StarTAG – What We Think:
After a difficult install and a quick jab at the tutorial, I was prepared to enjoy what appeared to be an interesting galactic empire building game. At first glance I thought it was going to be akin to Gratuitous Space Battles, but instead StarTAG is set up like a simplified 4X.
Babel Fish Sold Separately
Now before I get into the nitty gritty, I must say that, while the tutorial did a fine job of teaching me the mechanics, it became apparent that either English is the developer’s second language, or while writing the text for the tutorial, he became so increasingly impatient that the frustration started to pour over into the narrative. A proof-reading by a friend or any 2nd party would have done wonders in making it read less like NPC quest text from a Korean MMO.
The technical problems make themselves known almost right away, but let me try to paint the full picture. To set up a proper base you need to also power it. Your mothership provides enough power to run 2 structures. Your asteroid processing structure can, on its own, mine as many asteroids as there are next to it. This sounds like a nice thing, yes? Your mothership can even tractor-beam asteroids over to it so that you can mine to your heart’s content. Your mine, however, won’t work while it’s without power, and your ship is not generating power while it’s moving or tractor-beaming.
Scrap for Scraps
So then let’s build a power generator, right? Actually, no…you can’t do that until you kill some enemy ships to get some research materials and build a labratory. This means you have to wait until you get attacked by a random scout fleet and hope you can salvage enough chips to learn to make a power generator.
But let’s say the ideal scenario does play out; your starting fleet has enough muscle to destroy the enemies thrown at you, which provides you with sufficient chips to research power stations. Now you can go about managing your structures and production without worrying that manually powering your fleet is slowing down your actual development of your base. As you’ve been arranging asteroids around your ore collector while the battle went on (and not getting any resources because you’ve been with power while tractor-beaming), you flip the switch to research and produce a power station.
When The Cat’s Away, The Mice Engage Cryo-Sleep
You may now move about freely while your stuff is powered. As your placement is complete, you are ready to leave to a new nearby system to expand your empire – time to move to a new system and lay claim to the resources there – only faster now, as you can now build a power station immediately. But wait – as you arrive in the new system, you notice that your pool of resources has stopped increasing. Upon leaving your first system, the structures have ceased to operate, despite being independently powered.
OK, well then let’s try not worrying about making the most efficient base, and just get the ball rolling enough that we can at least pump some ships out. (You have to build your ships 1 at a time, and place them on the grid like you would a structure.) Making a fleet 1 unit at a time is a torturous process as you have to select from the build menu, wait for it to build, then pull it off your “deploy” menu and onto the grid before you can start building your next ship.
This also uses up a slot on the grid, so a structure can no longer be placed there, even though the ship is patrolling around and not actually at that physical location after having been deployed. To complicate ship placement further, fighters placed on the grid away from the base will not defend it, and – as I’ve established – placing them near the base makes it more difficult to set up a layout where everything is within range of a power source.
In Space, No One Can Hear You Ragequit
It was at this point I backed out to make sure this was a finished product and not what must be an alpha/beta. Nope, v1.1 – full release. Maybe I was going at it the wrong way. Try as I might though, I could either sit at a location and build up resources, or I could move and get nothing. In either case the AI would be capturing systems very quickly making their way to the required 100 point total to win, while somehow continuously sending attack waves at me that I would have to fend off. Many times, my ships would ignore the attackers. Other times, they would disappear way off to the side of the map and I would lose track of where the enemy was. The map would not point to where the ships were unless they were so close off-screen that they might as well not have bothered with the indicators.
But at least it looks nice! Sounds fairly decent too. Saying that it looked at first like GSB is high praise. It would have been nice if I could zoom out just the slightest though; the extreme zoom lets me admire the mothership, but to get anything done I have to scroll constantly, radically across the screen and without keyboard camera controls. While there are some hot keys, using the arrows to scroll is simply not an option.
The Fault In Our Stars
I admit this has become as much a rant as it is a review. After playing the tutorial, and imagining how not-bad it must be, it felt bizarrely unplayable once I dove in. StarTAG has some interesting ideas, but the overall execution needs to go back to the drawing board.
Get StarTAG on Desura
Watch the trailer for StarTAG: