Part city-building, part RPG quest to conquer space, and all parts addicting, The Spatials is the kind of game where you start playing at noon, look up at the clock and suddenly it’s 2:00 AM. Constantly making you want to get that “next big thing” to the point of addiction isn’t always a good thing in video games, and at its worst it can become a Skinner box. Does this particular entry from developer Weird and Wry fall into this trap, or does it create a compelling reason to sit at your computer for hours on end while you forget to eat and look at the sun once in a while? Find out in our The Spatials review.
The story of The Spatials is purposefully simple to not get in the way of building, fighting, and collecting. Essentially, you are in the distant future and tasked with expanding the reach of human civilization starting from a tiny asteroid eventually leading into several star systems throughout the galaxy. Conquering is done through a mix of city-building and sending an exploration crew consisting of five members to do a mission on a planet, and repeat until you own the galaxy. While the city-building part is almost void of real story-telling, the segments on other planets do manage to sprinkle in some personality while pulling you along a paper-thin narrative.
Building that asteroid and your eventual galactic domination comes from planning out your home base with plenty of room for tourists as well as your own crew. First and foremost, The Spatials is about creating a sustainable habtiat where you can attract a large number of said visitors who bring a constant flow of credits into your yearning bank account. This is done by planning out spaces for sleeping areas, kitchens, dining rooms, factories, space ports, arcades, shopping centers and more.
In each of these zoned sections, you can place different structures that dispense items, and each of these dispensaries require another factory-like structure to build them, and each of these factories require various resources to build the items. For example, you’ll quickly have the ability to build a dining room which can serve pizza, drinks, deserts and other food stuffs, but you’ll also need to build a kitchen somewhere nearby where your crew members can prepare the food and bring it to these dispensing locations, and then you’ll also need to gather water and seeds to make the food. It’s a simple set up that gets a bit more complicated as you go on and each zone allows for more types of buildings and more types of manufacturing that require more types of resources. Eventually it becomes a game of balancing this all out, especially as your home base starts to reach the limits of your little asteroid that your civilization calls home.
One thing The Spatials does particularly well is pacing all of this. I felt almost completely overwhelmed at the onset, but thanks to a gradual skill tree and the general pace of the learning curve, it does not take long to catch onto what is happening and how to manage it.
Being a fan of city-building games in the first place, having the ability to build up all this infrastructure then watch happy tourists come through while everything works at once is my favorite part of the game. Unlike a lot of these addictive building type games, no random event is going to come through and throw you off track to put your creativity secondary to completing arbitrary objectives. If you want to just build out your city for a little while and watch it grow, you can certainly do that. I took my time probably more than the game anticipated and had a self-sustaining civilization pretty quickly, but that never stopped me from eventually wanting to go out and complete exploratory missions while my hub world thrived.
The exploratory missions are carried out in a very basic RPG format. For these missions you have a crew that you can assign five positions to – a Strategies, a Doctor, a Scientist, a Diplomat, and an Engineer – who all have different functions in combat. The Strategist acts as your DPS while the Doctor heals, the Scientist buffs and so on. All five members are controlled at once by clicking the mouse. Combat is not much more than clicking and holding on an enemy while they melt under your gunfire. The only real thing separating each character are their special abilities accessed with the 1-5 number keys. These range from the ability to do a lot of damage with one shot, throw grenades, heal, restore energy, and debuff enemies. Again, these segments are extremely simplistic and don’t serve as much more than giving you something to do in between watching your asteroid city. Seeing as they are all missions that grant rewards and unlock more planets, they are also your primary means of expanding the game and gathering a lot of resources quickly in a pinch should you find yourself lacking in any of them.
Each planet you conquer unlocks the ability to harvest resources from that planet, and in each individual star system there is an embassy planet where you can assign three different staff members to act as diplomats and reduce the harvest time. Having no diplomats means that you will harvest resources every 12 minutes, while filling out the three vacant seats means that you harvest every 3. This is one of the game’s many ways of making you pace yourself: if you expand too quickly you’ll constantly be low on resources. Instead, you need to sink money into recruiting more staff members, and training them up to the required levels to be diplomats on the further out planets.
