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The Spatials Is Almost Special

The Spatials has recently made a Steam release.  Despite being cheaply priced and put together by a two-man team, what was delivered is a time-consuming experience with not all that bad of an entertainment return.  However, there are a few chinks in its armor that leave me wishing the developers gave it another month.

The greatest feature of The Spatials is that it is essentially four games in one, seamlessly integrated and running simulaniously in real time for as long as you run the game.
  1. The space station building part.  Top-down, isometric perspective, empire building game.

    This is a fairly rudimentary Dwarf Fortress clone, not as sophisticated as that game, but then, Dwarf Fortress is a labyrinthine mess of sophistication, so I can hardly fault the developers of The Spatials for simplifying and streamlining everything behind an extremely user-friendly GUI.
  2. The universe-exploring part.  Top-down, isometric perspective, real-time squad combat game.

    Choose a planet to explore and, once you get there, it is basically a superior version of Cannon Fodder with procedural generation and a five-member away team you customize with abilities unique to their class.  Also, unlike Cannon Fodder, there is no permadeath: if all your officers are sent to stasis, they just grouse around your space station with personal problems until they are adequately recovered for another mission.
  3. The autonomous mission-assigning part.  Menu-driven mission assignment game.

    You can buy contracts to send groups of three of your officers off to recover loot, resources, and experience points. There’s a straight up percentage chance of success and these missions resolve in real time, off-screen.
  4. The officer managing part.  Menu-driven squad management game.

    This is primarily where you assign recovered loot to the give members of your away team and look forward to seeing what they can do as they level-up, as well as what impact this will make on their needs.
Overall, if you are just looking to burn a lot of time, The Spatials gives you a great breadth of worthwhile activities to do, and the four modes all running at once lends to a sense of immersion.
Here is splattercatgaming with some reasonably up-to-date gameplay footage.
Of course, the trouble with having four games in one is that you risk a lack of fidelity for each part of it, perhaps even not quite achieving a truly complete game.  Indeed, I found this to be the main weakness of The Spatials:
  1. In the space station building part, the weakness can be quickly discovered if you follow around a high-leveled officer in their routine.  They will largely ignore some vitals (needs) while over saturating vitals that have been met.  They are not blundering around your station, falling into beds and showers at random, but it is hard to tell!  What is the point of giving us various means of solving depleted vitals if the officer AI does not care enough to do it?!

    Another vital missing feature is the ability to set up automatic queues whereupon your officers will only try to produce enough items to meet a certain supply threshold.  This feature is not quite an industry standard in Dwarf Fortress clones, but it should be.
  2. In the universe-exploring part, there is an unfortunate lack of variety to the procedurally generated missions.  Granted, there is a brief, custom-designed mission for each solar system (and that is pretty impressive considering there are 50 solar systems).  However, most of your away time will be spent killing pirates, their officers, and their structures.  Star Trek this ain't, it's more like Starship Troopers with the never-ending deluge of pest mopping to do.
  3. In the autonomous mission-assigning part gets real monotonous by the time you have sent out your 1000th contract completion team.  There's no right answer here, such is game design, but I can think of a couple.
  4. The officer management part is perhaps the scrappiest of them all.  You get a ton of loot to equip your officers with, but it does not matter considering only five of your officers ever need to be equipped.  Yet, if you had to equip all of them, it would be a chore.  As it is, it's a bit of a chore just to equip your five. 

    Then you get into how the vitals AI does not work very well, and the officer screen starts feeling like a bit of a farce: in order for me to take these officers seriously, they really need to act more like people and less like data.
Perhaps the worst part of the game is that it is overwhelmingly easy.  While you can challenge yourself if you rush through sectors and try to do combat missions with under-leveled away team members, or even repeat same-level planets on higher difficulties, that is about where the challenge ends.  Keeping your officers and visitors happy on your station is as easy as falling off a captain's log: they are either very easy to satisfy or the AI was too dumb to meet their own needs anyway.  After awhile, credits start flowing in automatically from your space station, so you afford to keep throwing your officers at autonomous missions, thereby eliminating your officer level and loot problems forever.  Clearly, this is a casual-friendly game.

But then, egads I'm a finicky gamer, I cannot hold a two-man development team that responsible for being unable to deliver perfection.  As it stands, I have decided to put the game down for a bit and see if they bother to improve it, post-release, because I would hate to burn out on this game when it is in the state it is now.  Yet, I have to admit, even if they decided to move on to another product right now, there are far worse ways to spend $12.50 than the current release state of The Spatials.

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