Review / Space Trader

This time of the year is heavy with games that usually involve some guy picking up a gun or sword and taking out some alien thing that’s unmistakably evil. Believe it or not there are still some games these days that don’t focus on saving the world by blowing stuff up. Space Trader is a game that requires us to use our economic common sense to achieve goals of untold wealth. Of course it’s not just a peaceful negotiation process as there are many challenges that make up Space Trader’s story.

Space Trader takes place in space quite naturally. We play as a nameless, faceless character who just obtained their trader’s license. This license gives us the ability to purchase goods from different planets and resell them on other planets for a high profit. After getting into a $20 million debt with a ruthless lady we have to gain some allies to take her down. This is the main focus in Space Trader’s story which is broken down into chapters that contain challenges. For every chapter there is a main challenge to complete within a specific time frame as well as side quests. The side quests almost always involve killing someone by request (also known as capturing), taking a shipment to a planet or finding a certain number of items on one planet and taking it back to the person who wanted it. The main challenge requires a little more finesse.

This is where a bit of welcome strategy comes in. Traveling from planet to planet takes time that is subtracted from our total time to complete the challenge. This makes us plan our trips carefully so every business transaction has to be a good one. The bad side to this method is how it discourages casual play. We find ourselves stuck on Earth, Venus, Mars or the Moon doing side quests and bounties because every hour traveling for fun could cause us to fail the challenge. In addition to being stuck in one area, every planet that’s visited is woefully underwhelming because the design usually consists of a two level building with narrow walkways and bland colors. If the challenge results in failure we’re forced to start the whole chapter over regardless of any and all progress we may have made. If our challenge is to pay back $1.5 million and we have $1.49 million when time runs out, it’s all over. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if making that much money wasn’t so time consuming. It’s possible to suddenly become stuck in a no-win situation that requires a restart. You can’t save whenever you want either. Space Trader only auto saves after missions and traveling.

Making money in Space Trader is mostly done by trading and there are a lot of things to trade. There are two types of people we can trade with. On one hand we have honest merchants who sell food, purified water, oil and gold, and on the other hand are black market dealers who buy and sell weapons, drugs, organs and stem cells. We can tell who is good and who is bad from the green or red dollar signs that appear over their heads. Trading legal or illegal goods doesn’t offer any clear advantage over the other. We have to remember which goods are going up in price and which ones aren’t. This is done by arrows that appear next to each item. This eliminates hand holding for the main purpose of the game which is a good thing. We’re thrown a bone every once in a while though. Occasionally news bulletins will appear on the travel screen that alert us to an item skyrocketing in demand. For example a drug bust was made on Earth so the price for shara pods went up drastically. After filling the cargo hold with shara pods, I sold them on Earth for double the price. We can also fast travel between merchants we’ve already met which is a very nice touch. Random items are also scattered in every location especially in the battle areas.

Space Trader is not meant to be a FPS but since it does play a big part in the game it’s expected to be reasonably enjoyable. Unfortunately it is not. The combat aspect has the same formula for every match. We need to take out some guy, but we have to kill at least two of his cronies before he shows up. We carry a pistol by default and machine guns and shotguns can be found somewhere in the arena. The problem with the fighting is that it can be painfully one sided. The enemies move and jump around like hyperactive crickets with superior accuracy. Taking on more than one guy at a time almost always results in death. God forbid multiple foes on two sides try to take us on. Virtually every arena is also the same in appearance. It’s mostly very dark and gray with random obstructions and automatic doors. I understand Space Trader may not have had the budget to have an amazing FPS element, but what’s there is just not fun no matter how we look at it. We get three chances to take down the boss before we’re forced to leave the arena. The challenge doesn’t start over which is good, and we sometimes have the option of trying again later.

Outside the arena the graphics are nice. The character models resemble that of characters we would see in popular MMO titles. Some character models are repeated of course, but that’s understood with games that have a good number of NPC’s. Space Trader doesn’t have any voice acting besides a greeting and a salutation each character says when approached.

The music is very subtle and almost resembles techno elevator music when touring the various trading hubs. It doesn’t stand out, but it’s not unwelcome either. Another plus to Space Trader goes to its achievement system. Some achievements can only be obtained by choosing one thing over another. I received an achievement for ratting out two people who wanted me to poison the water supply with drugs so the price of purified water would rise. Does it drastically affect the outcome of the story? Not really, but it was nice to see a result stemming from a particular choice I made.

Space Trader features an online multiplayer mode for up to seven players. We can team up and take on some bounties for some quick cash or participate in challenges with certain limitations. One of the challenges tasks us with making $150,000 by trading between the Earth and the moon only. Unfortunately at the time of this review, we could not find a match to jump into to test out the servers and pacing of the challenges.

Overall, Space Trader is unlike any game currently available. Its focus on the economics of money and paying back debts contributes to how you will be viewed in the game. Racking up debt from the bank ruins our credit and could get us a criminal status. If we can manage to overlook the shooting sections, which don’t last that long anyway, Space Trader can become a pretty pleasant indie pastime.

+

  • Great use of monetary economics
  • Freedom to occasionally make moral decisions
  • Timed challenges encourage strategy and remembrance of hot commodities

  • No ability to save whenever you like
  • Awkward shooting sequences
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