Also available on iOS and OSX
Oh boy, when Starships came out, I was like a damn kid in a candy store in terms of excitement. It was my two FAVORITE things - space combat and Civilization - coming together. Or so I thought. Like with Beyond Earth, I had a very negative first impression of Starships, but when I changed my tune on Beyond Earth after revisiting it a few years after release, I decided to give Starships another shot, too.
Sid Meier has said that he envisioned Starships to be a stand alone expansion on the concept of Beyond Earth. We've left the Earth and colonized other worlds, but we'd have to have interstellar travel to do that, so why stop at controlling a new planet? Why not expand that to other star systems? Well, that would be great if that's what the game ended up being. It's not. You do conquer other star systems and expand your empire's borders, yeah, but don't expect this to be like Civilization. Imagine if Civilization were confined to a 10x10 map, and you could only have one unit.
So let me go through the gameplay in a little bit more detail. You have one fleet that you can move from system to system, either trying to gain "influence" with neutral systems (you need 4 influence blocks to annex a system), travel to your systems, or attack another empire's systems. You start off with two ships in that fleet, and you can add up to six more ships. Each ship has nine "sub-systems" that can be upgraded up to level 8 - engines, shields, hull, long range lasers, short range plasma cannons, super long range torpedoes, sensors, stealth, and fighters. The combat comes into play when your fleet enters a system; that's when the turn based tactical combat you'd expect from Civilization comes into play and your single fleet becomes however many independently controllable starships. Engines obviously dictate how much your ship can move each turn. Shields mitigate damage from enemy attacks. Hull is your ship's HP. Lasers are how your ship attacks if a targeted enemy is more than a couple hexes away; plasma cannons are how your ship attacks if a targeted enemy is within a couple hexes. Your torpedoes are aimed in a straight line and, after the turn you fire it, move more each turn and can be detonated at any time. In theory and in AI use, torpedoes are devastating, but I still can't figure out how to make them work, and the game offers almost no guidance. I'll detonate one right beside and ship and do zero damage. I don't get it. Anyway, sensors help you detect cloaked ships, and stealth is your own cloak. Fighters, obviously, determines the strength of the fighter squadrons that you can deploy from your ships.
At first, the space battles are actually a lot of fun, and when you go into a neutral system to try to get influence, you're given a random mission to complete, and there are three or four varieties of missions in those, so that's pretty fun at first, too. The problem is that it gets really boring really fast because you can't really customize your fleet; you just add a "ship." What you upgrade determines if it's a cruiser, a destroy, or a battleship, and every ship within one of those three categories is going to look identical. The only thing that changes appearance is the affinity - Supremacy, Purity, or Harmony - that you choose before a game starts. The presentation is also kind of balls. The main menu only has "Continue Game," "New Game," and "Load Game." There's a tiny options tab off the right side, but it only gives you volume options; there's no way to change video settings whatsoever, and the game is apparently locked at 30 fps whereas I can lock Civ V at 60 fps and even Beyond Earth with its fucked up V-sync runs at around 230 fps when I turn it off (as opposed to a solid 24 fps with it on; that's a weird situation I don't understand).
Starships is an exemplar of missed potential and wasted opportunity. It could so easily have been an amazing game, but much like communism, Star Trek Online, and having a complete political outside be president of the United States, it was INFINITELY better in theory than in practice and leaves you with your head in your hands repeatedly muttering "Oh my god, what have we done?" Given his design brilliance in other games, I have to question how much design input Sid Meier actually had with Starships. Was this just a fluke? It's clear that he's not lost his touch completely; Civilization VI is incredible. Between this and Civilization Revolution 2+, I guess 2015 was just a terrible, terrible year for Firaxis and strategy games. Don't bother with this one unless you see it on sale for, like, $3.
My Rating - 2 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.