Finally, aside from having them be planetary explorers, wait staff, or diplomats, you can also send your staff on automatic missions called Contracts. These take anywhere from 2 minutes upward and help you give extra staff laying around something to do, as well as level them up. Sending out staff on these Contract missions will grant you extra experience to your whole crew, resources, items to use in combat, and more – assuming they succeed.
One thing that makes The Spatials a game that can be played for hours on end, and something that may turn a lot of people off, is the lack of any kind of way to fail spectacularly. At worst, you will run out resources for longer than you should and some people will get upset, or maybe some of your crew members will leave, but that can almost always be remedied by going on a few missions. As someone who primarly just enjoys the city building aspects of the game and doesn’t really want random mishaps to throw a wrench into anything I didn’t mind it, but if you’re someone who requires high stakes in order to feel accomplished when you succeed at a game it could be a major downside of the The Spatials.
In the same vein, the simple RPG levels get very repetitive very quickly. They are always simple and can be blown through, especially if you stop caring about the mostly-irrelevant story and just follow the objective markers. On the one hand it’s good that these are simple because it means less time worrying about completing these objectives and more time building out your city, but on the other hand it becomes a drag killing the same enemies and doing the same fetch quests over and over. They’ll eventually get some twists and turns, but in the end each missions is a matter of “go here, kill this, move on.”
The Spatials looks just as cartoony as its goofy story, and it mostly works. Everything is simplistic yet bright and crisp as seen from the isometric view. The way all the little characters float around your station is satisfying as you watch them weave in and out of hallways and interact with all the various things you place everywhere.
At least at the beginning, the UI can be a little cumbersome to manage only because there is so much going on, but thanks again in part to the simplistic visuals it’s not hard to catch on eventually. No matter which part of the game you are in – Home, Systems Map, Contracts, or the Staff sheet – you’ll also have the UI overlayed on top of everything. This makes it easy to switch between your combat scenario and your home base in an instant, but it takes away a bit from the feeling of actually exploring a planet when you are also very aware that you’re in a menu.
The game also does a great job using every bit of real-estate on the screen for relevant information, such as hovering icons above structures that tell you if what is being produced or dispensed and if something is out of stock without having to click them for more details.
Character portraits are a pretty obvious template, but there is enough variety to at least tell characters apart, and each section of the template gives them all unique personalities. Enemy designs can be interesting, but they are repeated far too often and eventually blend in because of just how quickly and mindlessly the planetary missions can be completed.
Out of the way and mostly forgettable is the best thing I can say about the soundtrack. Considering how much time I spent listening to what I assume is the same couple tracks over and over (as it doesn’t change based on which menu you are in), I never felt like I was hearing the same thing too many times. Nothing is ever too catchy that it will put a bug in your brain, but it’s pleasent enough that I never feel the need to turn it off.
As far as the sound design goes, I actually really like the sound of the guns. They’re basic “pew pews” and other laser sounds, but combined together while melting the face off an enemy they are oddly satisfying. That’s almost all there is to the sound design though, besides the sounds of menu clicks, as there is no dialogue or any other kind of audio going at any time besides the music. No voice acting, machinery sounds as you’re hovering over a factory, nothing.
The Spatials is pretty basic on the surface in terms of being a space colonization game with a few wrinkles thrown in, but those wrinkles do enough to make it original and fun. Graphics are bright and fun, as is the gameplay, and it avoids being a total Skinner box by allowing you take your time and enjoy your success if you really want. There is nothing in The Spatials that will force you to go faster or slower than the speed you dictate, and it can be as hectic or relaxing as you want to make it, which is something I really and truly enjoy about it.
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***We were sent a copy of The Spatials for the purposes of this review
Last Updated on November 27, 2018.