Version tested: PC (Steam)
Also available on: Android (iOS release upcoming)
Developer: Chasing Carrots
Publisher: Chasing Carrots
Genre: Space Simulation
There was a moment in Cosmonautica that summed up the entire experience for me.
I had accepted a mission to ferry some passengers from one end of the solar system to another. I had a time limit of nine days, but my ships computer said it would only take five days to get there. Perfect, I thought. I’d deliver the passengers with time to spare, earn a nice 2000 credits, and then put my feet up and relax with a few space Martini’s. Everything was fine up until halfway through the trip, when the ships computer suddenly decided it would actually take 15 days to get to where I needed to be. The passengers arrived late, the mission was failed, I had to pay a penalty and so I didn’t get any space Martini’s.
Cosmonautica is an early access space simulation game that calls itself a mix between Elite and The Sims. So naturally the first image that popped into my head was Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly. And the idea of running a small ship for trading goods, carrying out missions and fighting pirates all whilst dealing with my crews needs, actions and inter-personal dramas sounded like a match made in space-heaven.
Unfortunately, after playing Cosmonautica, I can say with some sadness that this definitely isn’t the case. As previously mentioned the game is in early access and it is still receiving constant updates; so the points I make in this review may not be relevant in a few months time. With that said, the game is painfully incomplete and I wish the developers had waited a bit longer before putting it on Steam.
When you first start Cosmonautica you have the choice of either playing the campaign; which shows you the ropes whilst involving you in a somewhat token story, or playing the sandbox where you are dumped at a random space station and you’re free to do as you please. I selected the campaign, which starts with you suffering with what is potentially the worst hangover of your life, as a robotic parrot called N1L puts you in charge of a spaceship because no one else could be bothered to be captain. You’re told that there is a strange container in your cargo hold, and your goal is to find out what is in it.
Like the rest of the game, I’m not sure what to make of the story because I assume it’s unfinished. As long as you do everything by the book and the stars have aligned enough that you don’t suffer any major disasters, you can get through the campaign in about an hour. And it’s a pretty insignificant campaign; you do one mission, make a few trades, do some research so you can go to the outer rim planets and meet a character who tells you what’s in the mysterious box. That’s it. I didn’t think it was the end until I got a Steam achievement saying I had finished the “extraordinarily hilarious campaign”, who’s wording makes me wonder if the whole thing was a joke.
Playing Cosmonautica is a mixed bag, with some elements fitting in perfectly and others fitting in about as well as an aqua-phobic cat in a deep-dive swimming pool. You start by building rooms on your ship such as living quarters and science labs, and then hiring crew members to fulfil the requirements of that room. The cockpit needs a pilot, the science lab needs a scientist and the guns need a shooter – fairly straightforward.
Next you need money. You earn money either through carrying out a variety of missions or by trading goods from one planet to another. The missions are usually one of three types: ferry a number of passengers from point A to point B, deliver a number of goods from point A to point B, or take out a hostile ship. Whilst trading involves finding a planet that needs a particular resource and then buying and delivering that resource to hopefully make a profit.
As you play, a dozen little problems all start cropping up that take away from enjoying the game. You’ll try to sell resources to a planet that needs them, only to find out they’re fully stocked. You’ll go into battle with an enemy, and your gunner will decide it’s a great time for a nap, leaving you defenseless. A crew member will suddenly decide they want a 500% increase in their pay so you either say no and potentially lose them, or you say yes and you lose a load of money with no tangible improvement in that crew members performance. And whilst the Elite part of the game is evident, there is very little evidence of The Sims being involved. You barely interact with your crew and most of the time they’re on auto-pilot. They’ll tell you when they’re angry or happy, and their stats show when they need to eat, sleep and answer natures call, but you can’t intervene directly and make them eat, sleep or answer.
There is definitely potential in Cosmonautica. It has a unique look and sound to it and it is presented very well (besides the UI at times being a complete mess). Previous games have shown that trading, fighting and living in space can make for a fun time, and there are moments where Cosmonautica captures that fun perfectly. But at this moment in time it is too incomplete for me to recommend without serious qualification.
I will return to Cosmonautica in the future, after a few more updates have gone by, and I hope that it will have become the space game I want it to be. Until then however, it will remain adrift with all the other derelict Early Access games that have yet to deliver.
Check the game out at www.cosmonautica.com
Danny is a former games producer turned writer and video maker. He’s been gaming since he was 3 years old (albeit terribly) and can be found on Twitter usually whining about minor inconveniences.