Reviewing Space Trader: Merchant Marine
Written by: Elijah Moon Blackwell
Retro isn’t always a good thing. It’s like buying a washboard as opposed to a modern day washing machine to do laundry.
Space Trader: Merchant Marine is a first person shooter where the player controls an unnamed character in space. As Mr/Ms no-name the player can buy and sell goods or take part in bounty hunting.
Sounds good, right?
During my senior year of high school, sometime in 2013, I had befriended a person online. This was no ordinary random gamer, though; this person had resources.
In the early days of Steam trading one could practically make a living off buying and selling digital copies of games. This person was making a killing doing just that. They had the capital to buy games in huge quantities during sales. Once the sale was over they profited off those who missed out. Sure, they only made a couples bucks off each sale but it all added up to a huge amount of tax free income.
Due to new restrictions and changes to policy this Steam community ran economy died. But before it did this person offered me an unreasonable number of games for a very small amount of money.
What I didn’t know is that the games were ones they couldn’t get rid of.
I installed the games en mass. Space Trader: Merchant Marine with it’s many adjectives click baited me into trying it before the others. At the time I was into space games and I knew about the popular ones like Wing Commander III. I was always thirsty for more space.
This space game seemed to be something different. Teenage me thought I discovered a hidden gem in the ever endless Steam library.
Let’s fast forward six years. There is a guy at the local flea market who buys foreclosed storage units then sells the contents. Every now and again I will buy quite a few PC games off him. Last time, I got Space Trader: Merchant Marine. I honestly didn’t know it had a physical copy.
Now it sits on my desk staring at me as I type this review. Six years later I decided to give it a second shot because I didn’t like it the first time.
It still sucks.
The game starts with the main character getting their trade license. However, the character doesn’t own a ship. So you start exploring.
Everyone is much larger and taller than you. I’m not sure if this is on purpose, but it is kind of weird. As you walk around you’ll find loose cargo floating in certain places. This is free to sell cargo. The game is already being generous. These crates of goods never go away, they respawn every time you visit a planet. It is essentially free money.
The graphics in general seem pretty dated. What’s worse is the music. It sounds like something you’d find on a Sega Dreamcast. Have you ever played Nights? Have you played Sonic Adventure where you go to the casino and….oh never mind.
After you do a quest for a guy with robotic legs you get introduced to some woman who is in charge of a trading company. She offers you a basic ship and the rights to fly to the Moon. It comes with a 1.5 million dollar loan.
When I first played the game I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that much money especially since she gives you a deadline.
It’s actually very easy.
You can buy wares to sell between the Earth and Moon or you can take contracts. The contract missions have you killing goons on the same couple maps. It is arena style. You start with a pistol and can find other weapons on the ground. Again, there is loose cargo everywhere. Each time you kill a goon they drop a couple grand in cash.
The AI is pretty terrible. Like Mob Enforcer, a game I filmed for the YouTube channel, enemies just run straight towards you. There is no strategy, just point and click.
You thought Call of Duty was bland? Well let me put it this way:
In Call of Duty enemies will attempt to seek cover. They will also travel in numbers. Sometimes they will throw grenades. In Space Trader they just stand in one spot and shoot. They don’t take cover and they don’t use any special equipment.
Combat being bland is fine by me. I mean the game is called Space Trader so hopefully the economy system is good.
Goods start low or high. When you travel to another location the prices fluctuate. The change in stock prices are purely random. Seriously, it is unpredictable. Sure there are graphs displaying the price history but that doesn’t help at all. A good that has been dropping for days will suddenly go at a all time high. There is no pattern.
In some games there is a reason for stocks to change price. Sometimes it’s the story like in Grand Theft Auto V when LifeHacker takes a hit due to a certain quest.
There is no way to manipulate the prices or follow them. It is pure random.
That’s the whole game. Buy and sell with random price changes. Kill some dudes for money. Collect loose cargo which is free money and the locations of said cargo never changes.
It all feels very early 2000s indie. However, the game was released in 2008. The same year as Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Far Cry 2 and many more.
Does Space Trader feel retro? In a way yes. In a very bad way. At the same time it doesn’t because there exists much better alternatives to this poor excuse of an economy game.
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