SPACEPLAN: a wonderful waste of time

There’s no getting away from it: you’ll be doing a huge amount of clicking in Spaceplan, largely because it’s the only way you can interact with anything in the game. Yes, this is a clicker, with a focus on a twee, gentle, pseudo-hard sci-fi story. Unlike most games of this type, the story is intriguing enough to keep you playing until the end (that’s right: there’s a proper ending, too).

You start the game in a tiny ship orbiting a barren, nameless planet. Your mission, at least in the beginning, is simple: find out what the hell is going on. What is this apparently dead planet you’re orbiting? And how will you generate enough power to produce the appropriate potato-based scientific equipment to find out? The clean, spare interface shows a view of space in the center, with your ship, little more than a dot, continually in orbit. On the left of this is your Thing Maker (build menu), and on your right, the Idea Lister (upgrade menu). To begin with, all you can do to generate power is click a button repeatedly, but in time, you’re able to build items which produce energy passively over time and research ways to increase their effectiveness. Most of your options for power generation are potato-based, in a nod to the movie The Martian which is so ridiculously overplayed that it circles back around to being funny. Another example of Spaceplan’s humor: there’s a ‘scientifically accurate mode’ that can be toggled in the menu, with literally the only change bring that energy is measured in joules rather than watts. “Everything else is totally accurate, trust me,” it says, as it lets you get back to building power-generating Spudalites.

It’s all one big grind, of course. The more effective you become at producing energy, the more energy you actually need to produce before you can advance to the next part of the story., But it’s this story itself that is the clever element, its talk of alternate timelines and time travel successfully detracting from the repetitive nature of the gameplay. I was happy to keep generating more power just to reach each story beat, especially since the next big reveal is always positioned so tantalizingly closely. The amusingly blathering narration by your onboard computer, too, is welcome, as is the better-than-average synth-heavy score, which provides a surprisingly atmospheric backdrop.

As mentioned, there’s an ending too, which does provide a suitable payoff to justify the hours of clicking you’ll need to put in to see it. And for less than three dollars on Steam, there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.