Starport Delta is a game I have been excited about for a while. When I received the request to go meet the team at PAX East back in February, I was ecstatic. After meeting one of the developers, Leith, at PAX and playing Starport Delta for about thirty minutes, I was craving the launch of the game. I received a preview copy of Starport Delta recently but wanted to wait to do a full review. With the official release of Starport Delta on Steam now behind us, this will serve as that review.
At its core, Starport Delta is a strategy-lite city builder. While it may be easy to compare this game to Stellaris initially, that is incorrect. It is actually a comparison that has come up a lot in Steam reviews, and while it is flattering for the team at Cloudfire, it is not accurate. To be ultra-clear, Starport Delta is a city builder, not a 4X game.
Okay, with the above out of the way, let’s discuss what you do in the game. Boiling Starport Delta down to its base, you will be building starports in space. This basic concept means structuring the layout, managing resources, maintaining buildings, dealing with space-weather and other events, and even running security scans.
Some of the mechanics I mentioned probably seem very familiar to you, and they should. The one mechanic that is a bit unique is the security scan component. The team at Cloudfire understands that in city builders, you are often left with large swaths of time where you have nothing to do. To combat this downtime, they have added a Where’s-Waldo-esque mechanic to the game.
The security scanning mechanic functions by forcing you to click into your buildings and find the different silhouettes to complete the challenge. In some instances, this is easy, as the silhouette for a space bug is vastly different than that of a food hexagon. However, in other cases, it can take some work to, let’s say, discern a grandfather from a regular person. While the mechanic does help fill the periods of waiting, I have to admit the repetitive scenarios can get stale quickly.
Starport Delta has all of the core game modes you would expect from a city builder. You have a tutorial, which will get you up and moving around. The next logical step would be to play the campaign, which consists of 8 levels that further enhance your understanding of the game. When you are done with the campaign, you have at least four challenges to complete. Finally, you have three different types of sandbox mode to play in.
The tutorial mode is super basic. This mode will familiarize you with things like the interface and the core concepts of the game. As someone who has played quite a bit of city builders, the tutorial wasn’t essential. Since Starport Delta does a few things differently than you may be used to, it wouldn’t be horrible to speed through the two tutorial missions.
The most important thing to do to understand how this game works is to play the campaign. The campaign sees you going around the galaxy, helping fix up starports. Each starport teaches you new mechanics and building types and issues different challenges. The levels increase in difficulty on a gradient, meaning the further you progress, the more difficult the game is.
Once you complete the campaign, you have two distinct directions to go in. You can try to complete the challenges, which consist of things like “Earn 1,000,000 credits”. These are indeed challenging, and not for the faint of heart. I really appreciate the addition of these challenges, as it gives you a path to continue some structured playing.
The real mode the fans of city builders care about is sandbox. Starport Delta delivers what you would expect in this department, and then some. There are three different sandbox options. Zen is for those who want to build and optimize their starport. In zen mode, you don’t have to worry about meteor strikes or space pirates. In the regular/medium mode, you will regularly deal with events. This level of difficulty is for those who want to build but with some challenges. The hard mode is evil, and I will never forgive Cloudfire for putting it in the game. Joking, of course, but it is challenging.
There is nothing I can say other than that I adore Starport Delta. The game has immense polish, solid writing, and strong gameplay. The team at Cloudfire built the city builder that they wanted to play, and it shows. Whether it’s some of the cheeky things you can do (like airlock a developer) or the addition of space worms, the game has charm.
What is even more impressive is that all of this was achieved by a team of two over three years. As I mentioned earlier, it is (wrongfully) compared to games like Stellaris. To be put in the same conversation as a game with millions in backing and a full team when you are two people self-funding a game is excellent.
Another thing that I wanted to bring up is how much Cloudfire cares about the success of Starport Delta. They have a great Discord community where they actively take feedback. The team is also very active in looking at Steam reviews and interacting with people on social media. Since its launch, the team at Cloudfire has published five updates. Some would say this means they launched an incomplete game; I would say it shows that they care about their game and the players.
In the end, I am very high on Starport Delta. The polish is there, the gameplay loops I want are there, the humor is there, and there is finally a studio that cares immensely about the feedback the community is giving them. On that last point, I’m very excited to see where Cloudfire takes Starport Delta in the coming weeks and months.
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