Friday, December 13, 2013

Starbound (Beta, PC)

Reviewed on PC, available on PC, possibly consoles in the future.

A space-themed builder-adventure game with high expectations.

Get your pitchforks ready, because I'm about to admit something that is sure to anger a lot of PC gamers. I don't like Terraria. Not even a little bit. I bought the game and on four different occasions, I tried to play it, and quit due to boredom and severe lack of interest. Despite the constant praise it was given, the game was never up to par with builder-competitor, Minecraft. With this in mind, Starbound shares a lot similarities with Terraria, and you can see why I was hesitant to buy into the hype. But after much debate, I caved and purchased Starbound, and was surprisingly happy with my decision.

Starbound is an open-world miner-builder RPG of the 2D family. Unlike Minecraft and Terraria, Starbound allows players to create a detailed custom character, and provides a background as to why your character started their journey. Although you start on your very own spaceship, your supplies are limited and require you to beam down to the planet. From the surface, you gather food and materials to craft medieval-era tools, weapons, armor, and even structures. As the game progresses, your tech level steadily increases, allowing you to fly around to other planets, craft more advanced items, and so on.

The game currently includes 6 races, with a 7th on the way.

On a visual scale, the game looks good for a 2D game. Planets with different biomes are vastly different in color palettes, ranging from lush alien forests, to deserts of sand and bones. The large number of visually different monsters, items, and blocks allow for some very creative and unique experiences. Lighting and water effects are more impressive than any game in the genre. Unfortunately, character animations are few, and monster animations are practically non-existent, so the world ends up feeling a bit stiff after a while.

Creatures spawn just out of visual sight, often times in large and aggressive groups. Many occasions I've stepped away from my house for a few moments and came back to a wall of angry enemies. In one instance while mining, I found and mined a small patch of iron, only minutes later to have it spawn 6 enemies that swarmed and killed me. This combined with the death penalty of losing pixels (the game's currency needed to make almost everything) can make for a very frustrating experience at times.

The alien environment are pleasantly reminiscent of Spore.

Combat is simple and straight-forward in most cases. Swing your sword, shoot your bow, don't let the enemy hit you. Most enemies will charge directly at you over and over until they are killed. Every now and then, you will encounter an enemy with abilities, and combat becomes much funner. The first boss fight is an excellent example of this, and while he is strong and will take several attempts to defeat, the victory is both satisfactory and rewarding. Lastly, your character can unlock abilities, called Techs, to spice up your character's capabilities.

The inventory system is bare-bones, but the crafting system is plentiful and well designed. There are dozens of tools, weapons, armors, decorations, etc of multiple tiers and play-styles. Items and crafting recipes are found inside dungeons, or buried deep within the planet. There are hand-held shields in the game, but after a few trials using the lowest-level shield, it seemed to be broken and did nothing but make me a target. As I mentioned before, almost everything requires pixels to make, and it becomes a grinding process to gather hundreds or thousands of them in order to make even the slightest upgrades.

Dungeons, villages, and other interesting structures can be found at random.

Gameplay - 9/10
Despite its many flaws, the game is addicting and rewarding to play. Building your character from a desperate existence to a badass space commando is a damn good feeling. The tools to build your own and (mostly) functional environments are plentiful. Multiplayer is double the fun and functions well. Patches and updates are regular, adding content and fixing bugs, and giving me confidence that this game will be one of the heaviest hitters on the market in little time.

Design - 9/10
Although I'm not a fan of the 2D style, I will admit it has grown on me. The vastly different biomes and underground areas paired with the large variety of npcs, enemies, and items gives for a very unique and charming visual appeal. Lightning and water effects are high quality and add a lot of neat experiences.

Replay - 9/10
There is a lot to do, and even more to do if with a friend or multiplayer. With new content and features being added fairly regularly, there are a lot of reasons to keep coming back to Starbound (or in my case, don't stop playing). 

Final - 27/30 Amazing
Starbound is a game with exactly that - sky high expectations. The game is may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy creative building games, or adventure loot games, then Starbound is worth looking into. There is only one thing I have to request from developers reading this review: More!