By: Michael Dao
Guys, Star Command is finally here. The story of Star Command is an interesting one, it managed to successfully fund not one but two Kickstarters, one for the mobile release and another for PC/Mac. The developers are well known for being, outspoken, shall we say, and the game was delayed a lot of times. Seriously. A lot. Reading updates from Warballoon for the past half year only served to make me more and more skeptical, and just a little ago, they made an admission that their final product would only encompass approximately thirty percent of their original vision for the game. In the words of the immortal Eddie Izzard, they needed to look at what they wanted to do originally, and scale it back a bit. Even still, it’s hard to fault an indie studio for not truly expecting the amount of work it would take to achieve the reach they originally intended to. Still, thirty percent of something amazing should still be pretty good, right?
Star Command was originally billed as sort of a science fiction slash Game Dev Story mash up. A sim type game where you hired crew members, designed and built your own ship, researched technologies, and just had ADVENTURES. In space. Leveling up your crew. Doing Captain Kirk-esque things. Sleeping with hot aliens. You know, every nerd’s dream come true. We were looking for a rich, deep, experience, sort of a mashup of the fantastic FTL and Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story with a little bit of X-Com thrown in for when aliens inevitably beam onto your ship and you need to repel boarders . The reality of it is that the experience is much more shallow and one dimensional than what we were all probably expecting, and though parts of the game are absolutely fantastic, the hollow core of it dominates the experience.
The game stars with the customization of the captain in glorious pixel art form, and a tutorial via tool tips and a few softball missions that go onto introducing the player to the key concepts of the game. Here, you add your first few rooms to the ship, and in just a few minutes, the player is subjected to their first full blown combat encounter with an alien species. Here, we start to see the first real issue with Star Command, the fact that every mission inevitably leads to combat. There are times when the player does communicate with aliens, and there are branching dialogue trees, but the choices made feel quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but if you choose to open fire first in the first encounter, the enemy ship starts with its shields down – your initiative has surprised the aliens. This is generally how these decisions play out – they provide a small to moderate benefit or disadvantage to the player. Combat is also, quite unfortunately, not all that fun. The majority of your time is spent waiting for the cooldown on the ship’s weapons to run out, or micromanaging the crew on board the ship in fighting aliens or repairing battle damage. Though the action does get quite frantic at times, it’s not the same feeling that one gets in playing FTL. When all is said and done, there is no emergent story of what happened. Your security officers lined up and shot at the enemy, while the one in front got pulled to the back ever so often to let another officer tank. There will be no stories of how your crew held off the boarding aliens while a lone engineer repaired the non functional oxygen generation unit. Ship to ship combat is just a short minigame, a separate one for each of the three different weapons that you can place on your ship, and that’s the gist of it all – the game really revolves around waiting to play these three minigames.
Even though the basic gameplay of Star Command is shallow and not terribly fulfilling, there is a lot to like here. The graphics are that perfect combination of retro and charm. The ship design is creative and can be considered a character in its own right. The contrast between the pixel art and the wonderfully beautiful backgrounds gives one a true sense of both the beauty, majesty, and scope of space. And the soundtrack. Composed by Marius Masalar, I can say without a single moment of hesitation, that this is the best soundtrack ever created for a mobile title. It certainly sets the mood and does add to the entire experience.
In the end, Star Command ends up being a light experience, and at a different price point, say at the ninety-nine cent level, would be an acceptable purchase. The bad news is that three dollars, it would be considered a “premium” game, and it just doesn’t deliver the sort of experience that one would associate with a game at that price. An easy comparison to make would be to put it up against Ridiculous Fishing, another iOS game that sells for the same price. Ridiculous Fishing is a much more enjoyable experience, and a simpler game all around, probably took less time to develop, but was infinitely more fun. The things that Star Command does, it does well. It’s just a shame that it just leaves us wanting what it could have been, as opposed to what it actually is. People who are fans of the genre will probably get some enjoyment out of the title – heck, I own every single iOS title Kairosoft has released, but others will probably best served by staying away.
Star Command is currently available on iOS and will be coming to Android, PC and Mac in the near future.