“Startopia” is one of those rare games that successfully combines multiple genres into one phenomenal package. It”s a little bit sci-fi, a little bit action, and a lot of strategy. Eidos Interactive, creators of “Final Fantasy VII” and “Tomb Raider,” has another hit on their hands with this engrossing game.

Paul Wong
Aliens race through the graphically pleasing “Stankonia.”<br><br>Courtesy of Eidos Interactive

In “Startopia,” the player is put in control of a tri-level portion of a space station. You can either play in a campaign mode, in which each successive mission requires you to complete a more difficult task, or against computer or human players over the internet. The latter mode, called “sandbox,” requires you to beat out your opponents for control of the entire station. The campaigns generally allow you to build skills as you progress, and are narrated by a self-indulgent, haughty Englishman who sounds like actor Michael Caine with a pole up his rear.

Station domination is a complex goal, and it requires the player to micromanage all aspects of the game at once. You have to build basic structures that provide lodging, sanitation, food, and entertainment for your various worker aliens. There are nine different races of aliens, and each works on a different facet of your station. The Kasvagorians, for example, are the first to fight off enemy players when under attack, and the Groulien Salt Hogs work in your factories to produce exchangeable goods. Each race also has distinct personalities that either add or detract from their productivity, depending on how skilled you are at controlling them.

While most of “Startopia”s” structures benefit the player economically, others are designed purely for entertainment. Where the game really shines is in the designs of these edifices, which are both impressive graphically and refreshingly original. On the “entertainment deck,” you can build love nests, general stores, discos, hotels, bars, and giant telescopes. The Dahenese Sirens, for example, ensure that your residents receive plenty of love, and the Polvakian Gem Slugs will provide energy for your station if they are kept happy.

On the “biodeck,” you can support dozens of different environments on the same land mass. Each environment supports a different type of plant, which in turn produces a crate of cargo. Your aliens also come up to the biodeck to swim around in water and to seek religious guidance from the Zedem Monks, another one of the alien races. Each of the three levels is crucial in making sure the station runs smoothly and your residents stay happy.

In addition to its excellent graphics and sound, “Startopia” is simply a lot of fun. Each alien comes with a distinct personality and history, including a “criminal record,” and it”s enjoyable to watch them dance or grow plants on the biodeck. “Startopia” doesn”t have the wicked sense of humor of games like “Dungeon Keeper 2,” but it has enough life to keep you entertained hours.

Drawbacks? “Startopia” only has a few. The game only comes with a brief manual, so you”ll have to feel your way around the station before you get the hang of it. “Startopia” also isn”t particularly difficultthe computer opponents don”t attack you until late in the game when you”ve researched most of the technology. But in spite of a few letdowns, “Startopia” is still as heavenly as its name.

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