Starlight Inception Review (PS Vita)
When a game is broken, it becomes depressingly easy to review. Does it have frame rate issues? Yes. Does it have missing textures? Yes. Does it randomly lock up? Yes. Is it any fun to play at all? No. Sadly, Starlight Inception is such a game. This is software of such low quality that it’s jarring to see it on a mainstream handheld device.
And that’s a real shame, because Starlight Inception had a great deal of goodwill stored up amongst it’s eager, awaiting fans. An old fashioned space sim is something that many hardcore fans of the genre have been demanding for a long time. To see that sort of game ported to the Vita (of all things) is even more gratifying. Put simply, there are very few games like this made any more, and there’s never really been anything like this on a handheld, let alone the Vita. How is it then that the Escape Hatch Entertainment have squandered the power of Sony’s capable little handheld and produced a game that looks and plays measurably worse than the space sims we loved ten, fifteen and even twenty years ago?
Starlight Inception was the result of a successful Kickstarter and that’s evidence enough of the unfulfilled demand for a modern space combat sim. It certainly appears to include all the features the fans might demand. For example it has a series of missions in the campaign with story exposition and ready room briefings between each, including the ability to wander around your mother-ship in a first person view, examining your fighter and choosing upgrades and alternative armaments. Within the missions you have the ability to not only take part in frenzied dogfights either in space or planetside, but you can even adjust the power levels to different systems on your ship and issue orders to your wingmen. Flying from checkpoint to checkpoint, defending your fleet, taking out turrets on big ships and bombing the surfaces of planetoids, you might think that the feature list offers everything anyone could ask for. Sadly, almost everything is poorly implemented, of low quality and generally disappointing.
From the very first moments of starting the game there are some obvious signs that Starlight Inception has been rushed out the door. Either that or the developers have no aesthetic sensibilities at all. A lurid, almost illegible yellow font pervades the interface of the game and spreads a sickly miasma throughout. The text also overruns the text boxes, spilling out the ends and generally looking untidy.
While you’re able to wander around the main ship in a first person view, this really serves little purpose as the ship is almost empty, is hilariously low detail and uses low quality art assets that are repeated throughout the few small rooms you can actually explore. You move around this space very slowly, and it feels like the developers created some basic art assets and wanted the players to see them, but were unable to think of any real useful application for them. Giving the players an empty environment with nothing in it to interact with is pointless. Worst of all, between the missions you have to walk from one part of the ship to another. When you have to slowly walk down empty grey corridors just to get to the next mission, your store of good will wears away quickly.
Once it comes to the missions, it’s really basic “fly to checkpoint alpha” stuff. You fly to a place, you shoot all the enemies there, then you fly to another place.
Even then though, the distances between checkpoints can be quite big and I often found myself drifting off to watch tv or play with my phone as I left my ship to pootle along. Once you reach your destination, combat tends to be unsatisfying as you fire off your missiles when enemies are so far away that you can’t see them. This is more effective than closing the distance with them, and as a result there’s a lack of real dogfighting or any sort of direct conflict between you and enemy pilots. This is probably for the best, as getting close to the action causes the frame rate in the game to drop to unplayable levels.
I can’t stress enough just how rough Starlight Inception is when it comes to the technical aspects of the game. It’s really very ugly, and as such there’s no excuse to see the framerate dip so badly. During the third missions there are moments where control lag is as much as 1 or 2 seconds, making it impossible to aim your ship at an enemy or steer in any responsive way. This poor performance is present throughout, but when it’s teamed up with some hilariously low detailed environments (PS1 standard of visuals) and a dense, impenetrable fog along with a draw distance so short you can barely dodge the buildings that appear from nowhere, it becomes almost impossible to play Starlight Inception.
The indie renaissance on the Vita has been largely very positive, but there was always the chance that something as bad as Starlight Inception would pop up on the PSN store at some point. We’ve been spoiled with good ports like Terraria and Hotline Miami, so while the Vita remains a great place to find some indie masterpieces, it is also now home to some of the most disappointing games we’ve seen on a major platform.
It’s very sad to have to score Starlight Inception so poorly, but this simply isn’t good enough. I’m sure the developer realizes this themselves, but we deserve far, far better for our money.
1 big wall of dense grey fog just in front of your face out of 5