Starfleet Command Archive

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My Preview of Rebel Galaxy

Over the weekend I had a chance to play with a preview build of Rebel Galaxy, Double Damage Games’ upcoming space combat/sandbox homage to the glory days of space opera. Though the preview wasn’t quite what I anticipated from the press release, it still feels like a potentially splendid entry into the world of free form space adventuring and starship combat.

Reading about Rebel Galaxy’s roots in naval combat games instantly put me in the mindset of Taldren’s old Starfleet Command series of tactical space shooters. As well, the notion of flying about the galaxy and charting my own path to glory, or infamy, elicited fond memories of Wing Commander: Privateer and, to a lesser extent, Freelancer. Rebel Galaxy exists soundly at the intersection of both game styles.

Though these points of inspiration are clear in Rebel Galaxy’s preview build, it’s also quite obvious the game isn’t looking to stand on the shoulders of giants. The game’s combat model pairs the raw firepower of capital ship battles with the fast-paced intensity of an arcade-style dog fight. Initially, it was all too easy to forget to navigate my ship while taking my time to aim a broadside. However,  I quickly picked up the nuances to “sailing”, bombarding capital ships, and flaking enemy fighters as they buzzed about my frigate.

For those less inclined to battle, though I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to stand on the bridge of a space dreadnought and fire volley after volley into their enemy, Rebel Galaxy looks to offer all the usual suspects in terms of missions for a would-be space captain. I experimented with cargo runs, a few fetch quests, and some assassination missions. Along the way I also decided to play hero and respond to a distress signal. Thereupon, I learned a valuable lesson: when the ship’s computer says one is out-classed by the enemies, one should run. Failure to do so might leave a player with their shields torn away like so much tissue paper, this as a prelude to a destroyer laying a massive broadside into their unprotected hull.

In terms of its visuals Rebel Galaxy is no Elite: Dangerous. However, it’s still pretty impressive to look at – more so when a person considers the game as the product of a two-man team. The ship designs pay little attention to the necessities or requirements of space travel. Instead, the art focuses on conveying the size and aesthetic of what we imagined the battleships of the future might look like in the 1960s and 70s. Purists may find themselves put off by this choice, likewise by the non-Newtonian flight model; I, for one, enjoy the classic space opera appeal this game is offering.

I didn’t bother getting more than two missions into the preview’s campaign. Considering the game isn’t done, I’d rather wait and see what the story has to offer when I can review the whole thing. What I did discover while wading about in the shallow end of space is a good introduction to the world of Rebel Galaxy and helpful tutorial. Completing these story missions offered bonus cash, some new components for the starter ship, and a look at some of the various in-game aliens. Everything on those fronts gives me reason to believe I will be in for an engaging experience when the game drops.

The only part of Rebel Galaxy that gave me some slight pause for concern was its control system. Double Damage is developing Rebel Galaxy for both consoles and PCs. Everything about the controls seems fine for my mouse and keyboard setup. Of course, my ship isn’t particularly well kitted. My worry is if more kit leads to more complicated controls, then the fast paced nature of the game might prove to be something of a liability. I suspect, however, I’m worrying over nothing.

Overall, I think it’s fair to say that Rebel Galaxy is officially on my radar. While it might not give me the fix that Starfleet Command 2 has left me jonesing for, it certainly gives every impression of being a game that will scratch my space combat itch.

Rebel Galaxy drops later this year.


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Game Review: Sid Meier’s Starships

I approached Sid Meier’s Starships with two distinct thoughts running through my head. The first was along the lines of, “this looks so good in concept. Please don’t suck.” The second, born of the first, asked, “When was the last time Papa Sid acted as lead developer on a game?”

A cursory Google search demonstrates there is a world of difference between Sid Meier the developer and Sid Meier the brand. As consiglieri, Sid Meier helped turn XCOM: Enemy Unknown into one of the best PC gaming experiences of the last decade. As a brand, Meier attached his name to the pretty mediocre Civilization: Beyond Earth and the divisive Civilization V .

After spending some time with Starships, I think I can safely say that Meier still knows how to assemble an enjoyable experience. However, there are also a few places where Starships falls well short of meeting my expectations.

Though Starships is set in the same universe as Civ: Beyond Earth, it’s pretty far afield of its parent game. Starships is best seen as a very complicated tabletop game translated into an incredibly accessible PC game (also a tablet game). Half of the game involves managing and growing a space empire. The other half is a hex-based starship warfare game. As I’m the kind of nerd who grew up with tabletop/pen and paper games like Renegade Legion: Leviathan while watching Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers in the background, the ship based warfare in Starships is the stuff of my dreams.

The game’s point and click battle interface is simple and reasonably effective. In combat, Starships mobilizes all of the tropes of space battles, including lasers, torpedoes, fighter squadrons, and cloaking devices. Players customize their flotilla’s weapons, armour, shields, and devices to suit whatever tactical approach they think is best. Does a would-be admiral concentrate their resources into one or two dreadnaughts, or spread the wealth around a half dozen smaller destroyers? There’s no one right way to play.

Gratifying as these battles may be, there’s nothing special to their visual elements. The weapon effects are average, at best, and customizing a ship’s appearance is entirely decided by which weapons and systems a player chooses to upgrade.

Starships doesn’t even offer players the ability to rename the ships in their fleet – something that seems almost sina qua non for a game of tactical starship combat.

Likewise, the empire management side of the game is all about function over form. The star map offers all the information a player would require to manage their empire without the need to drill down into individual star systems. The nuances of system management are a simple matter of prioritizing tactical improvements and planetary defenses for the front-line worlds and infrastructure improvements on the core systems.

In terms of scope, I finished my first game of Starships with a glorious victory in under two hours. So Starships gets points for letting me feel like I’ve achieved something without having to invest a full day of my life into a game.

My biggest disappointment with Starships came after I finished that first match. In the euphoria of victory, I wanted nothing more than to play against a friend. Alas, Starships offers no multiplayer component.

Papa Sid, I am disappoint – a little.

Normally, I’m the last person to piss and moan about a game lacking multiplayer support. But if there was ever a game that could be enriched through playing with friends, it is Starships. Granted, I can see how real-time play might make for a lot of sitting and waiting between short bursts of ship-to-ship combat. Even an asynchronous play feature likely presented a design challenge. Be that as it may, I don’t think it’s an insolvable problem. Multiplayer support would give Starships a greater shelf life than it is going to get as a purely single player experience.

In the final evaluation, Starships is not a bad game, but it’s not a great game, either. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a rushed production, Sid Meier’s Starships feels like something where little thought was given to adding bells and whistles to the core experience. I wanted Starships to be an inheritor to the likes of the Starfleet Command games. Alas, it falls short of that high-water mark.

While Starships won’t get the most mileage of all the games in my Steam library, I can see it filling a very specific niche for the days when I want to blast through an armada of starships without the inevitable defeat of FTL or the 10 hour investment of Master of Orion. Job reasonably done, Papa Sid, but I expect more next time.