Space Trader - Merchant Marine Review

Space Trader: Merchant Marine.  The title is pretty much self-descriptive.  This is a game that has you ferrying back and forth between planets, buying low and selling high, as you try to amass your fortune.  To spice things up a bit, you'll occasionally have the opportunity to collect a bounty on criminals which involves short first-person shooter missions.  However, the bulk of your time is spent clicking on various merchants, moving your wares, and then clicking on the next planet to travel to and repeat the process.  If it sounds a bit repetitive, that's because it is.  Space trading games can be a lot of fun - Freelancer ranks as one of my favorite games of all times - but Space Trader fails to capture the exciting elements of space commerce and leaves you with just the mundane task of hauling cargo back and forth between nondescript star ports.

Space Trader is a budget game, so graphically you get something that resembles games from ten years ago.  That's not a knock against the game, though, as I'd rather play a game that is fun but doesn't look that great than a game with cutting edge graphics that is boring or tedious to play.  However, it is a knock against Space Trader that it isn't compelling enough to keep you playing for too long.  The commerce model is pretty simple, and the game makes trading so easy that there's not much challenge or strategy to it.  At each planet you simply click your way between the traders, and each one will have a list of goods and prices that are color-coded to let you know what's in demand.  Even so, it seems that this system doesn't always work consistently because I've lost money buying goods that the game indicated were profitable items.  The game has traders that work in contraband goods, but there's no discernable difference between these and the legal goods.  They don't provide profit margins that are much different from those of the legal goods, and no one seems to care whether you trade in illegal goods or not.

You'll have the opportunity to take on missions to collect bounties on people, and if you accept a mission you'll be taken to a small instanced zone for some first-person shooter gameplay.  I can't really say that the first-person shooter aspect of the game is one of its selling points - in fact, the game would be better off without it.  Each mission is played on one of only a couple of maps that you'll see over and over again, enemies just randomly spawn into existence, and the AI doesn't put up much of a fight.  Each of these missions plays out in exactly the same way.  You spawn into the level with a pistol, run to grab a bigger gun, and then kill enemies as they pop into existence until your target appears.  The targets don't put up much more of a fight than their generic henchmen, so you can play through these levels pretty quickly.  Even with the short mission times, they begin to feel repetitive pretty quickly and soon and more tedious than anything else.

The game has a barebones story to it that divides play into chapters, and in each one you need to accomplish your goals within a tight time limit.  The game is one of those that makes up for a lack of challenge in the gameplay by setting overly tight time limits.  There's not really any margin for error and the game does not support mid-mission saves, so you'll be stuck repeating the same level time and again because you just didn't quite raise enough money or missed an assignment to collect a bounty on a criminal.  I probably don't have to tell you that a game that is repetitive in the first place that forces you to replay the same chapter over and over again does not make for a very enjoyable experience. 

In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 40%. It's about time PC gamers got a good space trading game to play, but it looks like they'll need to keep waiting.


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