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Sim: Outpost Kaloki [by NinjaBee]

Game Review:  Outpost Kaloki
Release: September 18, 2004
Genre: Simulation
Developer: NinjaBee
System Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 450 MHz CPU, 8MB Video Card
Players: 1
Price: $19.95
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Yawn! Another day dawns and another management sim is released.

It certainly didn’t take long for budget publishers to kill what was once a fresh and unique genre. Faster than you can say “diminishing returns” the market has been flooded with clones of the same basic game crammed into different, uninteresting settings. So what is it today - Laundromat Tycoon? Sim Arby’s Shift Manager? Tycoon-game Tycoon?

Right away I have to give “Outpost Kaloki” developer Ninja Bee bonus points for not using the ridiculous “Sim” or “Tycoon” label on their game. If anything it serves this fun and entertaining title better to be distanced from the steaming pile that is the rest of the genre.

In Outpost Kaloki you play the role of a space station manager - but don’t worry, this is not some dry technical simulation. The gameplay here is easy to pick up and always has a fun, upbeat vibe thanks to the great graphics and soundtrack. From the moment I first booted it up I knew this wasn’t going to be like the other management games out there.

Each time you are assigned a new build project you are also given specific construction and/or business goals to be met. The gameplay takes place in a colorful real-time 3D environment that allows you to rotate your view to any angle around the station. Visiting ships continuously arrive and depart through warp gates and it’s up to you to serve their needs by building expansions that offer information and services.

The number and types of these expansions is impressive - spy training centers, observation decks, lemonade stands, etc. - but each new expansion draws more energy from your power supply. In the end it comes down to a struggle between the demand for new services and your ability to manage the flow of energy and money in your station.

I have to admit that Outpost Kaloki pleasantly surprised me. Not just with its superb production qualities but also in the attention given to ensuring a smooth and enjoyable player experience. I was never bogged down or bored like I get with most games of this type and every aspect of play seemed perfectly balanced.

Outpost Kaloki delivers a fun, almost casual take on the management genre, providing enough of a challenge to be entertaining without ever overwhelming the player with stats and details. I really enjoyed this one!

Graphics: 10
The graphics in Outpost Kaloki are top notch and oozing with character - like a classic Saturday morning cartoon brought to life in 3D. I half expected to see Bud Lightyear streak across the screen as the highly polished and consistent graphical quality of this game almost makes it look a Pixar license.

The detail level on the 3D models and textures perfectly conveys the upbeat mood of the game while keeping the framerate smooth no matter how many visiting ships swirl around your station. The GUI layouts are clear and easy to navigate and the various add-ons and upgrades to your station are easy to find and understand within the menu system.

The clean interface and graphical styling in Outpost Kaloki absolutely puts to shame every other “tycoon” style game I’ve seen this year. I found myself repeatedly asking, “This is an indie game?”

Sound: 9
Given the fantastic visual quality one would expect that, like so many games, the audio would suffer from lack of attention. Surprisingly, this is not the case as the music in Outpost Kaloki is just as appealing and quirky as the graphics. The soundtrack consists of fun, swinging tracks reminiscent of classic big bands and goes perfectly with the games visual style.

The sound effects are fairly general but do the job of keeping your attention on the game and blend well with the overall retro sci-fi theme.

Gameplay: 10
The game engine runs very smoothly with no sign of the bugs or visual glitches. The mouse controls for the camera took a little getting used to for me but are pretty much the standard of any game of this style. Overall, anyone with a reasonable spec computer should have no problem running this game.

Options: 6
Outpost Kaloki allows you to play the game through the main storyline missions or you can try 9 open-ended “sandbox” scenarios. Curiously, though it’s a 3D title you do not have any in-game options to change the display resolution, bit depth or detail levels. You have the (undocumented) ability to go into the game folder and edit the .ini file manually but this is not recommended and may result in a game crash. The only real “options” available in game are the standard audio volume sliders.

Value: 9
Outpost Kaloki sells for $19.95, which is at the upper end of the indie game price range but still a great deal compared to the inferior mainstream games of this style. The main storyline missions don’t take that long to finish but the additional sandbox scenarios offer just enough replay value to make this game appealing at any price. Ninja Bee delivers just enough fun and variety for you to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.

Fun: 10
FUN – definition: the missing ingredient in almost all tycoon games!

The challenge facing management game developers is that the players need enough of an open-ended design for them to create their own experience but also require constant guidance to keep the game moving forward. An open “sandbox” design just isn’t much fun for people who don’t have hours to spend at the computer. Gamers these days have limits on how long they can play before the outside world intrudes in on them.

Ninja Bee has solved this design challenge by implementing a simple “goals” system in the development of your station, requiring you to build specific add-ons or achieve certain traffic goals within a given timeframe. Not only are these goals accessible from a main list but also the visitors to your station will constantly remind you of what needs to get done next. It sounds simple enough and indeed a number of other games in this genre have tried similar features but for some reason it just plays better here.

The various goals are challenging enough to require constant activity on the part of the player but also short enough to be able to play the game in quick intervals. This is definitely the direction to go in if you want to appeal to the general, non-hardcore gaming audience.

Overall: 10
It’s hard for me to find fault with a game that has obviously had so much care and attention put into every aspect of its development. Outpost Kaloki is more than just another entry in an endless series of “me too” tycoon games. Indeed I found it to be the perfect management game for those of us who hate management games.

While the lack of display options and the limited number of open sandbox scenarios was a touch disappointing (and under normal circumstances would effect the overall score more) this is one of those rare circumstances where the game is much more than the sum of its parts. The few down notes do very little to detract from the overall sense of quality and fun that Outpost Kaloki delivers.

With such a dirge of horrible management games out there it’s great to see a developer like Ninja Bee outclass all the competitors (both indie and mainstream) with quirky gameplay and amazing production values. If you’ve been avoiding management sims because “they all suck!” then do yourself a favor and give Outpost Kaloki a try.

Loads of fun for all ranges of players – highly recommended!
Added: November 29th 2004
Reviewer: Kyle Nau
Related Link: Download the Demo!
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