Steam Sales are always a great way to buy more games than you'll ever be able to play, but between all the big purchases you will often find some random games to keep you busy when there's nothing else; Space Trader: Merchant Marine is exactly that kind of game, but unlike most small, indie games this one managed somehow to keep me around more than it should have, just because at its core, it's an addictive experience. The premise of the game is simple: you are a new trader trying to find your way in this business and since you don't own a ship yet you need to find someone who is willing to give you one. What follows is a simple story and you will see the little twists coming from miles away, but even with that in mind, the missing excitement of what's going to happen next isn't the thing that will keep you around. The campaign has only five chapters and once you understand the mechanics of the game you will have no problem making millions from trading food stamps, oil or even organs. This game simulates the stocks trades perfectly, following the same: buy low, sell high premise, and even though at first it may be hard to figure out how to make all those millions, once you get the idea, it will be only profit for you from that point on. There's no real reward for doing this except the fact that once you reach a goal you will advance to the next chapter and start all over, trading between different planets, but that little sense of advancement is what will keep you playing.
The gameplay in Space Trader is pretty straight forward: you start on a planet and you have to buy commodities that will bring a profit and travel to another planet to sell them at a higher price, keeping a constant watch on the time limit that each mission has, calculating the profit per shipment and the travel time in order to choose the best option. Finding good deals is easy since those always have a gold star indicating that you should buy them, so eventually it becomes just a matter of having enough money in your pocket or enough cargo space, and your only enemy becomes the time as you carefully have to choose where to sell the stuff you just bought. You can make money by taking bounty missions from bartenders or by completing small tasks for different people, so it's always a good idea to talk with everybody because you might find out some interesting things or take on some missions that will give you some extra cash. The shooting mechanic feels old, but that's probably why it feels so addictive at the same time, as you will most likely instantly connect the dots between those shooting sequences and games like Doom, and even though all those bounty missions will get boring pretty soon as each map looks and feels the same and there are only two to three different types of enemies plus the target that you're supposed to assassinate, it is a good distraction from the boring buy and sell mechanic that the game generally delivers.
If you look at this game you will assume it was released in the early 2000's because it looks like it was made a generation ago; from the simple and stiff characters to the environments everything looks pretty bad and the repetitive level design doesn't help either. By the end of the game you will know every corner of each planet, you will start to love a certain section for how easy it is to complete a combat mission and you will hate another for how difficult it is.
The sound in this game ain't exactly bad, but it's simply mediocre at best. The voice acting is horrible, but the soundtrack manages to save it sometimes, especially in the heat of a battle, but otherwise there is nothing that stands out, it simply gets boring as you will end up ignoring the other characters or laugh at how bad they sound no matter the serious, story essential thing they just said. There are intentional comic lines too, such as the robot that answers by saying WTF, but those only make the entire thing feel worse, as the game is undecided between trying to be serious and making fun of itself.
After completing the main campaign you can also try the challenge mode that offers three extra missions that are pretty easy to complete and the only real challenge comes when you try to get the achievements, and if you're into that the game can get interesting and it has even some decent replay value as you can spend up to 18 hours struggling to complete everything. It's also supposed to have a multiplayer mode, which puts you and a friend in a race to get the most cash from those challenge missions, but after an hour of banging my head against the wall I couldn't figure out a way of making it work.
When a game is getting such a low score no one would actually recommend buying it, but in this case I'll make an exception: you should give it a try if it's on sale and you can get it for less than an euro, as for that amount of money it will keep you busy more than enough to justify the purchase. It is in no way a great game, one that you will remember after leaving it aside, but as long as you play it you will be entertained simply because it's so stupid it becomes like a good parody.
Rating Overall: 5.3