Should I Be Excited About… Starsector
Starsector, now in Alpha with early access available for pre-order customers, is definitely setting its sights high. It’s a top down 2D spaceship game, but that description alone isn’t enough to capture what is going on here. There are hints of FTL in places, and there is a clear lineage to the X franchise and its Elite forebears, and during combat there’s a definite parallel to be drawn back to the old SubSpace game (does anyone but me remember that?).
It’s fair to say that Starsector is really an indie mashup of the best bits of the greatest hits of the shooty-spaceship genre, which is a seriously ambitious task. The big question of course is whether the game will live up to its ambition – let’s find out!
Starting the game up you’re confronted with a series of dialogue choices that apes a lot the character generation system from Mass Effect; from a series of scenarios you pick the action that best describes “what happened” to your character. This creates your starting point and sets up your initial attributes, which you can then add to as part of your first level to create a customised character.
The game starts with an overview of the current area of space and you can order your fleet (currently consisting of one ship) around. Other fleets, planets and space stations interact with each other around you, and the main enemy force (pirates) will buzz around like flies and try to initiate combat. This is probably a bad thing at first, because most of these pirates outclass you by a significant amount. The learning curve here is brutal if you aren’t prepared to run away from fight after fight, but fortunately death in combat only leads to the loss of your ship, and a replacement generic version is issued in its place, so at the early stages death is reasonably painless.
Combat plays out in a different scale to the tactical game, with a much more twitch emphasis, at least in the early game where you control a single ship. ‘WASD’ control thrust and rotation, the mouse can be used to aim your weapons and so on. At this single-ship level, the game becomes largely about jousting with your opponent, juggling your shield and “flux” levels (a kind of heat measurement) and making strafing runs against the enemy ships. As you add more ships to your fleet, you will transition into a much more RTS type view, and in a lot of ways this makes Starsector one of the first games outside the FPS genre to adopt this hybrid RTS “Commander” addition style of gameplay. Ships in the fleet can be given objectives to complete although outside of the tutorial there didn’t seem to be much evidence yet of this type of gameplay.
The wealth of customisation available is staggering. Each ship comes equipped with a number of slots for weapons, so you can fit the most appropriate thing for your play style, and customise the loadout as you see fit. The developers cite Mechwarrior as an influence, and it’s definitely visible in this portion of the game. With 31 weapons and more on their way, along with a whole slate of ships from fighters and shuttles up to capital class vessels, there’s scope to put together the fleet you want (provided you can afford it).
Right now the gameplay is a little bit lacking in depth and the learning curve for new characters is absolutely brutal. In the full campaign mode, you’re going to be wandering round the one area of space wondering what to do whilst dodging enemies that you can’t hope to defeat for quite a while. Hyperspace is coming in a later release, which will assumedly open up new areas of space, as is the ability to trade and develop your own industry, and the full wishlist of features that the developer is anticipating is frankly mouthwatering. I’d love to see controller support brought in too, and at the strategic level, the click-to-move waypoint system feels a little bit at odds with the ‘WASD’ system used at the tactical level – it’d be great to see ‘WASD’ added as an option here. Honestly though, if that’s the biggest gripe you can find about a game currently in early release…
The bottom line is that I’ve seen games brought to market with a lot less polish than even this early version has (0.54.1a was the version previewed), and with a lot less of a firm grasp on an idea and how to execute it. With the developer’s “It’s finished when it’s finished” approach to a release date, Starsector is promising to be an exceptional title – get in now and take advantage of the preorder discount!
Long story short – should you be excited about Starsector? Yes. Yes you should.
Starsector is currently available to preorder (with immediate access to the alpha)