Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 3

This weeks entry into the Hidden Gems hall of fame is a little game by the name of Startopia. Many moons ago, there was a little game company called Bullfrog. Over the years, they produced many classic games, including Magic Carpet, Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and more. Eventually, they were bought out by EA (which happens a lot), and several smaller groups of employees left their parent company to go it alone.

One of these groups was of course Lionhead, fronted by Peter Molyneux. But there was another company who didn't share as much of the limelight by the name of Mucky Foot. Their first game was the rather uninspiring third person adventure/fighter, Urban Chaos. However, after that, and unbeknownst to me at the time, they made a truly fantastic game called Startopia. It shares many similarities with some of the Bullfrog games of old (mainly Theme Park & Theme Hospital).

Basically, you are put in charge of a space station, and it is your job to keep your residents & workers happy, your equipment ticking over, and invaders at bay. You can do this over the course of many missions, or you can just play the Sandbox mode and play however you wish indefinitely. The range of different play styles on offer is staggering, as the missions to a very good job of showing you. Your station could be a leisure resort, a trade station, a maximum security prison, a research station, a hospital, and much more. It can even have elements of some or all of these functions at the same time - but managing everything could get a little difficult.

The whole game is put together with flair and wit, and the guy who does the voiceover of the computer that helps you out during the game reminds me of the voice of the book, from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The graphics are fantastic, and I can quite happily just sit there and watch my residents going about their business - it's fascinating to watch. If you've played and enjoyed games like the afore-mentioned Theme Park & Theme Hospital, or Transport Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon or any of the other games of this genre - then you will be in heaven playing this game.

Now for the really good news. This amazing game is part of the Sold Out range - which means it's only £4.99. What's more, if you buy it directly from their web site (www.sold-out.co.uk), you can buy two games at get one free, and they have loads of worthwhile titles. You can expect more games in the Sold Out range to be featured as Hidden Gems in the future, as I have bought and enjoyed many of them which were sadly under rated when they first appeared. Startopia delivers months of high quality gameplay at the same price as a copy of your average games magazine, and as such, is utterly essential.

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