spacetraderEven though it’s a bit immoral, I just love the drug dealing mechanic in GTA Chinatown Wars. It’s quite satisfying trying to make a dollar out of 15 cent by slanging dope. Now what if someone were to take that mechanic, make an entire game based around it, set it in space, make it into an FPS, and make it 200 percent more retarded? Well the end result would most likely be Space Trader Merchant Marine, which is likely a remake of the old Palm Pilot OS game. I got this game as part of the Meridian 4 game collection that was only $24 during a Steam special (this special also included Shadowgrounds, Chains, and Larva Mortus). Although its economy-based gameplay premise shows promise, it’s bought down by too many flawed mechanics.

You step in the role of a trader who wishes to become the best in the galaxy. However you need a ship. After hooking up with a corporation who provides you one, you set out to deal your wares and make money. Of course, the corporation that loaned you your ship turns out to be evil, and they blackmail you into continuing to work for them. While you start out trading between just the Earth and the moon, other areas open up throughout the game. Well I better get the good part of the game out of the way. The space stations you visit aren’t large, and it’s easy to find your way around them. You can even use the menu to jump straight to any merchant you need to visit, and you’ll find out how much you can get from your wares thanks to an easy-to-use user interface. For what it’s worth, it’s fun to travel around the galaxy looking for a big score, and it’s satisfying to make thousands of dollars off a good product. Events will even happen regularly that affect the economy and the value of your merchandise.

Now here is where my praise ends. There is a time limit to every mission, so I get very little time to explore and find where all the good deals are. Travel between planets sucks up a lot of time as well, so you pretty much have to plan every trip in advance. Worse yet, there is no way to save manually, and the game automatically saves after I make each trip, so if I didn’t get everything I could during the trip, I can’t reload and try again. Thankfully, the game automatically saves each time you quit, so it’s not like you have to complete each chapter in one setting. You deal with both legal and illegal goods, but there is no real difference between them save for what merchants accept which. There is no penalty for holding illegal product either. You’d think the cops would at least stop me and pat me down, pop my trunk, or even hit me up with a search warrant, but no, I can just waltz around the solar system with thousands of dollars of black market organs or whatever else sitting in my cargo hold. Boy I tell you, if you think Border Security sucks, wait until thousands of years in the future when we have spaceport security. Also it doesn’t make sense that illegal merchants won’t buy or sell legit goods. I know they are supposed to be shady, but money is money right? Another thing that doesn’t make sense is that there are crates of product sitting around the areas waiting for you to pick up. How irresponsible is that? Imagine if this game was called Drug Trader and it was set in Harlem during the 1960s 90s. If Frank Lucas, Alpo, Nicky Barnes, or Preacher found out that their henchmen were leaving boxes of their product around for anyone to pick up. They’d be fucking pissed!

To add some variety to the action, you can take missions and bounty hunting contracts which allow me to bust a cap inside a target and earn some extra cash in the process. These segments take the form of your typical FPS shooter, where I battle guards while seeking out weapon pickups, armor, and health powerups while making may way to the boss. However, even these segments fall flat, as apparently each and every criminal, corrupt official, or renegade trader employs the exact same guards and thugs to protect them and hides out in the same space station, derelict spaceship, or graffiti-covered subway. Seriously, they even have the exact same layouts! As a merchant I should have moral reservations about killing people for profit, but if these people are this stupid, they deserve to get murked. Worse yet, I start each contract killing with just a pistol, regardless of what I collected the last time. Although you’ll eventually find a shotgun and a machine (oh yeah, this game could use a greater variety of guns during these segments), but it would have been nice to be able to keep my stuff, or buy them during the trading segments. You only get three attempts to beat the level, then you’ll have to wait several hours to try again, so if you don’t make it on the first shot, you just wasted a lot of time. There are times where you can avoid combat and use subterfuge or diplomacy, but you’ll still travel through the same dull environments.

The graphics look a little too primitive for a game that was released in 2007, but that isn’t even the worst part of the game, especially considering that this is an independently developed title. While the game’s merchant system will attract people looking for something different, the gameplay is too flat to sustain it. At least it’s available for a good price, and for an indie game that’s a remake of a Palm Pilot OS title, it tries as hard at it can to make things interesting.