Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interstellaria Review

Screenshot of ship being destroyed in Interstellaria
Only after playing for 15 hours does this happen to me. Bye bye ship. Hello void of space.

  • Developer: Coldrice Games
  • Publisher: Chucklefish
  • Release Date: 17 July 2015
  • Time played: 15 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Interstellaria is probably not one of the typical games I'd back on Kickstarter. In fact, I think I only heard about the game when it was mentioned by another one but when I read what the game was trying to achieve, I jumped at the chance to support it. As pitched on Kickstarter, Interstellaria turned out to be a 2D sim/RPG/Sandbox game "inspired heavily by games like Starflight and Star Control" (although I believe they're referring to Star Control 2 as the first one didn't have RPG elements). The Kickstarter project was a success, raising $28,805 USD on the 7 December 2013, despite the goal being only a modest $15,000 USD.

A year and a half later, the game was finally released in July 2015 but did it live up to my expectations of being a new Star Control 2?

Plot (3/5)
In Interstellaria you play the role of a human captain working for an intergalactic company called Trade Co. The company isn't as popular as it was back in its glory days but it seems to be the most multicultural of the factions in the game, employing aliens from around the known galaxy. Like Star Control 2, there are several alien empires nearby with differing cultures such as the Groot-like Suna, the octopus-like Kursha and the noble savage lizardmen called the Anoa. Apparently the galaxy used to be run by the Old Empire but they were defeated and hence why you have several fragmented empires today.

You're just about to start going about your business when you receive news that humans from your home planet have mysteriously been abducted and so begins the main storyline (if you choose to pursue it) where it's up to you to uncover a horrible conspiracy and ultimately discover who is behind the abductions.

The game is peppered with the occasional funny joke and while the plot is okay it's fairly derivative and reminiscent of other games such as Mass Effect 2 and Star Control 2.

Gameplay (2/5)
As the game is heavily influenced by Star Control 2 it's hard not to make comparisons – although this might be a bit unfair for Interstellaria considering how much of a cult classic Star Control 2 is. Like Star Control 2, Interstellaria has the sandbox element of you exploring the planets in the known galaxy to either extract minerals from planets (instead of a top-down rover mini-game like Star Control 2, you get a platformer where you control your crew with mouse-clicks) or meeting new cultures and learning more about them. In terms of combat, Star Control 2's top-down, real-time, Asteroids-like combat has been replaced with a mouse-driven, tick-based affair similar to the game FTL: Faster than Light, the only difference being you have control of where your ships move during combat.

The aim of the game is to complete the main storyline but you'll probably want to expand your fleet (you can control multiple ships), upgrade your weapons and level up your crew. This requires you to invest time and money, and with respect to money the usual way of generating this is via trading or selling any resources you come across planets.

From the way I described the game just then, it doesn't actually sound too bad right? Unfortunately, the game in reality is micromanagement hell, despite there being functions to alleviate it. Why?

Firstly, let's talk about what happens when your crew lands on planets. You control where your crew goes by using the mouse which is fine except that the AI to determine which paths your crew takes always leads them via the most dangerous way possible. Since the planetside part of the game is a platformer that means your crew will sometimes mistime their jumps or they're instead interrupted by environmental hazards resulting in them plummeting to the bottom of the map only to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Technically, you could pause the game every few seconds to ensure your crew times their jumps appropriately but that means you're micromanaging them and defeats the purpose of functions such as "Return to the Ship" or "Harvest Resources" since you can't trust them to do their job (it also would've been nice if they had a "Return to Ship and Drop Resources" button but alas they don't).

It also took me a while to get the hang of combat (and I still don't think I understand it completely yet). Originally I thought clicking on enemies would direct your crew to attack and usually they do but only with one shot. After that they tend to just stand there until they die. It's only after I found that moving a few steps and pressing the "Guard" key helped – but yet again, this involves micromanagement.

It was also very hard in the original version of the game to select the correct crewmember especially when they were all bunched up on top of each other. This was eventually fixed when a crewmember selection box on the left-hand side of the screen was implemented but now it prevents scrolling the screen when you have the mouse cursor in that vicinity (although to be fair, it'd be pretty annoying if it did that when all you wanted to do was select a different crewmember).

