Review: Star Hammer Tactics

star hammer tactics - screenshot 4
Review: Star Hammer Tactics

Platforms: iOS, PC, PlayStation Vita

Game Name: Star Hammer Tactics

Publisher: Black Lab Games

Developer: Black Lab Games

Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Developer Summary:

Star Hammer is a series of video games set amidst an interstellar conflict between human inhabitants of the planet Novus and a mysterious alien race known as the Nautilids.

In the mid-22nd century, humanity has been forced to abandon Earth and resettle on a new homeworld, called Novus. However a jungle encounter with a strange alien race, soon dubbed the Nautilids, proves to be the catalyst for a brutal conflict.

Little do these Nautilids know, humans are no strangers to war…

Star Hammer Tactics - Screenshot 1

What We Think:

Star Hammer Tactics is a space-themed turn-based strategy game from Black Lab Games, ostensibly the first in a series of games based in the Star Hammer universe. It isn’t a graphics tour de force, nor will it awe you with its depth and scope. However, it will scratch an itch for fans of the “tactics” genre who want something other than the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and its simplicity also serves as a good introduction to the genre for new players.

Pad Tied

I reviewed a PC version, but, not surprisingly, it’s also available for the iPad. It feels a lot more like a mobile game than a full-featured PC game, with limited ship varieties, effectively one map (open space), and modest hardware requirements. As a dedicated PC gamer, it does gall a bit to have lived through the worst console ports only to be subjected to pad ports, but the hardware limitations of mobile devices provide a convenient screen for low-budget independent developers that don’t have the resources to compete with the major publishers. For now, at least, the comparative weakness of mobile devices as platforms levels the playing field.

The interface and controls are an obvious indicator of the game’s mobile origins. Ships are moved by dragging them to the desired location, and the few commands that can be issued are triggered by large buttons on the edge of the screen. Playing Star Hammer on the PC feels a little like using an electron microscope to read small print. Even at its highest settings (labeled “fantastic”, ironically enough) the game looks like a SNES port with heavy anti-aliasing. Again, on a pad, this wouldn’t be so noticeable, but on the PC it’s nearly glaring.

Star Hammer Tactics - Screenshot 2 - HUD

Number Versus Larger Number: Fight!

It would be gratifying to say that the graphics, which, in every sense, are not that big of a deal, belie a deep, rich strategic experience. Not so. Star Hammer features two sides—you and them—and four ship classes. The differences between the ship classes are limited to the number of missiles, how far they can move, and whether or not they can repair themselves, with abilities and movement scaling pretty linearly according to the size of the ship.

Combat is surprisingly, disappointingly simple. At its most basic, you pile your ships up against the enemy ships, hopefully outnumbering or outclassing them enough to defeat them in a broadside attack. A slider lets you determine whether any given ship devotes more energy to defense or offense, or balances the two, which is potentially useful but not necessary. Ship-to-ship combat appears to resolve as a series of “dice rolls”, but, by and large, if two ships are of equal size and health, yours will win. If one ship is larger, it will defeat the smaller ship.

Space, Minus the Space

Inexplicably, given the fact that the game takes place in deep space, all action occurs in two dimensions. It simplifies things, yes, but it also means that the tiniest ship can block the path of the largest ship if it happens to be in the way. There is no “over” or “under” in Star Hammer, which makes combat much simpler. And that would be great, if the game had started out with a complexity problem.

star hammer tactics - screenshot 3

You can fire missiles (or torpedoes, maybe?) but bizarre pathfinding and the flat plane issue will make this situational at best. Missiles always sort of dogleg out of bottom right of the ship–instead of launching from the front, or towards the target—and then make a bee-line for the target ship. They aren’t an instant hit, so it might take a turn or two for impact, during which time they can hit an asteroid in the way, or a friendly ship that you accidentally place in the path. There’s no fancy flyin’ over or under things in the human space fleet! And once you’ve fired a missile or commanded a ship to repair itself, you’ve encountered all of the abilities available to you.

star hammer tactics - screenshot 4

Touch Versus Feel

I’m a fan of tactics games, so I immediately have high expectations of newcomers to the genre. That might not be very fair to Star Hammer, since the PC version of the game was clearly not the focus of the developers. On a mobile device, this would be a fun time-killer. The lack of tactical depth lends itself to the short, casual format mobile users generally favor. And, for that matter, PC gamers who’ve never played anything in the genre might benefit from the simplicity of Star Hammer. The iPad version might be easier to recommend, but Star Hammer’s shallow gameplay does not cut the mustard. Star Hammer is a nice app that’s outclassed by its bigger cousins on PC.

Visit the official Star Hammer site

Get Star Hammer Tactics on Desura

[xrr rating=”2/5″]

One thought on “Review: Star Hammer Tactics

  1. “When Novus falls…will you be its savior?”

    Surely it’s a little late to save it if it’s already fallen?

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