Star Command in Review

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Star Command, the twice Kickstarted combination of Star Trek and Game Dev Story is finally here. Is this the game what was originally promised those that backed it? Not really, although there’s nothing keeping it from getting there. Is it still worth playing? That’s another matter entirely, and unfortunately, the things that hold the game back feel entrenched. In other words, the stuff that bugs me probably isn’t going anywhere.

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I’m not going to knock the game for the final version of this game differing from the version that people backed simply because I’m not sure how much it’s different from a previewed game differing from a final release. If you read a preview, pay for the game in full as a preorder and then the finished copy doesn’t have in it everything the previews mentioned, that’s the risk you take. You made the choice to give them your money prior to reading reviews. I put Kickstarter in that same category, and this is as someone who has Kickstarted several projects, including the upcoming Torment game. When you choose to support a Kickstarter project, there is an inherent risk that the finished product won’t match what was described, if it ever gets finished at all. Do I think that developers should strive to put in everything they’re promising, or better yet, adjust their promises towards what is reasonable? Sure, but things don’t always work out that way, which is why you need to be prudent when deciding what to back. Should the developers of Star Command been more reasonable with their projections given that they had to run two campaigns in order to get the game made? Absolutely, but that’s between them and their backers at this point. All I paid for the game was three bucks.

I will say though that if you’re looking at what is in this game, do not read the Kickstarter pages. There is no ability to customize your ship based on being tactical or diplomatic. You can pick ship layouts but there is no difference from ship to ship as to what rooms you can build. There are no away missions. There are no diplomacy missions. There is no exploring of derelict ships other than looking at said derelict ship from the comfort of your ship. There are no pets, no artifacts, no alien plants and no equipping of these items to make your crew more effective.

If you’re looking for a deep tactical space battle game, this is not it. If you’re looking for an X-Com type experience in which you juggle the skills of your various crew members in order to have the best chances of success against slavering alien hordes, this is not it. If you want to wait for buttons to recharge and then fight abysmal touch controls and brain-dead AI in order to keep your captain from being sucked out of a hull breach, well, welcome aboard!

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Ship battles involve your ship pointing towards an enemy ship and then waiting for weapons to recharge so that you can play a minigame to make the weapons fire. Depending on what other rooms you have built, you can also wait for your dodge generator to charge up, allowing you to dodge incoming attacks, provided you have dodge tokens. You can also instantly recharge your shields, provided you have a shield token. Oh, one of those weapons also needs tokens, but it’s pretty powerful, provided you don’t screw up the minigame.

During ship battles, the second your shield goes down, and I mean the second it goes down, enemies will board your ship and you’ll have to kill them, assuming your crew can keep themselves alive, a dodgy proposition at best. For one, your crew is incapable of saving themselves. If an alien comes at them, blaster a-firing, your crew will stand there and get shot. If the space that your crew member is actively occupying is on fire, your crew member will mutely burn to death. I’m all for remaining at one’s post, but for Christ’s sake, move over a square to one that is not on fire.

Your crew can fight back, but only crew members assigned to the bridge or the weapons stations. That’s what the medics and engineers get for spending all that time on fancy book learning. As crew members die, you can assign non combat crews to combat stations so that they can become combat crews. Granted, this may mean that there’s no one to man the other rooms, which means that crucial ship systems won’t be available, but it’s all part of managing your ship.

Unfortunately, battles just go on for way too long and many the time will you defeat the other ship but the dozen or so enemy crew members on your ship will kill either your captain or the alien princess on your ship and you’ll lose. Or maybe you defeat the other ship and then kill an enemy crew member and it blows a hole in the hull and your captain gets sucked out of the breach. Or maybe you defeat the other ship but then the princess burns to death because they don’t have fire on her home planet and she thought it was just some sort of intensely hot, brightly colored foot massage.

