Early Access Preview: Interstellar Transport Company19 Sep 2017 0
Infrastructure development and transport are those noble endeavours that aren't as flashy military conquests, but are the really mature part of empire building. Any random warlord can be greedy and tax peasants to build golden loos. But it takes a visionary to make roads and bridges. Space transport sorta works like that, too. Interstellar Transport Company, on the other hand...
Much like such seminal classics like Transport Tycoon, ITC barely has a setting. You get a randomly generated galaxy... but you start in your little solar system, representing something like our own little solar system circa 2050. You and zero-to-some AI (or human, if you go multiplayer) opponents start as competing space transport companies, shipping food and water to famished colonies.
At the bare-bones level, this game is a lot like playing Transport Tycoon. You have places that produce stuff and places that need that production. Sometimes what you ship feeds an industry that produces something else to transport. There are also people who would like to join the 62-million-mile-high club, so you can transport passengers, too. Not to mention you have the maintenance of your fleet to take care of, as well set up.
Unlike in Transport Tycoon – and a little like Railroad Tycoon – you have to customise your ships; they're really too big to be transporting a single kind of good! This is where the game gets a little tricky. Since you can program routes with various pick up/drop off behaviours for various goods, you can theoretically get a ship that visits multiple planets, dropping off goods collected from a manufacturing powerhouse like some multiton space Santa Claus.
Practically, it's all about single-good ships going on single good routes. At least, the AI is geared towards that – something I discovered when a bug forced their route manifesto to appear instead of mine. Their companies periodically collapse every few years before mysteriously springing back up. Me, however, I keep trying to cram passengers and machinery into some nook in my mammoth food haulers.
But none of that really matters. Currently, the AI is not a competitor to you. That's because there's really nothing to compete for. The colonies have an endless hunger for food and water, both of which the starting planet produces in spades. You can compete over machinery – the only limited good, since planets only need about 4,000 units before they are fully developed. However, there is no way to ensure that you will get the goods first – except for maybe upgrading your taxi service to speed up loading – so it's a crapshoot.
And even then, the game is a dreadful slog. Most of the time, you will be left looking at your ships fly about at max game speed. Sometimes, a planet will get colonised and you will want to send some rockets (the only disposable ships, yet they can be accepted even by the most underdeveloped of colonies) of food and water to help it. Doesn't really matter, though, because colonies will go into famine no matter what you or the AI does. And when the famine starts, the reputation of your company on that world plummets. The reputation is unlikely to recover – which is too bad, since you rely on reputation to build planetary infrastructure and get better prices.
Interstellar travel adds even more complications, but you'll quit the game before then. The gameplay is really dreary, and the opaqueness doesn't really help. You get no information about the length of your routes, which doesn't really matter while you're running in-system (and the planets move along their orbits), but which would be vital information for interstellar plans, since you need that to plan fuel consumption. You don't even get things like cargo maintenance costs explained.
And nothing really happens in the game. You can totally ignore all the big events like famines and catastrophes and leave it running in the background while you go paint miniatures or make food. This is a great way to collect enough money for ambitious projects like sponsoring factories or buying some of those wonderful mass coveyors that work well when transporting food over short hops.
And when you look at the developer roadmap, it seems that most of the game isn't there yet. It talks about factions and politics, and more variety to the fleets, and more goods to transport. It all sounds wonderful, but none of that is currently implemented. As it stands, even in the face of positive Steam reviews, I can't in good faith recommend this game to be bought -- at least at this stage of Early Access.
Buying Interstellar Transport Company now will more likely than not sour you to the game experience. The glacial pace and the lack of variety will make you want to quit the game and never get back to it. Wait for it to ripen and mature. Maybe once this skeleton is coated with the flesh promised in the development roadmap, it will be worth buying. For now, it's best to leave it drift in the void.
Interstellar Transport Company entered into Steam Early Access on August 16th, 2017. At the time of writing, it is due to be in EA for no longer than twelve months.