After several hours carefully nurturing my great capitalist space empire in Vostok Inc., I wondered at what point I got hooked. The premise is this: you control a ship, visiting planets to make money off while shooting any enemies that block your path. Simple, if unspectacular. Yet I realised that it is the game’s rewarding sense of progression, coupled with its excellent 1980s style, that really made me want to come back for more.
Yet I realised that it is the game’s rewarding sense of progression, coupled with its excellent 1980s style, that really made me want to come back for more.
You can tell that developers Nosebleed Interactive took this retro 1980s theme and ran with it. You’ve been hired by Jimmy, a sleazy 1980s yuppie, to travel in your spaceship carelessly exploiting natural resources for the sake of money, or ‘moolah’ as the game puts it. The parallels to our own exploitation of Earth is clear, but it doesn’t half make it seem an attractive prospect. Seeing your wealth increase from the hundreds of thousands all the way to the quintillions is incredibly satisfying. Starting off with simple mines costing 25 moolah my space operations got exponentially more ambitious as I built pharma labs, atmosphere plants and eventually the pinnacle: videogame developer.
From ‘moolah’ to the very meta references to videogame developers being the pinnacle of human development, Vostok Inc. is not short on humour. This facet of the game stretches to finding ‘managers’ in space. These are people you pick up while travelling around the solar systems to join your ship and seemingly manage your wealth. In reality, this is not the case. An early example is one who drunkenly wobbles by a bath full of money with an option to play a simple yet fun minigame involving wood chopping. This is something the developers didn’t have to do but, in turn, serves to add characters on board your ship.
So how does the gameplay hold up? Well, in typical twin-stick shooter fashion the controls are simple: left analogue stick to move and right analogue stick to shoot. To mix things up, you can upgrade nearly every aspect of the game using moolah. Upgrading your ship, weapons and radar is particularly satisfying as some are clearly well out of reach at the start of the game but obtaining them symbolises the progression you have made and makes you realise how far you and Jimmy have truly come in your expeditions. This satisfaction also stretches to the enemies: many deemed nigh on impossible at the start now tremble under the mighty power of your ship.
Fighting these enemies, however, quickly becomes repetitive. Whilst the face of the enemies change from solar system to solar system, mechanically they stay largely the same. More bullets may be fired in increasingly complex ways but their movement on screen is similar, meaning the same tactics employed in the first solar system can be used later down the line. The same can be said of the core gameplay. Whilst moving from planet to planet gaining more moolah is satisfying, it is only so in short bursts. During longer periods of play I tired of going back and forth between planets collecting moolah whilst defeating the same enemies. The varying upgrades provide a little differentiation to gameplay, but not enough to sustain playtime for long periods.
That being said, Vostok Inc. is a blast to play. You can tell the developers have put a lot of care into the game. The little bits and bobs that they’ve tucked into the menus (such as the inclusion of managers) are fun to discover, which is why I’ve omitted to talk about them extensively in this review. Elsewhere, the sense of progression is incredibly satisfying, anchored by an image of the 1980s that is part Wolf of Wall Street and part retro-futurism. If you’re after a cool little pick-up-and-play title with plenty of charm, this is it. Just, don’t try and spend all-nighters on it, OK?
Writer and contributor, Andrew Evans bought this copy of Vostok Inc. from the PlayStation Store. He spent around 18 hours earning enough moolah to make it rain over a thousand galaxies.