Platform: Steam, Windows, iOS, Android
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Space trading sim
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 12th August 2015
Ah the ways of the merchant, trading goods and living the high life.
Well besides all the raiders, pirates, smugglers and customs officers wanting to take off with your booty one way or the other. Trading simulator games are a strange oddity where they are oddly fascinating despite what seems like a rather mundane style of gameplay. While I only dabble in the genre I vividly remember playing Frontier in my browser and enjoyed the space sim X games before X Rebirth launched in a hideous state.
Throwing their space hat into the ring are German indie studio Chasing Carrots with their space trading sim Cosmonautica. Players take on the role of a fresh captain who must make a living from nothing but some spare change and a rusty cruiser. As captain you must manage crew members, research tech, handle jobs and play the monopoly of space.
There is a story to be found in Cosmonautica’s campaign mode but it might as well not be there as it purely serves as a way to hand you specific missions. Instead the majority of driving force is derived from the player accepting various kinds of jobs at planetary stations ranging from typical rescue missions, cargo deliveries, taxi jobs and bounty hunts.
However to even think of taking on these missions you’ll need to a crew and a vessel capable of the tasks.
This is where the game can make or break new players, might have just been me but certain key points seem intentionally unclear. Recruiting can be somewhat daunting as it’s unclear at first what kind of crew members are essential for starting with and what won’t be needed till much later.
Crew members can fill roles such as pilot, shooter, medic, hacker, scientist, repairer, cleaner and cook all executing specific actions however the game doesn’t really explain any of this. Yeah sure it’s obvious that the pilot commandeers the ship and the shooter mans the turrets but your scientist can also take control of the ship’s shields and a hacker temporarily disable the enemy ship’s movement, shields or weaponry so long as the rooms are available. Which is another issue, even small things like researching new upgrades are impossible if you don’t have a research lab and a scientist on board or how getting illegal cargo past customs is pointless if you don’t have both a hacker and their hacking station were seemingly absent in the tutorial messages dotted throughout the game.
You’ll eventually learn where everything is but as a fledgling captain it is incredibly unclear as to what rooms are necessary for begin your conquest of the stars. I will say the campaign hands you a mission to start with that points you in the right direction but Cosmonautica still doesn’t really do a good job on making things transparent to the player such as not making it apparent that you need to research into shower or gym facilities to ensure the crew’s needs are met. That being said it’s liberating that Cosmonautica has stuck with the true and tried tradition of allowing the player complete freedom to tackle the stars however they wish.
Room slots can be used for living quarters, vending machines, entertainment facilities or more job related spaces such as for cargo or weaponry.
Sadly as liberating as Cosmonautica’s freedom is, the variety in missions is extremely lacking.
Missions you can undertake are divvied into three distinct categories: bounty hunts, cargo deliveries and taxi deliveries which will require you to either have adequate amounts of fire power and ammo or capacity for passengers/goods. I found however that trying to accommodate for even two of these mission types tends to end badly, instead I favoured taxi jobs till I could afford to invest in gearing my little crew up for combat situations. From here the lack of variety became rather blatantly obvious as combat missions easily yield far more profit especially when you consider your bounties will also offer up ludicrous amounts of credits to let them escape along with the initial reward for the bounty.
By this point I felt like I had already reached and sussed out Cosmonautica’s ‘end game’ before I had even acquired my fourth ship and it led to me this space trader’s biggest flaws. Firstly a lack in content for a space trading game; after a couple of hours I had already research everything bar extra galaxies and even then I realized there’s so little point in doing so besides a slight increase in rewards and risks. Even when switching galaxies it felt like all that had changed was a couple of names, some mission names stayed the same right down to the name and info to the point it really rammed home the repetition. Combat suffers from this as well especially due to their sluggish non interactive nature.
In fact it’s a lack of interactivity that hampers the experience, lack of interactivity with your ship, the galaxy and worst of all, your crew.
Despite touting crew management as a key feature, it just felt incredibly shallow and lacked any kind of meaningful depth. It was obvious that I had to meet hygiene or food requirements but besides that it didn’t really seem to matter what I did with my crew otherwise. I had crew members that hated each other but it seemed to have little to no impact on the performance of the ship as a whole, this couple with the utter lack of any connection or interactivity besides setting shifts for my crew had me completely disconnected from them. Instead of feeling like the virtual bonds I’ve had with my comrades in Final Fantasy Tactics or XCOM I felt nothing for this random bunch of randomly generated faces and the fact that I couldn’t name them, customize them nor interact with them reduced them to mere digitized walking nameplates.
Alas I can’t help but criticize a lot of elements in Cosmonautica that left me wanting, it’s a fun little quaint space trader and is impressive for an indie devs second game.
However when all is said and done Cosmonautica doesn’t quiet hit the mark and for a space trader just seems to lack overall longevity even when considering its cross platform capabilities allowing you to take it on the go; but given time and practice I look forward to seeing what Chasing Carrots cooks up next.
Quirky visual styles,
Simple yet challenging to start with.
Shallow crew interactivity,
Little variety in missions.
Cosmonautica doesn’t reach cosmic proportions but does score a 6.5/10.