On first booting Outpost Kaloki, I thought I had the wrong game. I had been told that it was a space station management game but the graphics looked like Cartoon Network versions of retro-science fiction adventures. The Saturday morning-style of animation and the real-time nature of the game play initially fooled me. The dollar amounts popping out of businesses and the animated spaceships made the game feel very different from the "SimCity in Space" that I was expecting. Even the funny voices and alien syllables when you deal with the space aliens are a delightful addition to the game.
But Outpost Kaloki only looks like a cartoon. It has the same kinds of payoffs as you experienced in SimCity and even more humor than Will Wright's wry comments in that groundbreaking, genre-making game. Add to this an excellent soundtrack with music that is absolutely perfect for the frenetic pace you feel as you play--sort of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy meets the Cantina Band from Star Wars--and it's a great experience. Though there are many games where I hit the option menu at an early stage and turn off the music, I can't imagine doing so with Outpost Kaloki.
As in Rollercoaster Tycoon, patrons let you know how they feel about the station and its amenities. As in SimCity, you see the businesses placed on the space station come to life and start to see the welcome traffic of customers. As in Rollercoaster Tycoon, you can save yourself a lot of trouble by hiring a maintenance person at an early stage because, unlike SimCity, the entropy (breakdowns from overuse, old age, and natural catastrophes) can be countered directly rather than environmentally. You can adjust attractiveness factors, maintenance schedules, and profit margins from a window that pops up whenever you double-click on the business or utility.
In SimCity, you have no control over how your power plants are operated--just what style they are. In Outpost Kaloki, you can tweak them for power rather than safety. In fact, the program is almost geared to force you to take that chance, since most of the initial businesses require 90 units of power and the initial energy unit (solar windmills) only provide 80 units of power in their default condition.
In SimCity, you build in hopes that they will come. In Outpost Kaloki, you can see different types of aliens with different needs and motivations lining up on the bottom of your screen. You know those green, natural-looking ships are most likely seeking to commune with nature and those ships that look like flame-embossed hot rods from the mid-20th century are most likely looking to party. To be sure, any ship has a chance of docking at any venue, but you increase the odds when you see a wave of hot rod ships descending and you have a chance to upgrade your social scene to cash in on the tipping point.
In SimCity, you worry about a large map that isn't always manageable. In Outpost Kaloki, you deal with a space station that has a limited number of ports (or nodes). You can use your mouse to turn the space station, but you don't have to scroll from one large section of the map to another. In SimCity 2000, you had NIMBY (opponents of development are usually called by this acronym for Not In My BackYard) issues crop up from time to time, but there almost had to be a crisis before you got much feedback from your "sims" and then, you had to figure out what to do about it. Each business/utility in Outpost Kaloki gives you options for upgrading their appeal for their specific clientele. You know immediately if you have increased or decreased the appeal of a given business by changing the menu or focus of the venue.
Outpost Kaloki has 5 types of business tracks to exploit: social, scientific, commercial, informational, and environmental, as well as two support tracks (energy production and maintenance). Each of the five profit-oriented tracks, as well as the two infrastructure tracks can be upgraded to increase profitability or efficiency (the energy producers and maintenance units actually cost money instead of making it directly).
The specific development paths can be found in our Upgrade List, but the simple version is that the social venues move from a chat line for singles to an amusement park; the scientific venue undergoes a metamorphosis from chemistry lab to genome project; the commercial sector starts simple with a lemonade stand and graduates to Wall Street; the informational sector runs the gamut from newspaper stand to spy satellite; and the environmental protection side moves from a flower garden to a nature preserve. In energy, you move from solar windmills to a second level of fusion. In maintenance, you constantly upgrade the number and quality of your droids.
There are seven steps for the five sectors of attraction plus the energy path. The maintenance track only has five steps. For some of these upgrades, you only need the prerequisite of having built the previous model. For others, you'll need to meet prerequisites in the station's overall rating (1-5 stars just like in the movie and travel reviews). For still others, you'll have to purchase or obtain a copy of the plans from a shady or generous alien. These aliens appear across the bottom of your screen and feature an exclamation mark when you can speak with them.
As with SimCity, you have a number of "sandbox" scenarios where you don't have specific goals in mind. You just try to get the space station (in whatever configuration to look like you would like it to look. When we played the original SimCity, we were only slightly interested in the scenarios. In Outpost Kaloki, however, the scenarios are tremendously challenging. The Eight Port Challenge drove me bananas until I realized that I could move forward by "over-clocking" my energy sources and making sure that I was sending the repair bots more regularly. The Hammer, a scenario where you can lose businesses to asteroid collisions faster than a Florida hurricane can take out a trailer park. The Hammer is intense. It is also hilarious in that you have an alien mayor who keeps trying to tell you that the worst is over just before another wave of asteroids destroy half of your station.
[SPOILER: When playing the Eight Port Challenge, don't try to build all five types of venues in parallel. I found that early in the game, I needed to allot three ports to energy sources alone (and those I had to over-clock). Toward the end when I had Fusion II capability (over-clocked), I was able to build the last track almost instantly.]
Station Efficiency Report (Conclusions)
Outpost Kaloki is fast-moving and challenging enough that it keeps me on the edge of my seat when I'm playing it. Those who know me are aware that I prefer the type of game where I can sit back and think about the situation before making my move. The fact that I'm willing to go back to Outpost Kaloki again and again says something about its replayability. It is there. It calls to you. If you liked Rollercoaster Tycoon, but want something where you have more control and that is even more fun, Outpost Kaloki is a must-have game for your collection.
Reviewer's Snapshot: 8 (on scale of 10)
Graphics 7 (some won't like cartoon look)
Challenge 8 (actual scenarios are terrific)
Flexibility 8 (multiple "sandbox" modes)
Reviewer's Bias: 7 (love the game style, grew to love the look)