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Posted on Jan 4, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Starshatter: The Gathering Storm – Game Review (PC)

By Ryan Stepalavich

Passed inspection: Great hardcore space simulation. Nice dabbling into tactics-based gameplay.

Failed Basic: Some game-stopping bugs. So-so graphics. Gameplay may not be for the casual gamer.

In a genre rather destitute and primarily dominated by EVE Online, it’s appreciable to see an independent developer try to make a dent in the biz of space simulations. Destroyer Studios decided to take up the reigns and try their hand with Starshatter: The Gathering Storm. Within its packaging comes a complex and complicated simulation, with a tiny hint of real-time strategy tactics. But the question still remains if the product on the whole can withstand the current domination of CCP?

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Upon installation of Starshatter, which is purchasable online instead of a brick-and-mortar store, you’re immediately thrust into the tutorials of the game, where it’s evident just how comprehensive Starshatter really is. Where comparable games such as Freespace allow for quick-and-dirty space battles without the nuances of travel or the mechanics of landing, Starshatter mandates it all. Manage hull integrity, fuel, weapons charge, navigation, and even time as you make your effort against the opposing force – the Hegemony. The controls are fairly fluid and responsive, though on-planet combat can feel a bit "floaty" at times – as if you were flying through water, and not air. Fleet flight feels proper, as it takes time to steer massive battleships, carriers and destroyers to point your battle group to the heart of the Hegemony.

There are three basic modes of gameplay. Fighter combat, fleet combat and fleet ops – a more tactical version of fleet combat. Fighter combat is usually very quick and fierce, granted you get to your objective in time. Remember, this game is very comprehensive. It takes, on average, about ten to fifteen minutes, real-time, to get to where you’re supposed to be opening fire. Fortunately, there is a time-lapse option in Starshatter, which enables you to speed up the game. If you’re quick enough with the guns and missiles, the battle can be over before the opposing force even has an opportunity to return fire.

Players are allowed two modes of flight, which are interchangeable with the push of a button. The x-axis can control either yaw or roll, which is useful when making the shift from long-range travel to close-range combat. Wingman AI is fairly decent, with proper piloting maneuvers and tactics. However, it was odd to notice that wingmen tend to be a bit psychic when it comes to that gap between the last waypoint and the objective. Before the enemy is even visible, the AI will jet off at maximum thrust in a strange direction, which happens to be dead-square at the Hegemony. What ends up happening is that players tend to follow your wingmen instead of vice versa.

Fleet combat is essentially a slower, yet more grandiose version of fighter combat. While there can’t obviously be barrel rolls and Immelman turns, bigger ships are given quite the arsenal of weaponry, some of which may never be used by the end of the battle. Fleets are commonly sorted in a group of three or four cruisers or destroyers, and pitted against a similar in strength battle fleet. As soon as the two forces are in range, space lights up like a Christmas tree as missiles, cannons and blasters scorch the recesses of the universe. Explosions are bigger, the tensions are higher, and the satisfaction of victory is far greater. There is a tactical level involved, as players may have to make the decision of focusing all firepower on each ship one at a time, or just going completely free-for-all.

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