We went over it in our preview in issue 49, but it bears repeating: Slipways is not a 4X game of galaxy-spanning strategy.
No, Slipways is a puzzle game.
It tells you you’re creating a vast intergalactic empire generating supply and meeting demand, and it has the trappings of alien races, planetary systems to probe, and new technologies to research. But the game boils down to one key aspect: connecting your planets to one another.
You do this using slipways: space tubes, if you will, comprising a straight line between two colonised planets. Goods can travel one or both directions depending on the connected planets’ needs or what they produce. Planet A produces food but needs people to make it; Planet B produces people but needs food to make them. One slipway later, problem solved.
And from there it builds. Needs change and secondary factors come into play – more supply means more demand – and soon your simple, small-scale galactic empire is forced to expand to meet these new needs. Would you believe it, that’s where the real game begins.
Your initial, furtive expansion sees planets popping into existence as you probe probable signals – a minigame in itself – with expanded needs on the original home planets being met by the provisions of the new. But then the new planets have needs of their own, and so on, until you have a civilisation spanning hundreds of planets and just as many spacefaring thoroughfares. Bar some late-game tech you can unlock, routes can only be in a straight line, as noted, and can’t cross over one another. Suddenly sounds challenging, doesn’t it?
Slipways is superb: the core concept carried off with efficient, smart design, a tutorial system to ease in new players, and the shorter nature of each playthrough meaning it’s a title that, while it engages your brain to work out the best routes possible, doesn’t eat up all of your free time. Except… well, it sort of does, because once its teeth are sunk in, there’s no escaping its lure.
Galaxies are randomly rolled when you start, and while the majority of the time you get a chunk of space that’s balanced and something you can work within (and around) to get your routes set up perfectly, sometimes you’re just sold a pup. In a game where runs lasted hours – even days – this would be unforgivable. In Slipways, where a run is usually about half an hour? Get frustrated, start a new game, forget about the last one, have fun again. That’s the only concern of note I could think of here.
Slipways absolutely nails what it’s aiming for. It’s a tight, focused puzzle game that manages to both challenge the grey matter and also offer a much-needed respite from the stress of everyday existence. It’s only going to improve as developer Jakub Wasilewski builds on what he’s been working on for a long time, but even here in the moment after Slipways’ initial release, we’ve already got a great game on our hands.
It’s the pulsating probe mini-game. When you’re aiming where to send probes, their scanning range delicately pulses, meaning if you time it right, you can discover one or two extra planets. It adds a subtle little skill check into things – and if you can’t be bothered? Just turn it off in the options.
A focused, delightful puzzle game masquerading as space empire-based grand strategy.
Format: PC (tested) , Mac
Release: Out now