Taking Sentinel outer space - Space Station: Frontier reviewed

In the iPhone application world, when I come across a game or app I like I always follow the developer to see what they come up with next. Origin 8 are he creators of one of my favorite games in the iPhone platform in the early days: Sentinel. In a time when Fieldrunners was the king or the tower defense genre, I thought the style and little graphic animations in Sentinel made all the difference. With a successful sequel known as Earth Defense, the studio carried on with similar gameplay and few additions. Their next game needed some big wow factor, and they haven't disappointed. 


Space Station:Frontier  [iTunes Link] is in fact, the next take in the masified genre. With a very similar theme to their previous titles, the game has huge influence from Sentinel and Earth Defense. The epic galactic music, the storyline, the game menu navigation, and what I consider best, the small animations and lighting-explosion effects are all in there.

The gameplay, however is completely different. It seems there is no room anymore for the classic concept of tower defense, the one used in Sentinel. The devs have come up with a very original way of playing that feels created for the iPhone. And it works very well. Instead of a maze of labyrinths where the player places towers and traps, here the only maze is space's infinity. Literally, enemies can come from any place.  

Out in space, your job is to defend a Space Station from evil aliens. Surrounding asteroids contain a precious crystal that needs to be collected and that powers your defense units. There is a unique way to collect them though, and it is not the safest. Since you don't have any ship or harvester, the only way to reach the crystals is expanding your ship. Adding new extensions thanks to power nodes, you'll create awesome structures floating in deep space. 

It seems easy, but there is always a catch. Nodes are cheap and vital: They carry energy back and forward. But they have serious limitations: they can only hold four pieces of equipment. These addictions range from mining processors, batteries, repair units and defensive guns and cannons. Think of them as different towers in tower defense games.  

Starting a basic reticle is easy, but as the resources from the asteroids are used, the player will need to dig further, extending the arms of the station to, quite simply, enormous distances. It is up to you to choose where to go. Closer asteroids are good to kick start production and get some defense towers but won't be enough to survive more than 5 minutes. You can sell the miners you don't need to expand somewhere else. The enemy AI will try to destroy your node network before hitting the mothership, so it is not a bad idea to keep the skeleton there. 
Every mission has a goal that will teach you to train different strategies. It will vary from resisting alien waves or mining certain amount materials. you can also play the survival mode to earn cash and buy weapon blueprints and other goodies. The shop is quite extensive, so make sure you check out all the options that will better suit your needs. 

The game is somehow limited to a free play survival mode that you can set up, and my "time management tycoon" self is asking for a mode with no attacks at all. Mining all the space resources allocating equipment wisely can be very challenging on its own. The mining option is still there for freaks like me, but after a week I haven't been able to unlock it. 
I would still like to send some drones or autopilot ships to fight the bloody enemy spacecraft. You need to learn to how to fight each of them, and there is a learning curve there and no better way to learn than seeing all your work being destroyed with a blast. Survival mode in easy mode got me sweating…
With their background, Origin 8 got the zoom pinch absolutely right, allowing you to see the high class animations that made the Sentinel series so special. Lighting effects and explosions are rich and smooth. Sound effects are at the same level and have been developed by earcom. They remind me of the StarCraft series, completely adequate. 

Space Station Frontier is highly addictive strategy game. It is one of those that will give you several heart attacks during the same game and will make you swear when the aliens highjack your perfect supply network. This is good. Very good.