Some of you who have been here a while will probably remember my first review where I reviewed Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space. Well, what I have been waiting for a long time has finally come, since they are making a sequel, in body if not in name. Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager and Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space are both space program simulators. You run a space agency by scheduling missions, hiring astronauts and buying hardware. Fairly simple game mechanics making it easy to learn, but the difficulty of actually getting to the Moon with randomized factors like cursed programs and the like ensure every game is different and challenging. But that’s enough about BARIS, since you are here to learn more about its heir, Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager.
One of the first things I noticed when loading the game was the lack of my resolution of 1680 x 1050, but that can be forgiven since the game is still in development and things like that can be expected. Checking online they are prioritizing gameplay and bug finding over graphics which in my opinion, is a very good sign. The campaign isn’t implemented just yet, so we’ve only got sandbox mode for now but it seems like it still gives you short term goals to complete. Once I got into the game, though, I noticed a pretty big difference from BARIS.
The space centre starts barebones and at the bottom of the screen, you have the information about various resources, engineers and the like. But, old time players of BARIS might notice something missing and I spent a few minutes searching for it myself. There isn’t a research building anymore, it’s been rolled into the HQ. I find that to be a rather odd touch. Sure, in BARIS you could click the main HQ building and go straight to research from there, but that wasn’t the reason the R&D building was there, it was a shortcut to save time.
But research is still there, I can assure you. After selecting a program to follow in the HQ, you then end up at the research screen. Rather than just clicking assign research team for a cost of MegaBucks, you instead actually assign scientists, engineers or technicians (that SET you can see in the screenshots’ bottom section) to the project, with their own stats which in my opinion is a big leap forward. Each engineer can only be assigned to one project at a time and each brings different skills to that project so you need to juggle engineers around and they’ll research automatically.
But the old Kremlin/Capital Hill happiness system is gone, replaced by a new building. If you remember my review, you had to make get good prestige first to keep your government happy so that you can get more funding. But in this game, that doesn’t seem to be here anymore. Instead you have a public affairs office which works on a similar concept. Instead you receive a constant amount of money per turn, after a set number of turns you get a budget review depending on your prestige. No more waiting for a new year to receive your money, spend it on a Nova rocket that blows up the turn after and then do nothing till the next year. In traditional space program style, I decided to take a gamble on the Sputnik, let’s see if we can get something into space.
Once you’ve assembled the hardware, you need to select your flight controllers for the mission. They’ve all got different stats and you need a separate person for each job, same with engineering. Hiring specialists is therefore better than hiring all rounders. I like this feature a lot, it helps remove some of the edge from bad programs and allows you to compensate for bad safety ratings by having skilled staff. The turn goes quickly and soon enough, it’s launch time. But a feature has been removed, and that’s rushing the launch to beat the other program, and I think I know why. I’ll say why at the conclusion, but for now, let’s watch the launch.
That went really well for our first launch. But the game feels a lot more forgiving than BARIS and I feel that’s a step backwards. The game had a good challenge that made it more interesting. Every launch felt like a challenge. Hell, most of the time I bit my nails during the launches, never knowing if the men on board would be going to the Moon or to Arlington. But, in this game, with the cartoony graphics and the cheerful uplifting music, it doesn’t feel as serious.
In my opinion, the launch was too fast, it switched between the stages too quickly to build up the tension that exists in even the earliest launches of its predecessor. If you look in the top left, you’ll notice the frame rate counter from my camera. While you might think leaving it there seemed a bit amateurish, there was a very good reason for it. BARIS used to have slow downs during the launches when it came to the frame rate. Thanks to a gut feeling, I turned the frame rate on in the corner so I could tell if the game was going abnormally fast or abnormally slow. And, unfortunately, the game is going as fast as it should be.
Once you’ve put your first satellite in orbit, you have to put a living thing in orbit, in this case, a frog. This is actually rather surprising. This game has dozens more mission types than BARIS ever had, even at this point in development. I’m impressed, you can do unmanned flights of every capsule by the look of it, send probes to the Sun and Jupiter. So while that develops, I hire an astronaut.
With stats like those, hiring him was guaranteed. Unlike the predecessor to this game, you can hire one astronaut at a time rather than being forced to hire a whole batch, most of who will never fly. But while waiting for the research on the frog satellite to be finished, the agency went bankrupt. You see, hiring personnel actually has a maintenance cost, something that was never in BARIS and that took me by surprise. So this is where the preview ends.
In my humble opinion, this game has a bright future so long as they adjust the difficulty to a reasonable level so it doesn’t feel too hard. But my main problem with the game seems to be the complete and utter lack of multiplayer. There’s no disabled button for it on the main menu or the launcher, and that’s a very bad thing. One of the biggest lures of BARIS was the competition between your space agency and the other player’s agency. Cheering when your rocket went up and crying when it exploded or when the dreaded other team got a prestige first. What this game has in depth, it seems, comes at a heavy cost for no multiplayer, a tremendous mistake in my opinion.
With a little luck, however, the developers will read this and add multiplayer, because since the game isn’t finished yet (it’s currently in beta under Slitherine’s early access program) there’s still a lot of time left for the game to grow and develop. What I have seen so far, though, definitely means I’ll be buying the game. Even without multiplayer, it’s still a solid foundation. I really hope this game does well, it has a lot of potential and is the legacy of one of my all-time favorite games.
Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager: The Road to the Moon (first episode of three planned) is currently in beta and is expected to release (final launch) in Q1 2014 for the PC, Mac, iPad and Android. In the meantime the game is already available for the PC under Slitherine’s early access program starting at $19.99/€15.99.Subscribe RSS
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