April 8, 2015 4:35 AM | Lena LeRay
At its heart, The Spatials is a base building simulation game. The player has been assigned to create a space station on an asteroid in a remote location. Here's a transporter, five officers, and some money. Go for it. The officers have needs, such as a need for sleep, that must be met, and as the station expands, the player can add places for ships to dock and let visitors pay to use the facilities, bringing in a steady stream of cash. However, producing the goods consumed by the crew and guests takes resources as well as money, and those are obtained by completing planet exploration missions, light dungeon crawls loosely reminiscent of Star Trek away missions.
The base building portion of the game is set on a square grid and is pretty standard. Each kind of room has its own floor, which must be placed on solid parts of the asteroid and must be connected to other kinds of rooms by corridors (which can be built across empty space). Different kinds of objects, some functional and some decorative, can be placed in each kind of room. Some of those functional objects are used by the officers to produce goods; others are used by crew and guests to dispense goods; and some are just used as-is, such as beds. Balancing the production and consumption of goods within the constraints of the budget and the resources the player has available feels like a low pressure endeavor, but if things get too far out of hand, the needs of officers won't be met and they will start to quit.
The officers, though procedurally generated like the base's asteroid and the planetary systems, are really what ties the base building to the dungeon crawling. There are five classes: strategist, engineer, scientist, doctor, and diplomat. On the base itself, it doesn't matter what class an officer is; all five can perform any of the tasks involved in keeping the station running as long as there are enough officers present to do so.
During the dungeon crawling segments, however, the party can include only one member of each class. The five classes mostly play the same, though they have different active and passive skills. These can all be upgraded or sidegraded, which isn't really a problem because skill upgrades are frequently obtained and the player never needs to have more than two parties' worth of folk equipped for away missions. The only reason the player should have more than one party equipped for planet-side missions is that the officers need time to rest sometimes, especially if they get knocked out on an away mission.
At the beginning of the game, the player has access to one solar system and the planets therein. Sending a party to a planet gets the player a procedurally generated area with quest markers pointing in the direction of something to kill or destroy. Upon completing the first objective, another one is marked, and once all the objectives are complete, it's mission accomplished and the party can go home. The player can keep anything the officers picked up, gets a research point which can go towards unlocking station upgrades, and opens up the ability to license resources from the planet. One of the planets will have an exclamation point over it, indicating that it has a special, slightly different mission which unlocks the next solar system in addition to opening up the planet's resources for exploitation.
Licensing resources itself is simple. Once a planet's mission has been completed, the player can pay to start getting resources from that planet periodically. The payment is a one-time fee, but each resource must be paid for individually and the price goes up a bit each time a new resource on that planet is chosen. The period is in a given number of minutes and can be shortened by stationing officers at the system's embassy.
This steady flow of resources is crucial to keeping the station running efficiently, but since the incoming resources are still limited, it affects how fast and in what ways the player can expand their base. The flow of resources from each license on a planet can be increased by completing the planet's missions on harder difficulties, but the player will probably also want to supplement resource income via contracts.
Contracts are missions that take three officers and are completed automatically without any input from the player. Depending on the difficulty of the mission and the officers chosen, it has a percentage chance of success (up to 100%) and yields all of the indicated rewards if accomplished. Some of the missions are slanted towards specific officer classes, but most aren't. Resource reward contracts open up as planet-side missions are completed, but at first the only contracts available grant bonus experience to the officers involved.
Higher level officers contribute more to chances of contract success as well as being more useful on away missions and in embassies. They also have more needs and require greater base infrastructure to support. And officers which are out on contracts or planet-side away missions are not available to actually run the base. So even with contracts, it's easy to fall short on resources. This and the fact that research points for upgrades come from exploring new planets encourage players to open up more systems as fast as possible.
The Spatials's biggest flaw is probably its tutorial. It's not bad, per se, but it does consist of walls of text. Each wall of text is compartmentalized, easily minimized, and only available in the screen where it matters, but it's still a little too easy to skim and miss something important. This, combined with the fact that the only pause button brings up the main menu, can make the game seem a bit daunting at first; there's no way to pause what's going on and just look at what's happening to try to figure it out. The nice thing is that the game does tell/show the player everything they need to know and it moves slowly enough that the player would pretty much have to try to get themselves in an inescapable bind early in the game.
Overall, The Spatials is a really neat take on base building. The addition of the light dungeon crawls mixes things up a bit without disrupting the feel of the game. Using a Star Trek inspired space theme helps tie everything together, though in theory going in and shooting everything up isn't what Star Trek is about. It certainly does a good job of keeping the player engaged. I spent five hours playing it without realizing how much time had passed.
The Spatials is available via Steam for Windows and Mac at the price of $12.99.