Starport Delta Review: Strategically Sublime

Starport Delta is a RTS base-building sim set in deep space. If you have ever wanted to run your own space colony, this is your chance to make that dream a reality! Join us as we explore this unique title and put our resource management skills to the test.

Starport Delta Review: Strategically Sublime

New Zealand-based Cloudfire Studios released Starport Delta in March of this year. It may have flown under your radar amid the tumultuous news cycle at the time. Today we’re digging into their promising yet humble real-time base building sim and can confidently say that if you ever dreamed of running your own deep-space colony, this game deserves your consideration.

Starport Delta has been updated regularly since it’s release. The developers plan to support the game until 2022 as they add new content. Development started back in 2018 and will continue post-release content for another two years. At this stage, it is Cloudfire Studios’ only title, and as such, it is receiving their full attention. 

Personally, I played and enjoyed this game for the most part via Steam Link on my Android tablet. I think in general this type of game lends itself very well to a touch interface. That said, the interface is not optimized for touchscreens, and some of the buttons in the UI are downright miniscule.

Curious about whether an Android/iOS port was on the cards, I managed to get in touch with Cloudfire Studios Creative Director – Ian Shepard. He was kind enough to answer some questions about this. To paraphrase, it’s not out of the question but would require a UI overhaul due to the aforementioned dinky buttons. 

Starport Delta Release Trailer

Ian also mentioned that they are looking into a port for the Nintendo Switch. With that platform being something of a haven for indie developers, I think that would work quite well too. Of course, they are just looking into it at this stage, so I wouldn’t get too excited about that just yet.

I personally find it admirable that Cloudfire is managing its ambitions with its title so as not to fall into the trap that many developers have fallen prey to. That is, overestimating their abilities and disappointing not only fans of the game, but themselves as well. This is a refreshing contrast to one of my favorite games – No Man’s Sky, who’s hype train infamously derailed at launch.

Starport Delta is currently available for Windows on Steam.

Story – Short And Sweet

The Commander (you) sets up the scenario in one of the missions.

The Commander (you) sets up the scenario in one of the missions.

You are a gruff-voiced, nameless commander visiting different starports around the galaxy. It’s your job to get out there and solve their problems. You are the “go-to” guy. There isn’t a huge amount of depth to the story, but it works. It seems intended as more of a light-hearted and humorous introduction to the game’s mechanics. To that end, it works quite well. Starport Delta does not take itself too seriously, but it’s pretty clear that the developers put their hearts into this game.

As you progress through the campaign, the game puts you in charge of pre-built starbases and sets up several objectives and obstacles for you to overcome in each mission. These serve well to introduce the mechanics of the game, as well as some of the more nuanced playstyles.

Gameplay – Simple Yet Nuanced

In terms of gameplay, what we have here is a grid-based base building sim of the easy to learn, yet hard to master variety. Your buildings have to be placed in proximity of their required resources. Namely, energy, oxygen, and food in the case of inhabited buildings.

Space, naturally, is not always the most hospitable place and will throw various challenges at you, including (but not limited to) gamma-ray bursts, giant space worms and meteor strikes. Defensive shields and lasers can be built to fend off these threats and repair any damage lest your buildings are destroyed. 

Upgrading your buildings happens by situating the same type of buildings in clusters. This means you are essentially constantly constructing and deconstructing buildings as needed. You have to keep in mind the upgrade path you would like to follow from early on, in order to minimize the amount of buildings you will have to destroy when upgrading since this obviously puts you out of pocket. This is a nice, organic gameplay element, since in most similar games upgrades usually require navigating some form of a menu. Here, you simply place your buildings where you want them, and the game handles all that for you.

My attempt at building a massive base isn't going as planned.

My attempt at building a massive base isn’t going as planned.

Resource management can be tricky.  Meteor showers, pirates, or gamma bursts threaten to destroy all your hard work.  In a pinch, it can be quite challenging, especially if you jump into the hard sandbox mode where you can almost perpetually expand your base. If you don’t feel like being disturbed by the various threats found in deep space, the Zen mode is for you. Zen mode ensures a peaceful experience and also grants you more resources out the gates, challenging you to build the biggest base you possibly can.

Fortunately for those who don’t want to feel overwhelmed by endless resource management, there are only two resources you have to manage – your cash flow and your materials. These are gathered from trade and mining stations, respectively. Beyond that, one needs to pay attention to building maintenance and the needs of the people on the starbase, which could be a lost dog or some or other alien infestation. 

That said, it would be foolish to become complacent – running out of money or materials can be disastrous as the game will randomly destroy one or more of your buildings to recoup your debts and this can very quickly become a downward spiral. Similarly, the output of your buildings degrades along with the maintenance, meaning that adjacent building reliant on that output can become compromised this way as well.

Poor resource management quickly leads to a downward spiral.

Poor resource management quickly leads to a downward spiral.

Graphics  – Spacially Aware

This is not a graphically intensive game, making it accessible to those with modest gaming setups.

Looking at the buildings, they are easily identifiable. With the filters found at the top of the screen, you can see exactly where your resources are available as you expand your base. The backdrop of space is pleasing to the eye, and it all fits together pretty well. 

In terms of the UI, it is sleek and intuitive, with each button being self-explanatory and easy to identify. It looks attractive and integrates well with the overall theme of the game. Something else I like about it, is that it never takes up more space than it needs to. Sometimes RTS games have cluttered interfaces, so this is a huge plus for me. It allows you to focus on your base but is there when you need it.

A truly gargantuan starbase

A truly gargantuan starbase

Some of the character models invoke a Star Trek-esque feel, yet have a flavor and variety all their own. It took me a few days of playing to draw this comparison, perhaps because I am not a huge fan of Star Trek. Not that I mind it. I think it’s the uniforms at the end that give me this impression. 

Audio – Out Of This World

The music is unobtrusive and mostly relegates itself to the background. It becomes more pronounced in response to certain in-game events such as an imminent meteor strike. To me, this is appropriate for the setting; once again, it just fits.

Something that was immediately apparent to me is the quality of the voice acting. I have played AAA games with less variation in terms of voice actors. The dialogue is written well; I had a few good laughs playing through the campaign. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into sourcing voices from around the world. Starport Delta benefits greatly from this.

I can’t praise this element of the game enough; it was a real breath of fresh air to hear so many different voice actors. Off the top of my head, I could identify Irish, Japanese, Chinese and American accents. A truly diverse cast of characters. Well done, Cloudfire.

I reviewed Starport Delta on PC.

Starport Delta is a solid experience for those who want a more casual city building sim set in space, it's simplicity belies a surprising depth in terms of gameplay. Accessible to those new to the genre, while providing a decent challenge to those experienced with it, the 2-man band known as Cloudfire Studios has done a stellar job at creating a well-rounded RTS experience.
  • Simple, yet effective premise and gameplay.
  • Easy to learn, yet challenging as you like.
  • Solid voice acting and a good dose of humor.
  • Not for those looking for a more immersive RTS experience.
  • Campaign and story may leave players wanting for more.

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