You know the song that the dwarves from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves sing when they're working: "You've got to dig di g dig dig dig dig dig dig DIG the whole day through"? Now if you substitute the word 'dig' for 'build' and think build, think build and think build again, you'll have obtained the correct frame of mind to play K240 properly. If you think that sounds boring, stay with me.
The game's set in an unexplored sector of space known as the Magellenic Cloud. The cloud is teeming with resource-rich, discoverable asteroids. Each asteroid consists of certain minerals and ores just asking to be mined. The statutory ubiquitous empire-in-the-background will buy any ore surplus to your building requirements.
Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to exploit, expand and exterminate - the three 'E's that prove 'E's are good, as I believe is the popular conception these days.
'Exterminate'? There also happen to be aliens out there. From now on I'll refer to them as Native Magellenicans. Now, these Native Magellenicans are the indigenous population of the sector. Somewhat understandably, they're going to try and stop you in your colonial expansionist plans.
So, as soon as you start laying your foul eggs of civilization, you're in a race against time; a race to preserve your should and destroy your enemy.
Just as with Sim City, you've got to build. Buld power plants to power the mines that mine the ore that let you build spaceships and missiles and as much offensive/defensive hardware as you can afford. Of course, as any expansionist dictator of grandiose all-conquering exploratory plans will tell you, in order to expand and grow you need infrastructure.
Game comparison number one time. Many of the elements in K240 resemble Sim City. Everything relies on everything else. As already mentioned, in order to mine you need to be able to sustain the life of your miners; protect and nourish, as fine a prover as you can get.
To do this, you need the four basics conducive to survival, namely: power, air, food and water. Each asteroid can initially support life for a limited amount of time. After that, depending on the state of production, you can choose to add extra Solar Generators, Hydroponics, Hydration Plants and air producing Life Support modules.
Assuming you've got the mix just about right, production will be in full swing. Unlike Sim City, you don't have to worry about connecting everything up by road and rail, that sort of magically gets taken care for you.
By this time, you'll have a load of ore stored in a storage facility somewhere. Every hundred days or so, a transport ship from the Empire arrives. IT always arrives at the asteroid with the most mined and stored ore. Sale of ore, surplus to your building requirements, is carried out with the Empire ship. Prices fluctuate, up and down, so sometimes it can be worth speculating about the price you'll be offered. That's the crux of the game - sell in order to buy things later on.
At first I resisted. It seemed too big and complex
I'll also give a quick mention to Sci-Tek blueprints; they're related to the arrival of the Empire transporter, i.e. if you purchase blueprints, they arrive with the next empire ship. Aside from standard armaments and production tools such as Hellfire Missiles and Napalm Orbs, Scout Ships and Assault Eagles, standard bore mines and deep broe mines, there's some really groovy equipment to be had.
The Sci-Tek button holds the snakey promise of forbidden fruit; forbidden by price, that is. Among the many tempting technically exotic hardware blueprints on display, check out the following; multi-headed drill bits to double the output of all your mines, construction droids to hep you construct twice as many ships as before, Fleet Battleships that let you disperse your enemy like chaff among human wheat etc etc. Oh, and as a final mention, what red blooded human from the other side of the Magellenic Cloud could resist the allure of the formidable sounding Seismic Penetrator? Not me.
Interface-wise, you can place icons where you want, which helps undeniably. Unfortunately, there are still some very annoying implementations that may drive you to distraction. For example, throughout the game, information screens pop up to inform you of something that's happened or going to happen.
Fair enough, it's an important part of the game.
Unfortunately, the programmers have opted to insist that you click on a little icon that looks like a 'return' key on a keyboard. This means that no matter what you were doing before, you have to move the pointer to the return button and click. No matter what you were doing or where on screen your pointer is.
There's no keyboard override. Now, it may sound like a petty point, but when you consider that you're just about always carrying out some function or other, it quickly becomes tedious and cumulatively time consuming.
Another annoying aspect is the control of singular spaceships. Unless they're in the hangar or moored in a spacedock, you have to click on them while they orbit one of your asteroids. It's no great test of skill, but it's tedious. No getting away from it; mighty tedious.
Despite the gripes, I can forgive the game. At first I resisted. It seemed too big and complex; the manual's over 100 pages long for Hara Krishna's sake. But no, the game pulls you in. There's a nice tutorial at the start of the manual that lets you access the building and mining part. You'll fart around for quite a bit, but the game itself starts teaching you what you should be doing; a progressive gameplay evolution if you like. Hang around too long not doing anything and the Native Magellenicans will take care of you.
Incidentally, did I mention that you have the option to choose from five different Native Magellenicans? No? Well, I just did, alright? Each is progressively more difficult and requires different tactics in opposition.
It's conclusion time now. I love this game. It's no great deviation form many of the god-sim-cum-strategy-wargames, but considering I've managed to resist those type of games so far, it seems to me an even grander testament to the playability of K240.
I honestly felt like crying the first time I thought I was doing really well. I had put together a couple of squadrons of spaceships and thought 'come on Native Magellenicans, make my day'. And you know something? They did attack. I witnessed a valiant defence by my home boys, the apples of my eye. But sadly it wasn't enough. The Magellenicans whacked the space fleet and proceeded to bomb my Jewel in the Crown asteroid to rubble. I was forced to look on impotently.
Rest assured I will have my revenge. I've booked two pages of tips for the next issue. It gives me an excuse to play K240 during office hours and that's definitely a good thing.