Colony sims are their own special breed of game and Starmancer is the new kid on the block. This Steam Early Access game debuted around the start of August and I was looking forward to exploring it.
Starmancer first billed itself as a "Dwarf Fortress inspired space station sim" when its Kickstarter campaign launched back in 2018. At a glance, it seems like it does a good job of creating the fundamental systems necessary for a colony sim game. The execution of those systems, however, leaves something to be desired.
Exploring the Final Frontier in Starmancer
Starmancer has you taking on the role of an artificial intelligence charged with finding a new home for mankind in the depths of space after an unspecified catastrophe messed up Earth. Unfortunately, your mobile space station ends up getting separated from the fleet, subsequently forcing a shift in priorities.
Your journey begins on a tiny station filled with a handful of emergency supplies. There are no living colonists to worry about just yet; people are stored in a DNA database and can be reconstituted as needed once you've collected some DNA fragments.
That odd feature of your space station is needed right from the beginning — something has gone awry with its systems and a colonist needs to be grown in a vat to effect repairs. As things progress, you'll have to figure out how to provide your ad-hoc colony with water, food, power, comfort, and trade goods to sell in the short term. In the long term, you'll be warping across the galaxy in an attempt to find the fleet once again while evading a deadly alien threat.
All Systems Nominal ...ish.
I think I've got a handle on the basics of the game after a little more than 10 hours of gameplay. I didn't notice anything particularly outstanding per se, but Starmancer nonetheless boasts some well-designed systems.
The building system offers up a lot of opportunities for customization. It will be one of this game's key strengths once everything is working well - but we're not quite there just yet.
Colony sims are all about efficiency and organization. Unfortunately, not all games give you the tools you need to get the job done. Starmancer nicely avoids this pitfall with its design. In-game tools easily allow you to manage the schedules of your colonists and determine what they will or will not work on, although you'll have to do a bit of early game research to unlock it.
Storing and producing items is easy enough, too (at least in theory). You can create storage "zones" on the floor to start. You'll eventually expand to more specialized storage systems for holding liquid, food, or more mundane items such as metal ore.
Of course, all of this depends on the building system. This part of the game is a little rougher. My colonists had pathfinding issues - some of which were quite lethal, especially when they involved unpressurized areas. That one issue aside, the building system offers up a lot of opportunities for customization. It will be one of this game's key strengths once everything is working well - but we're not quite there just yet.
Cracks in the Glass
Starmancer has a solid underlying design, but it's marred by issues that prevent you from reliably taking full advantage of its systems. Bugs are to be expected in an Early Access release. I had some serious problems with the game during its first few weeks such as workstations randomly not working and storage areas seemingly being ignored by colonists.
As I've previously mentioned, the game's pathfinding system has some issues. I've had one colonist get stuck behind another; the only solution is to manually move the colonist in front to resolve this little traffic jam. I've also had a colonist unable to walk to the shuttle with no explanation - there was a perfectly clear path from the colonist to the shuttle, but he just couldn't walk there with no explanation. Problems like these existed during the initial release and they still exist as of Hotfix Patch 0.1.44-260821.
Storage management continues to be a problem - while there are a lot of different ways to store items, actually getting your colonists to use them without human intervention can be a challenge. I'll have items in the shuttle or on the floor and plenty of storage space available, but my colonists fail to take initiative and put these objects in their proper place. All of this extra micromanagement makes producing items and taking the shuttle out on missions a chore - and these are key parts of the game.
Finally, the game's controls and interface are still somewhat rough. For example, you're unable to rotate the camera when placing furniture; if you can't quite get the right angle, you'll have to exit the build menu, rotate the camera, and then try to build something again. There's not yet a way to rebind your controls, either.
A bit of fiddling around should be expected for an Early Access game, but Starmancer still feels a little too rough right now. If you've been thinking about picking up this game, it's probably best to wait until everything is running a little smoother.
TechRaptor previewed Starmancer on Steam Early Access with a key provided by the publisher. The game does not currently have a release date.