sort of scientific life of tedium that astronauts occasionally experience, it's more successful.