So this is startopia, a universe where war has ravaged planets and space stations, a war which has left them lifeless and empty. This is where you come in, you are chosen to take over and rebuild these space stations and return them to a lively, safe place to be, for all aliens.

I must admit that I never paid much attention to the hype that was surrounding this game, I originally thought this was going to be a real time strategy game such as Imperium Galactica II or even like Ground Control. I was also not going to review this game myself, but after reading the back of the box and quickly flicking through the manual I decided that it would make a difference from all the 3D Shooters that I ended up playing or RPG's like Baldur's Gate 2.

I was very curious about this game by the end of the intro, it doesn't actually give you a clue to the game or what its about. Actually its very odd, some monkey guy finds a donut takes a bite then chucks it in the air, I mean whats that all about? Okay it looks like a space station, but that's it, I dunno, its probably just me!

Moving on from the intro the next major point is the tutorials, which I think should be in every game of this nature, you obviously don't need them, but for many people it helps them get to grips with the game and its controls, which makes these tutorials damn good. They are funny (that's our British humour helping out there) and they actually teach you everything you need to know before you take the first real mission.

Talking of missions, the first few are also part of the tutorials, they don't expect you to take everything on straight away, they build up nicely and the learning curve is low, which all helps to steer you into the game. The first couple of missions are easy, one requires you to cure 100 patients and as long as you don't kill 10, you won. Others will expect you to create a good trading post and generate a certain amount of energy, etc.

Besides the set missions you have the opportunity to play a sandbox game, now I have definitely heard these two words before, which was while I was playing Theme Park and as expected this game mode allows you to build your station as you wish. In this mode there are no breaking points, no real missions, nothing you must do and you can play against as many computer opponents as you like, I chose to play against none so I could get a good feel for the game while reviewing it, but believe me ill try my hand against a computer or two soon, you can if you want set some conditions for winning such as a number of energy points, etc.

The sandbox game, as I said above allows you to build you station as you wish, like in the missions you start with only one sector in the space station, which as I am on the subject I should say that the space station is broken into 3 levels, the engineering deck, the entertainment deck and the bio deck. These decks all serve a different purpose, the engineering deck is for things such as ports, factories, etc. The entertainment deck is used to house your shops, discos and pubs while the bio deck allows you to create a landscape, which your visitors can visit to relax near lakes and under trees, etc. The bio deck does not allow you to build buildings but trees, rock formations and other things will appear as the room grows.

Anyway, back to the sandbox game. This allows you to explore every building you can possibly build in the space station, it also allows you to expand so that you cover as many sections of the space station as you wish. You still come across threats like in the missions, such as enemy terrorists and people going crazy and causing crimes but you are allowed to play until you feel like stopping. Combat is also featured in the game, for this you can hire security druids or a number of aliens who will tackle any problems that are on the station, you don't need to control any of these aliens yourself but you are allows to set a threat value to an alien you want killed and your soldiers/druids will respond to this threat.

The only other mode available to you is multiplayer, but alas I didn't have an internet or LAN connection to try this on but if its anything like the missions or the sandbox game then im sure its going to be great. I must say now that this game has me hooked, Ill probably miss days at work for this game, which wont help my bank balance, but the games great!

The games controls are one more of its strong points, the whole game can be played with the mouse alone, the left button is used to place and rotate objects, the right button used to cancel messages/construction and option boxes and also to bring them up, the mouse wheel is used to move higher and lower in the sections space and can also be used to rotate the view camera, what more do you need? Well the F1 key, which is used to bring up the help box about an item/building. I take my hat off (if I had one) to Mucky Foot, they really managed to create a great control system that's easy to learn and quick to use. Nice going guys.

Startopia can best be associated with Theme Hospital, now this is because in both games you controlled where things are built, you could expand your current floor space and you hired people to work for you, you didn't actually force them to work and they took breaks when they wanted, it just leads to a good feeling of you building a society, albeit an alien one, which is fully living and working and its damn fun too!

The in-game graphics are excellent, every building looks the part and the different aliens all look different and act differently, they also have specific skills, which you must utilise in your buildings, so that they operate correctly. You hire certain aliens for certain jobs, when you have enough aliens to do the jobs they go about their work and personal life as they see fit, sleeping, eating and working as you would yourself. This may lead to a building being left unoccupied for a while but this just probably means you don't have enough aliens of that type to cover all shifts.

The games sounds are great too, your helper guy, known as VAL, will let you know where your help is needed, every line that is written on screen VAL speaks to you and its not an annoying voice/accent either. The music is also great, I guess it can get a bit repetitive but I was so engrossed in the game I stopped paying attention to it after a while, so hey, thumbs up!

For me startopia is a great game, I cant find any faults with it at all, the game never crashed for no reason, it did when I screwed up the PC, but we wont go into that. Startopia is a game you definitely must try at least once and I can almost (that's almost) guarantee you will love it!