Monday, June 20, 2011

Star Shipping Inc. Review

Star Shipping Inc., developed and published by Corbomite Games.
The Good: Clearly displayed dynamic prices for goods, fast games, only $3
The Not So Good: Random events affect game results too much, low replay value with only three planets and goods per game, upgrades and ships are not permanent despite costing permanent currency that accumulates slowly, completely automated combat
What say you? A repetitive quick trading game that relies entirely too much on luck for success: 4/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

Mobile games are all the rage. You can now enjoy a little fun in your pocket wherever you go, on Android or any of the lesser operating systems of choice. Of course, games are always better on the big computer screen, so many mobile games eventually make their way to the PC. One of those is Star Shipping Inc., a popular request amongst the people, which has now made its way onto the Mac and PC for all of our high resolution needs. This trading game has you zipping across the galaxy in your cargo ship, keeping profits high and the amount of holes in your vessel low (hopefully). Does this low-priced title translate well to the computer?

Star Shipping Inc. is clearly designed for the limited computing power of mobile devices, as all of the game is played from the cockpit of your ship, which looks decent enough. You’ll be starting at a couple of things: the map of the universe or pleasing images of planets and monsters you encounter. There are subtle animations of stars flying by as you travel, but overall Star Shipping Inc. is very low fidelity. The sound design only includes background music that changes according to in-game events. So while the graphics are functional, they lack a distinctive feel.

Star Shipping Inc. is a trading game, where you shuttle goods across the universe in an attempt to maximize your profits. Games are quick: the fuel limit restricts games to about ten minutes or less. While there is an extensive list of “funny” planet and goods names, you will always get only three planets in the same locations and only three goods with generally the same price ranges. This, obviously, reduces replay value significantly. At the end of the game, you earn “space chips” based on the profit margin you have achieved. These can then be spent on new ships or upgrades to existing ships in the next game. In an extremely odd move, upgrades and ships do not carry over from game to game, meaning you permanently lose any space chips spent on upgrades or ships; since space chips accumulate so slowly, this restriction is frankly baffling. It’s like if Call of Duty made you repurchase all of your weapon upgrades each round. The six available ships vary according to speed, firepower, armor, and cargo space, and the upgrades improve the same areas. Still, the temporary nature of the upgrades and ships means their appeal is very limited.

Your primary mission in Star Shipping Inc. is to trade, and the game makes this process very straightforward: prices for all three goods at all three planets are clearly displayed on the galaxy map, so you never have to write down prices manually. While the prices are dynamic, they never change while in transit (thankfully), so a good deal when you leave will still be a good deal when you arrive. But despite the upfront nature of trade in Star Shipping Inc., only having three planets and three goods makes planning trivial.

Space is full of danger (like poison gas from Uranus), and Star Shipping Inc. will usually trigger a random event during transit. Encounters while travelling involve meeting monsters or pirates who want your cargo and/or money. You are given several options: fight (a fully automated process), flee (a good option if you have high ship speed), or bribe (with a lower amount of goods than if you lost the battle). The game displays a difficulty rating before you make your choice, although results are still somewhat randomized: the game said these pirates would be a “piece of cake,” so I fought and lost $2,000 worth of goods. Screw you, dice rolls. Drones can be purchased to offer some protection during travel, but since encounters are never guaranteed, this might be a waste of precious cash. Still, it’s random how difficult the enemies are, so it’s simply luck whether you encounter “easy” or “hard” opponents. Random events when at your base or a planet offer no choice, simply a (usually negative) change in goods or cash. These events impact your success too much: you can plan the most efficient routes, but if bandits steal half of your cargo while sitting in port (and there is, of course, nothing you can do about it) or you encounter completely overpowered enemies in transit, then you just wasted your time.

Star Shipping Inc. will get the inevitable comparisons to Weird Worlds, another fast-paced space adventure game. This game, however, fails to deliver (so to speak) in many aspects of the game. First, the good news: Star Shipping Inc. makes trade easy by making the current prices plainly visible. The dynamic pricing also makes sure you can’t repeat the same trade route over and over. However, with only three goods and only three planets, Star Shipping Inc. is low on strategy. You can upgrade six ships with improved speed, cargo space, armor, or firepower, but these upgrades don’t carry over to a new game despite using currency to purchase the upgrades that does carry over, always putting you at a disadvantage if you choose to improve your ship. Encounters during travel with aliens and pirates offer choice in how to deal with them (fight, flee, or bribe), but you are at the complete mercy of the random events, which have a huge impact on your results (stealing money and/or goods with no repercussions) and can’t be prevented. You can spend the whole game maximizing your profit, but if the game decides that a powerful enemy is along the path to the base on your last turn, then you lose a significant portion of your cash and goods, negating an entire game’s worth of careful planning. Losing $4,000 just because the game said so is really, really frustrating. Star Shipping Inc. is fully dependent on luck, and the low variety of goods and planets means most people will tire of the space-based trade quickly.