And those are just my gripes while you're on a planet.

While the combat is very similar to FTL which I thought was okay, again Interstellaria makes the experience worse by trying to be too smart for its own good. In FTL you only ever controlled one ship while in Interstellaria you have the choice to control a fleet of ships. Since you have complete control of which direction you want your ships to fly in the combat zone you're able to dodge (and probably expected to dodge) enemy fire. While this is simple enough to do with one ship the complexity increases exponentially each time you add an extra ship to your fleet. Consequently, you'll be pausing the game a lot and re-issuing orders a lot of the time which results in more micromanagement! Oh and did I mention the fact that the aiming of your ship's guns is in the hand of RNGesus?

While the combat is very similar to FTL which I thought was okay, again Interstellaria makes the experience worse by trying to be too smart for its own good.

Due to the complexity of having multiple ships I spent most of the game playing with only one ship and eventually splurging on two but gearing up a ship is a problem in itself. Each ship has different energy reservoirs which you require to power up components but more advanced components (e.g. navigation computers, tactical consoles, etc.) require more energy. Unfortunately, this meant that by the time I purchased my second ship for the fleet I was in an area which only sold advanced consoles which my ship could not use due to the energy requirements for these consoles being too high. Ultimately, I had to trek all the way back to the beginning area of the game to get the right components but during that time I had to make sure my crew's requirements were met (that's right folks, you get to play The Sims in this game too). This involved even more micromanagement where I had to transport ship crew members that either felt bored, tired or hungry to the other ship – wait until their needs were met, then move them back to their actual ship before continuing the journey. ARGH!

Sound (5/5)
The game has an assortment of retro sound effects that are not exactly high quality, but work well with the game's retro graphics.

Music (5/5)
One of the game's highlights has to be its excellent retro chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel. It even bears some similarities to Star Control 2's soundtrack meaning lots of early 90s goodness.

Graphics (2/5)
The game has a retro pixel art style which I find generally appealing but pixel art graphics aren't for everyone and I actually believe the graphics are somewhat of a "demake" of graphics from the early 1990s (i.e. it looks even older). Maybe it's something to do with the limited colour palette?

Replay (1/5)
As already mentioned, the game was a real struggle to play but the best part was yet to come. After playing for about 15 hours I managed to finally get to the "end-game" which starts off with a boss battle in space. Unfortunately, being a boss battle you can't escape and the boss happened to have weapons that could destroy my puny ships in one hit. After trying a few times it seemed there was no way of beating the boss except for reloading the game from an earlier save game and grinding the requisite amount of credits to buy bigger ships and more of them. The problem is, the game up to this point had lulled me into a false sense of security. Prior to the boss battle, I was mostly avoiding combat where I could since I felt it was a waste of time and didn't really give much of a reward (besides repair plates which I didn't really need unless I happened to be fighting ships). It would've been nice if some mini-boss battles were introduced beforehand so that it set you up for the big boss battle and get you into the routine of trading to upgrade your ships.

Anyway to cut a long story short I wasn't tempted by the prospect of grinding for several hours the cash needed to build an impressive armada so I gave up there and then. If the gameplay was less cumbersome and the plot more enjoyable, I might've been persuaded.

Polish (3/5)
The game has a very clunky interface, as already mentioned, which makes it difficult to have any control of your characters or ships – which is a big problem as the only way to be sure your commands are followed is if you micromanage each and every ship and crew member every second. The game occasionally has other weird stuff happening too such as when all my characters died in the tutorial but the ship kept on drifting in space (surely you can post the "GAME OVER" screen right about now?).

Score – 6/10

While I like the idea and I love the tribute to games like Star Control 2 the concept wasn't well executed. I'd still like to see Coldrice develop games in the future though but maybe the next one needs significant focus on the user interface even if it means simplifying the game as a result.


Interstellaria is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $9.99 USD?: Yes, considering there's probably at least 20 hours of gameplay here if you decided to explore everything, I think it's a fair price.

If you like this game, you might like...


[ LINK: Official Interstellaria Website ]

No comments:

Post a Comment