Space Trader: Merchant Marine, developed by Hermitworks Entertainment Corporation and published by Meridian4 in 2008, is a trading game in the style of titles like Elite and Privateer. Players step into the shoes of a faceless space merchant just starting out and get caught up in an adventure spanning the inner solar system before ending on the moons of Jupiter as a master trader. Does the premise provide a fair return on your investment? Well, yes and no.
While the game delivers a reasonable story and decent challenge modes, it suffers from a general lack of content. This is not to say the game is without merit, what it does have is very reliable, it just doesn’t have a lot. Character animations are well programmed and the game is exceptionally stable while the writing contains a dry humor that is funny without coming off as particularly outlandish. However, despite these positives, the game lacks long-term vitality; especially against larger game worlds like Freelancer or Egosoft’s X series.
In the hands of a reasonable player the campaign mode can be beaten well within 40 hours and the three challenge modes provide limited replay value. Actually, ‘limited’ describes the game’s core problem. ST:MM is very stable but lacks enough variety to have any sort of long-term staying power. Once the campaign and the three challenge modes ‘Moon Madness,’ ‘Free Trade,’ and ‘Red Eye Trader’ are beaten there is no real motivation to continue playing. The levels are small and sparsely populated, the weapon pool for the bounty hunting missions is limited to four traditional shooter weapons, and multiplayer is limited to the same three challenges available in single player. Finally the trading system, while functional, lacks many of the tools players would take for granted in other business simulations including the ability to compare the price of a commodity between different planets.
When browsing a merchant’s stock, line graphs represent the value of a commodity within the given marketplace however there is no way to compare this information with other trade lobbies, making trading a combination of guess-work and attention to detail. Emails and news bulletins help point out particularly profitable events such as food shortages or disease outbreaks, but for the most part the player is on their own when it comes to figuring out what products are currently in demand on another world. Overall there is a lack of information that becomes particularly frustrating in challenge mode, making the outcome feel random instead of a result of the player’s skill.
Summery: A solid, dependable budget title that suffers from a lack of content and a bare-bones trading system. Reasonable for the current price but there are more enjoyable titles with in the trading simulation genre. Gamers are better dusting off their copies of Elite and Privateer then investing in this product. Two and a half to three stars.