App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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As a tie in to the Luc Besson directed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Spil Games has created Valerian: City of Alpha, a free-to-play game that attempts to marry city building, exploration, and diplomacy in the film's unique sci-fi universe. This combination shows some glimmers of inspiration, but City of Alpha is otherwise quite tedious.
You must build a space station
City of Alpha is a prequel of sorts to Besson's film. In it, you work to build Alpha from a space station to a bustling city full of alien cultures. You do this mostly through exploring the universe to find new races that you then must court before building habitats for them on Alpha for them to live in.
There is a pretty simple gameplay formula for achieving this task. Using a menu-based interface, you tap to dispatch ships to galaxies and have them scanned. Once scanned, you can choose missions to take on which initiate a basic “choose-your-own-adventure” sequence that–if completed successfully–yields rewards. These rewards can be favor for a particular alien race, but can also be things like resources that you can use to upgrade things that will help you complete more missions faster or more consistently.
This template for a game is well-worn territory. The basic framework of City of Alpha isn't particularly original, although some of its trappings are. Unfortunately though, any fresh ideas that City of Alpha brings to the table feel pretty half-baked.
In particular, the diplomacy aspects of City of Alpha feel underdeveloped. Whenever you enter a mission, you are presented with some text and three ways to deal with a situation the text presents. While this could have been a neat way of giving players some agency in small story moments, the selections you make in these sections have pretty random outcomes that don't end up mattering as much as the rewards you get from your selections. This makes the text in City of Alpha feel arbitrary and reduces the game to a resource grind.
Touching the void
City of Alpha mixes its underwhelming gameplay with some poor controls, a slow UI, and a frustrating free-to-play system.
This combination makes everything in City of Alpha take forever. Tapping to initiate missions can take several taps, as the game requires you to be weirdly precise when using its galaxy map. Moving between menus always involves some sort of visual flourish and animation, which can get annoying when trying to make quick references. And, if these issues weren't enough, City of Alpha gates your ability to make progress in it with all manner of stamina meters, premium currencies, and other free-to-play shenanigans.
The bottom line
Valerian: City of Alpha's attempts to deliver stories from Valerian's universe are undercut by its gameplay, and its gameplay is clunky and slow.