Space Haven Early Access Preview02 Jul 2020 0
It’s surprising how few games allow you to command a spaceship and manage its crew. It’s a fantasy that’s easily over 100 years old -- older if you count naval ships which inspired sci-fi -- but that somehow never had many well designed titles. It’s weird to think we have so many Battlefields and Call of Duties and Overwatches/battle royales, but aside from Star Trek: Bridge Commander and the roguelike, way too small scale FTL, there’s not really many good space crew management games out there.
Space Haven, the latest title from indie developer Bugbyte Ltd., is a 2D isometric game aiming for that highly desirable category. In charge of a group of civilians crossing the void, you can build out your spaceship tile by tile -- first as a giant blocky hull, then by adding walls and doors -- and fill it with all sorts of objects, from couches, toilets, and kitchens to oxygen generators, systems console, and botany bays.
To operate all that, you need people -- and they luckily take care of themselves. Your little astronauts operate the ship, build things, use the bathroom, cook food, sleep, and chat to each other out of their own volition, in order to fill their Sims-like necessities bar. Each can also be “drafted” to be manually controlled around like a player character, but most of the time they will be governed by an hourly colour-coded schedule board of sleep/work/free time that you can fully customise.
Interestingly, people naturally take breaks or use the bathroom even during work hours, which adds a huge amount of humanity to Space Haven. That kind of natural behaviour is one of the things that sets the game apart, and it is widespread throughout other systems -- lights allow people to see their way and work without accidents, noise from people or machinery impacts the sleep of crewmembers, and fire heats up the air around it forcing thermal regulators to go into overdrive to lower the temperature.
That last bit is one of Space Haven’s marketed features, where gas -- oxygen, carbon, etc -- have its own internal system. O2 is important for people, CO2 is important for plants, vents allow gas to move around, and room size impacts all that, meaning specific rooms like botanies benefit from an enclosed room with dedicated systems and a separate temperature.
Oh, yes -- you can set the temperature for the ship, as well as deciding if things like power nodes and thermal regulators go on the floor or in walls. The whole of Space Haven is very customisable and it does provide you with a fair amount of tools, making this one of the few space management games that actually is about management.
Outside the ship, you got the whole hyperdrive/space travel bit to deal with. The star map features multiple sectors to jump to, and each is a system that features a number of asteroids, derelict ships, and places to explore or mine. You can mine asteroids (or work on your ship’s hull) with a small ball pod manned by a crew member, but you need a very Starship Troopers’ dropship-looking shuttle to reach another ship. The shuttle can sit 4 people and has its own supply of Oxygen, so you have to carefully move it around a system manually and give a dock order once you find a suitable airlock or hull spot. It must be said the game gives no indication whatsoever that a dock order has been accepted, but given this is Early Access, I would be really surprised if that wasn’t fixed fairly soon.
Once docked, your intrepid astronauts can walk around a ship shooting spider-like aliens and exploring the derelict (or being civil and trading, if it’s a crewed and friendly ship). Derelict ships often contain resources and items of important, sometimes even including colonists you can rescue and bring to your own ship, but the aliens themselves are not passive -- they can knock out your people and put them in cocoons that slowly kill them, forcing you to send someone to save them or abandon them to their fate.
All in all, Space Haven is surprisingly ambitious and surprisingly competent. All its systems work, and some like the power and schedule menus are rather satisfying to use. Combat at the moment is a bit of a hit and miss; in early campaigns I would lose crew members due to the struggle to get them to fire at aliens instead of just freezing in place (and I still can’t seem to be able to order more than one of them at a time like a squad or have them all just fire on anything reliably). That may be in part cause of the lackluster tutorial, which simply throws popups at you and calls it a day.
Technically, the game’s graphics and UI are passable but not quite there yet. 2D sprites are rather attractive but look woefully bad when playing in 4K and zooming in, while some functionalities taken for granted by good designers -- like the ability to open the build menu with the right click button, for example -- are non-existent here (yet, I hope). The soundtrack is equally on top of a fence, with an unexpected song as a main menu track and unremarkable synth tracks during gameplay itself.
I have to be honest, though: the thing that kills me with Space Haven is the 2D limitation -- as good as the art looks, it’s just extremely awkward to deal with a 3D environment without being able to move your camera around. It’s especially weird when adjoining rooms have objects stuck to the walls, which makes it a pain to select things properly. I know this won’t change due to the way game development works, but it’s a concern that I would be remiss in not sharing during a hands-on.
Despite all that, Space Haven is already fun and it avoids many of the pitfalls early access games often commit, so it’s definitely worth taking a look if 2D spaceship management is even remotely in your wheelhouse. The developers state they plan to work on the game for at least 1 to 2 years -- if not more -- before leaving Early Access, which is a promising goal given how much potential the game has. If you are looking for a space management sim that has all the depth and scope FTL lacks, Space Haven might be just the thing you’re looking for.