In Stable Orbit, you will be in charge of maintaining and expanding your own space station high above the familiar land masses of Earth. Game studio Codalyn teams up with publisher Green Man Gaming for this relaxing space simulation game where anything can go wrong. If you aren't careful.
Stable Orbit released on Steam Sep. 27, 2017 for $14.99.
Regrettably, there is no story that unfolds as you play. I say that because, while difficult at first, the game lacks any direction or staying power once you figure out how to keep your station afloat. After a couple hours of playing, I was left very unsatisfied that there was nothing to work towards, no goals to achieve other than what I could come up with. While that is fine in some simulation games, once you get to a certain point, which took me all of an hour to do, the game becomes extremely stagnant. Giving the player something to work towards, even something as simple as rewarding some money for keeping five astronauts alive for a couple months would have been welcome.
Fortunately, there is a tutorial, which was added a day or two after launch. While not necessarily needed, it helped show you what to do in order to survive. Otherwise, it would have taken me ten or so stations before I figured out the correct order of modules to build so I could have a sustainable station. However, the tutorial essentially guides you to the end game. Once you finish it, there is little to no reason to do anything else.
The start of your station is the hardest part of the game and if you manage to survive the first five minutes, you have nothing to worry about. Following the tutorial without trying to do your own thing takes this difficulty away, but as mentioned above, this wasn't added until after launch. When I first played, it was trial and error, with mostly errors being made.
You are given 6 billion dollars to start and you need to get to a point where you can make enough money on contracts to build anything else. This is where the difficulty is the highest. Make a mistake in what you buy or place something in the wrong spot, you pretty much sign your station's death warrant. You need enough food, oxygen, and water storage to last at least a month, in case something goes wrong down on Earth and your supply pods are grounded for a while. Power generation and storage, along with a radiator, is pivotal or your modules will not be able to run and will get damaged from overheating. Then there are your astronauts, which you need to have at least three to have a fully functional station. Get to that point, and you will barely have enough money to build a laboratory and begin accepting contracts.
Later in the game, after you have researched all the locked modules and have a steady income, really all you have to worry about is making sure you build RCS Thrusters and not expanding too fast. Thrusters will ensure your station, which becomes heavier as you add on, stays at an acceptable altitude instead of plummeting to the ground. I avoided this issue but based on other ways I failed, you only get a popup saying why you failed, instead of actual plummeting. Expanding too fast will strain your life support systems, but this can be avoided by beefing those systems up before you add more crew or modules that require electricity. All in all, once you get a stable station, it becomes easy mode. I never encountered anything detrimental at this point, despite getting warnings that fires broke out in a module. No explosions, diseases, or death.
Here is where you will make or break your station if you managed to make it through the tutorial unscathed. Every few hours, you will receive new contracts from various corporations on Earth asking you to perform science experiments for them. These range from super easy, which get completed quickly yet pay chump change (compared to the cost of the modules), to hard, which can take weeks to complete. I only use easy and hard to give you an idea of how long it takes to complete a contract.
Your labs can only accept one type of contract at a time. Clicking on the lab will give you the option to specialize it in a field. General contracts will be given if you choose not to specialize a lab, but you will need to turn a lab into the Technology specialization if you want to research and unlock the largest modules. Once they are researched, the Technology part of the lab is useless. There are no contracts that utilize this part and I found this a little sad. Honestly, there is no reason to use the specialization feature, because you can make just as much money with general contracts as you can with doing Biology experiments.
Each contract has an expiration date, which means you have to start doing it before that date. Once started, it can extend well past this date and you will still get credit for it. Accepting one and letting it expire before starting and it just gets removed from your list. No penalty or punishment for doing so. That particular corporation will still give you work in the future. Having some repercussion could have added some much-needed challenge to the game. Looking at the expiration date and estimating how long each will take based on the reward can help you not micromanage this part of the game too much, but still, there is no way to automate this process. This will become the only thing to do later in the game, managing the contract screen and fast forwarding while they complete.
Billed as a 'highly realistic space management simulation game,' I was highly let down in this area. Games such as Kerbal Space Program do a much better job with space simulation and that has little green men in it. The only realistic part I found was the graphics. Your station orbits the Earth once every month or so, while in reality, it would be more like the ISS which orbits ~15 times a day. When you buy a module to add to the station, there is only a bar that represents progress. Realism would mean you would have to schedule a launch of the module, get it into place, and then work to get it integrated with the rest of the station.
I looked forward to this game for a long time. When I read articles or short blurbs about the game, I expected to get a deep simulation, one where you actually had to manage things like launch windows, refueling and resupplies, etc. Instead, the game handles all the important things for you. Extremely let down doesn't even describe the level of sadness I feel here.
The visuals in Stable Orbit are pretty good, but nothing mind-blowing. I love space related games, so this is a big positive for me. The skybox is made up of stars and you can even see the Milky Way. Earth is highly detailed with cloud patterns and city lights at night. Your station looks neat and clean, although a little more on the cartoony side vs. realistic modules. They are shinier than they would be in real life, so that threw me off a little.
Sound design is minimal, which is exactly how I want my space games. The music is relaxing and plays into this being a casual simulation. The one annoying part was the voice that would blare when you got a resupply pod or when the boosters came on to maintain altitude. Otherwise, the only sounds were from the UI and I barely noticed them. Turning down the volume to make the voice bearable would have made these sounds virtually non-existent. Overall though, I think this was the right direction for this type of game.
Stable Orbit, despite not living up to expectations, is a decent game and with some dedication from the team at Codalyn could have a lot of potential. Steam forums are to be taken with a grain of salt, but many people questioned whether the game was complete and I will wholeheartedly agree. It feels like the game was in Early Access for so long, that they just wanted to stick the 'released' tag on it and move on. Mod support or some extra work into a storyline or goals would have gone a long way to making this game have a purpose. For $15 I don't recommend this game, but if it goes on sale, and you are looking for a relaxing space sim that you don't need to invest much brain power in, then have a go at it.
|+ Relaxing, casual simulation||– Lack of depth|
|+ Pretty visuals||– No storyline/goals|
|– Not a highly realistic space sim|
|– Feels unfinished or rushed to release|