Calvin of ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ comic strip fame once made a convincing case for proof of intelligent life beyond Earth’s: If there are any alien races out there, they’re obviously smart enough to stay away from humanity. In the far-flung future presented in Space Station: Frontier, aliens still regard us as property value-lowering space hogs. The subsequent race for resources lays the foundation for one of the most intuitive and addictive real-time strategy/tower defense games available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Some years from now, mankind runs out of resources on Earth and must resort to mining raw materials from asteroids. The Phoenix Prospector is just the space station for the job, and you’re the Captain who’s calling the shots. Unfortunately for you, angry aliens are pretty adamant about evicting the Phoenix Prospector from their airspace with a seemingly endless armada of ships.
The many-armed space station.
The Prospect is outfitted with some basic turrets for defense, but it’s not a battle station by any means. You’re responsible for buying new technology, upgrading your weapons and miners, and placing them in ideal locations. You must fend off waves of enemy attacks so you can keep doing what you were placed on The Prospector to do in the first place: mine asteroids for minerals.
In Campaign mode, The Prospector begins each stage near the center of an asteroid field. By building power nodes and placing robot miners at the end of each one, The Prospector becomes a spider-like structure that can siphon resources from nearby meteors. The more miners you send out, the faster your crystal count goes up. Crystals mean survival: power nodes, weapons, and miners all come at a price, and most of the campaign stages (as well as the ‘Mining’ free-play mode) end successfully when you harvest a certain number of crystals.
The problem is, the aliens want you dead. They have a variety of ships, from the tiny to the gigantic. They’ll continuously shoot down your power nodes, effectively cutting the juice to your miners and defensive weapons. Moreover, The Prospector has limited energy resources. Guarding each miner with a missile turret won’t do any good if all the weapons sit cold while the Prospector struggles for enough energy to light up a bulb.
That’s gonna leave a bruise.
Succeeding at Space Station: Frontier means balancing defense, mining, and energy usage, and it’s harder than it sounds. The game is very easy to learn thanks in part to brisk tutorials that are merged seamlessly into the action, and the challenge climbs on a steady but significant incline.
Victory requires screwing up, learning from your mistakes, and doing it again. Each level begins with a lull that lets you get your affairs in order before the first few attackers stagger in and fire on you. You have just enough time to feel smug before the enemy’s Destroyers circle you and teach you a very hard lesson about the gaps in your seemingly impermeable defense.
Space Station: Frontier’s graphics are what you’d expect from a sci-fi real-time strategy game. There are lots of neon lights, cool alien ships, lasers, missiles, and guns. The music and sound effects are energetic, and you can import your iPod playlist as well. Our main complaint is that it can be difficult to tell one weapon from another on the battlefield. When you receive advance warning of a Dreadnaught in the vicinity, you’ll want to take a quick visual tally of your arsenal.
War is supposed to be hell, but in Space Station: Frontier, it’s a lot of fun, too. We highly recommend this one to any intelligent life forms who enjoy a good strategy game.