Time is of the essence. With only 12 hours left [update: alas for you, the Kickstarter has now ended] in the StarCrawlers Kickstarter at the time of me writing this, there is very little time in which to either convince you to pledge for the game, or ward you away. Thankfully it was still enough time to try out the press demo of StarCrawlers and give you some StarCrawlers hands-on feedback.
By the way, I should state that I actually pledged for StarCrawlers very early on, and so I do have a vested interest in trying to get more of you to pledge. Stretch goals, you understand. OK, the journalistic conflict of interest out of the way, so let’s proceed.
First off, let’s state who should probably not bother with StarCrawlers. If you think that the Call of Duty games represent the absolute epitome of gaming, which I personally think are the intellectual equivalent of a hammer to the face, then I can only recommend two things for you:
- More inane CoD.
- A real hammer (why go virtual when you can have the real thing?).
[Pro Tip: if you thought that the word “inane” in point 1 above was actually “insane” with a typo, then I am 93.5845% sure that you should just stop reading right now and go play an FPS game. Trust me, I did the math.]
OK, for the rest of you gamers, the ones with more open minds, pay attention because this might be just for you.
Let me just get it out of the way. I liked what I saw in the StarCrawlers demo, and I am glad that I pledged. The demo is short, only about 15 minutes, and I have played through it three times so far to get a feel for it. It gives me great hope, and I am even considering upping my pledge before time runs out.
A wonderful video play-through has already been uploaded by FedoraG4mer, so I won’t bother repeating that effort. The demo plays almost the same each time so what you see in his video is what you would see in mine. I did make a short video highlighting the classes and skills, which will we get to in a bit.
StarCrawlers harkens back to a golden age of gaming, a time when The Bard’s Tale series was the pinnacle of video gaming. In fact The Bard’s Tale games remain in my mind as some of the games that really started me into gaming, back when I had my old Commodore 64 (some of right now are going “oh yeah” while the rest of you are saying “Commo-what?”). This is the magic that StarCrawlers is trying to recapture, albeit with a heavy sci-fi vibe and a much more modern package.
Grid-based dungeon crawls have mostly long been long since forgotten, but a few games have attempted to start a resurgence. Legend of Grimrock is one, and I really enjoyed playing it last year, which is one of the reasons I jumped onto StarCrawlers so quickly. Sure, you aren’t going to see any of fast action twitch gaming with full free motion, but there is a certain appeal in the old dungeon crawl formula that I think still works.
It is important to note that this StarCrawlers demo is very very early in the game’s development so we can expect to see far more polish and features in the final version. But for an early stage demo, it is still quite good. The visuals are clean and attractive, and fit the sci-fi bend very well. I like the ability to use free-look with the mouse, although at this point I can’t tell if that is just to show off the level design or will have some gaming-function later on.
As a grid-based dungeon crawler, movement is restricted to discrete steps in four directions using WASD and QE for strafing. I noticed a keybinding for “jump” but I can’t figure out how that is used in the game yet. Movement is smooth. Holding the forward button keeps a nice continuous movement going without noticing discrete block steps. While holding the forward button down I was not able to steer right and left (i.e. only one button can be used at a time) but hopefully that get implemented later on.
There was a bit of superfluous NPC interaction and dialogue, but only enough to give some basic instructions and some story. Audio is still basic and this point but I expect that will improve tremendously, although the combat music was pretty catchy.
And that leads us into the combat, which is where a lot of the demo’s meat was. Besides, let’s face it, everyone wants to know how the combat feels. Unlike in Legend of Grimrock, StarCrawlers uses a discrete combat phase after enemies are encountered. In LoG, the party can still move and strafe around while fighting, whereas StarCrawlers combat is more like the dungeon crawlers of yesteryear where the party and enemies become locked in combat without movement considerations. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind.
Combat is fun, although it took me a bit to get a feel for it. The early encounters in the demo were simple, and it wasn’t until the final boss fight that I really started seeing it for what it was. Check out the video below which shows the combat skills and character class information, which will give you some context for the remainder of the article.
Combat in StarCrawlers uses a modified turn-based formula. Instead of every character and enemy simply getting a single turn per round, characters and enemies can be inserted back into the queue rather than just the end. This is all dependent on the skill chosen at any given time. Certain skills are quick and allow characters to have multiple turns per round (I say “round” but there isn’t anything discrete). Hovering over a skill not only reveals its description, but also shows you where in the queue it will put that character. This allows for some careful planning and tactics.
This planning becomes important against the tougher enemies or larger enemy groups, where you need to both kill and control your opponents. The final demo boss fight was actually a bit of a nail biter in that regard, and actually made me start thinking more tactically. Many of the skills that at first seemed redundant or pointless started becoming much more useful when I discovered how they interacted.
For example, the Cyber Ninja can expose weakness, which allowed other characters to more easily fight a foe (this was especially useful against hard-to-hit foes). The Psyker has a nice mechanic where she builds up Void Energy that can be released in a big surge for big damage. Other skills allow for removing shields, buffing teammates, damaging multiple enemies, etc. I was impressed when it started feeling much deeper than it first appeared.
Characters level up individual weapons, and eventually can unlock new skills. You have to pick and choose though, because each class can only bring in four abilities besides the normal weapon attack. I like this approach, because it allows players to build complementary party abilities and gives far more flexibility in combat while requiring players to think about their builds.
There wasn’t much more to the demo than that. I liked what I saw, and as I stated at the outset, I am still glad that I pledged for the game. When the full features are implemented, such as the procedural generation of maps (there was some randomness in the demo in terms of objects and encounters, but the map remained the same), there should be a lot of depth to the game. It won’t be for everyone, but the devs at Juggernaut Games undoubtedly know that. As such StarCrawlers is going to have to play to its strengths as a great sci-fi dungeon crawler. Fortunately, there was every indication in the demo that it will succeed in this regard.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but to me StarCrawlers seems fun so far, and I am excited to see more in the future.