Review: Base One – Deuce of Base

Douglas Adams dryly observed that, “Space is big.” Andy Weir observed somewhat more pithily, “They say no plan survives first contact with implementation. I’d have to agree.”  Any sort of base building sim set in space is inherently going to run into problems with implementation. You’re going to kill a lot of virtual astronauts as part of your learning curve as you figure out what to prioritize. Thing is, there’s a subtle difference in most scenarios between “stupid mistake I made” and “stupid elements which ensure mistakes cannot be avoided.” And Base One is absolutely larded up with built-in mistakes guaranteed to kill virtual astronauts in job lots.

Base One takes you through three campaigns where you’re expected to build functioning space stations specific to stated requirements and complete a series of objectives in a given scenario. In this respect, it owes more towards games like Majesty than it does Outpost. You have no direct control over the crew, as such, merely the facilities that they access for their jobs and their scheduled allotments for work and leisure activities. Players will need to build given modules when prompted and attempt to achieve the specified tasks. As the campaigns progress, new modules will become available and new functionality in the toolbar at the top will become active. Resource management is not entirely clear cut. It depends very much on the scenario you’re playing at the moment, which means that you can’t really develop a good strategy to ensure consistent logistics. Real logistics, mind you, not the “Logistics” meta-resource you’re expected to connect manually and yet see connected automatically after the first couple tutorial missions. While the early missions have you salvaging resources, later ones require you to buy in bulk from a “company store.”

“Yes, our missiles are artisanal. The guidance systems are conflict-free and the warheads are ethically sourced.”

It’s here that the first great sins of the game’s design show up. You are ostensibly building equipment to provide vital resources like oxygen and water to the station. Yet you are required to somehow buy these resources from the store, which is a painful level of bad design, or at the very least bad information control. If the equipment provided isn’t at least showing the shortfall of things like air and water, then all the gear does is create a resource sink for non-renewable resources (like credits). Moreover, you’re not given any means to build better equipment unless it’s part of a mission objective, which can easily lead to players “overengineering” their stations and wasting resources they can’t afford to use. Also, there is some seriously atrocious mission design, where you’re given a certain objective like building x number of bunks for incoming crew members, then receiving a number of crew members significantly higher than the number of bunks, deliberately reducing crew efficiency and unhappiness. The missions feel like they have no slip in them at all, as if the devs had a specific path in mind and completely excised any room for error. Basically, you have to figure out what they determined was the “correct” sequence of actions in terms of building modules, interior components, and shop orders.

“Do they really need all that much oxygen? You don’t breathe that much when you sleep, you know.”

Compounding this is the absurd limitations which are built into the equipment you use. Batteries can be hooked up to any number of Solar Power Arrays (to receive power), but the actual equipment like the life support generators and water pumps are restricted to two connections, which again leads to the overengineering problem. Half of every station I ended up creating seemed to be dedicated to life support, which isn’t particularly realistic or enjoyable. Further complications arise from the absolutely ridiculous “day/night” cycle. When a space station is basically three-quarters of the way to the Moon, it’s going to have virtually uninterrupted sunlight except for a lunar eclipse. The mechanic does nothing except exacerbate already clunky systems already in use. Forget suspending disbelief, Base One can’t even work up a mild rebuke. As for the tech trees and research angle, they’re buried so far into the campaigns that by the time you’re at a point where you can make any actual decisions, you’re already burned out on the rest of the gameplay.

“So, we raise food here, but we have to buy food from the supply base?”
“Eating food that wasn’t processed to within an inch of its molecular bonds? Are you some kind of space hippie?”

The missions in Base One‘s episode campaigns ostensibly have a story behind them. Unfortunately, it’s not a terribly good story. A wormhole leading to another part of the galaxy opens up near the Moon and slowly starts tearing it apart. Bad news for people who like moonlight walks on the beach, but great news for space exploration. Multiple corporations and government alliances are working to settle the far side of the wormhole and you’re the lucky schlub who gets to oversee the construction of the space stations which will be Mankind’s springboard to the stars. This might be an interesting premise if the missions themselves weren’t so ponderously and painfully long. There’s way too much time wasted on getting modules in place, hooked up, and fully functioning for any actual story advancement.

Though certain story elements might need to be…reconsidered.

When we are exposed to characters, they have no personality to them. They’re literally talking heads which we have maybe a minute’s interaction with (and by “interaction,” a single conversational prompt which we can’t avoid), and which don’t do anything to engender any sense of sympathy, empathy, or enmity. For the amount of effort spent on the base building, the characters that show up are basically the equivalent of obnoxious co-workers or officious supervisors we wish we could shoot in the face so they’d shut up and let us work. If there’s a claim of “environmental” or “emergent’ storytelling, that would be a barefaced lie. Yes, the staff you hire (or are initially saddled with) have their own quirks and personality flaws, but all you ever get are status reports about work assignments being completed and emails bitching about how they can’t exercise. The experience system is completely meaningless given the lack of significant interaction you have with any of your station’s residents.

I think I’d have preferred a talking toaster.

There’s no other way to say it: Base One did not survive implementation. It’s a game which has mistaken complexity for interactivity and activity for action.  Players are forced to micromanage everything and thus aren’t getting anything done.  Between progression breaking bugs right before and after the official release, terrible mission design, and shambolic mechanics working against you at every turn, Base One offers nothing but frustration and wasted time. It’s rare when a game makes me look for the escape pod, but Base One managed it, and that is not encouraging for anybody who wants to shape the final frontier.

This review was based off a code provided by the publisher.

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