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And that’s not accounting for all of the times the game will just up and crash on you. I played it on an iPad and I must have done one of the final missions for something like two hours before getting through it, half of which I spent on reloading the game due to crashes. I know that development is hard, I get that, but I thought the benefit of iOS is that there are much fewer variations, allowing for better quality control. Star Command did not get this memo.

Speaking of the iPad, I simply can not see how you could play this game on an iPhone and not want to jettison your phone out the airlock. The iPad was wonky enough. I can’t imagine having to constantly zoom in and zoom out, not to mention direct crew members from death by rapid decompression on the iPhone’s small screen. Those that backed the game a second time for the PC and Mac will hopefully have a better go of things with mouse control but by then they may have to pony up for additional Kickstarters to get the thing out the door.

Supposedly the PC/Mac versions will serve as test beds for adding new features to the mobile versions, which sounds pretty fishy to me, but whatever. Seems you should just ship your game with what you promised, but again, it’s their business to not meet their promises just as it’s the consumer’s business to decide whether or not they want to roll the Kickstarter dice.

As it stands, Star Command is not the game that was originally promised, nor is it a particularly good game. It can be, so hopefully it will become on, but as it is right now, I’d steer clear of it and maybe get their space strategy fix with Eclipse. I know that’s what I plan on doing.

4 Responses to “Star Command in Review”

  1. Michael Barnes May 9, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    This game is absolute fucking trash, you’re too kind to it. The art is cute and likely accounts for its success as a Kickstarter project. The concept (um, FTL for IOS?) is great. But the _design_ is HORRID.

    At first, I thought it was pretty neat but I was noticing that I was doing more waiting than actually doing anything. Then, when I fired, the stupid targeting minigame would SOMETIMES register hits, sometimes not. Then I’d be waiting again. And what’s this about “needing a token”? Then you get boarded, and there’s no hope because you can’t have your redshirt tactical guys/gals shooting at the enemy ship AND ALSO shooting at the bad guys on your ship. And your ship can’t actually be destroyed. Then there’s this thing with earning tokens to buy rooms, which doesn’t really make any sense. Oh wait…you can upgrade the rooms by tapping…er…”info”?

    And the multiple choice dialogues…that do not change any kind of outcome. You’re going to fight. Over and over again, in long, grueling, and completely uninteresting battles.

    This is a disaster, anyone giving this game ANY kind of good notice is either a) a Kickstarter backer nervously validating their foolish purchase or b) somebody that has no sense of what a good game design is.

    You are absolutely right- the issues that this game has will not go away with a patch or an update that adds that “coming soon!” guy. Because the design itself is AWFUL.

    I would go so far as to say that this is probably the worst game out of something like 350 that I have downloaded on IOS. No exaggeration, this game is that bad.

    It really sounds like the developers got in WAY over their heads and realized that just putting out ANYTHING was better than getting into hot water and being liable for all the people that “invested” in this garbage.

    I’m not sure why this game isn’t bigger news…it was so hotly anticipated, had the high profile funding campaign…and now it’s the textbook example of how Kickstarter can result in some utter shit.

    • Brandon May 9, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      I agree with you 100% on everything, including being too nice to the game. I just don’t have that Barnes fire! ;)

  2. drmcscott May 9, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    Unknown Developer – Check.
    2 Kickstarters required – Check.
    Too good to be true promises (or TGTBT) – Check.
    TGTBT promises for a iOS game – check.
    Trust your gut instinct procedure – check.

    Just one of those points sets off my alarm…. two of them sets off my run away protocol and all five sets off the Bullshit fog horn.

    The Kickstarter phenomenon will die if this happens with a recognised high profile name with reasonable goals. I am deadly worried about that peter molyneux populous game. I mean that’s a game he could have made at any time with the traditional publishing method.

    • wonderloss May 9, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      It’s Peter Molyneux. I cannot think of too many people who manage to overhype their products like he does. Whether he is too ambitious,, and unable to do what he thinks, or if he knowingly and intentionally overpromises, I am not sure.

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