Welcome to Station Terminus IX, more of a shanty town than a space station. Known to the locals as STIX, this outer fringe relic serves as the hub for your adventures in StarCrawlers, a mission-based roleplaying game where you lead a team of cosmic degenerates. The aim of the game is to earn creds, keep up a solid reputation among the various factions in the sector, and to try not to die to space-critters.
StarCrawlers brings the turn-based first person view RPG up into the far reaches of the galaxy. A genre popular years ago through games such as Might & Magic, Wizardry, and brought back into the spotlight with the runaway hit Legend of Grimrock, StarCrawlers gives you a game that has a real old-school feel to it while at the same time bringing a healthy dose of sci-fi adventure and humour.
Currently in Early Access, StarCrawlers is the product of a successful KickStarter campaign by Juggernaut Games, a small indie development team based in San Diego. The game is currently in beta and doesn’t shy away from telling you that. Encouraging brave early-accessors to report any bugs they find and unapologetically stating that the game is still a ways off to completion. It’s a level of transparency that should be respected and admired, as it keeps the developers honest, and fans happy. There are plenty of Early Access games out there with zero developer interaction, even by larger, supposedly more ‘professional’ companies.
StarCrawlers plays like a classic dungeon crawler where you’re in the first person view, but your ‘person’ is actually anywhere between one character to a whole team of them. It’s a style of play that may not suit the younger crowd, but it has a delightful nostalgic taste to it. It’s the dungeon crawler style I grew up with and have had an appetite for ever since. You start as a single Crawler, a mercenary for hire profiting from the relative lawlessness on the edge of the galaxy. Eventually you’ll recruit other Crawlers into your team, each class bringing their own set of skills and gameplay options.
The game is split between three sections; the hub town, the level map, and the combat screen. STIX is the town that serves as your base of operations. Jobs come in through ‘The Wire’, run by the local barkeep, Doc Sams. He’ll be your main point of contact on STIX. Doc will sort you out with work and new recruits while Tarlie over at the shop is the game’s merchant. Buy and sell through her, with some minor features surrounding the updating of equipment currently in mid-development. The final NPC is a nameless Med-Tech, used for ally revival and first aid kit purchasing. STIX isn’t the most populated station on the outer fringe, but it serves its purpose at this stage of the Beta.
After you get a job and pick a team from your pool of recruits, you’re taken to the level. Be it on a derelict ship or in the mines of a nearby asteroid, your spunky blue-haired partner Luna will pilot you there. Some missions have limited communications with Luna, offering up some amusing banter between you and your pilot. The level map screen, unlike the hand-drawn hub screens, is a fully rendered 3D environment broken up into cubes. You can move forward, back, turn and strafe around the map one cube at a time, with ladders offering vertical movement between levels and platforms. Using the mouse you can free-look around for potential secrets. It can take a little getting used to in this view, as your movement is limited to set directions and distances, it makes exploring a little difficult. Everything is either too far away or right up in your face, meaning you’ll miss a lot of little hidden credit chips unless you’re actively free looking while in motion. The game rewards heavy exploration, most security panels are below or above eye level, so checking your surroundings pays off.
As you venture along the dark abyss that is fringeworld space, you’ll come across weapons and armour. Like any other RPG each item augments your character’s attack, defense and speed properties, making them more reliable in combat and boosting their survival. The items have a Borderlands feel to them, which lends itself nicely to this game given the similar humour levels. In the character screen after you’ve swapped out some gear you can assign skill points to your team. Each class has three skill-trees that you can invest points into, allowing you to fine-tune each character to the role you want them to play. The Smuggler can lay traps, utilise pistol tricks, leave attacks up to chance with ‘flip coin’ and ‘roulette’, or a mix of the three to fit a steady damage dealing position or a high-risk / high-reward style of combat that can pay off… or get him killed. As you play you’ll figure out which classes fit into each role required to be a successful team of StarCrawlers.
Sooner or later, while exploring the level you will come up against opponents. Robots, critters, and other intergalactic invaders will move in the same behaviour as you around the zone. Colliding with the foe will bring up the combat screen. Combat is turn based, with every character involved having a speed stat dictating the move order. When it comes to your turn, attacks are initiated by brining up a hex-wheel option grid with the mouse button and selecting a skill. Each character has a single attack option, as well as any abilities you’ve unlocked that will target an enemy, a group of them, or yourself. Every option has a time cost, which will govern where the character takes their next turn in the order list. Fast Crawlers may get two or three hits in before a slower lumbering robot has their attack. The game suffers from some imbalance issues, my Force Psyker unlocked a shield-breaking skill that would wipe out groups of enemies in a single turn. Apart from the overpowered abilities that will no doubt be fixed I do enjoy the strategic aspect of the combat system. Teamwork between classes and skills really does pay off nicely.
The hand-drawn art has a cartoon-like feel to it that synergizes well with the humour and writing in the game, with the strongest art on display in the character and hub screens. The rendered 3D of the levels is clean and crisp, but can some across as a little stiff and boring compared to the character design of the enemies populating the levels. There are nice effects like steam and moving conveyor belts to give the maps a little more life, but after a couple of missions you’ll find some environments (the spaceship setting especially) can be a bit too samey to truly enjoy over consecutive missions. After a long session of playing each combat screen and mission felt like I was stuck in a bit of a loop. There are random events that pose several options to choose from, but they’re few and far between for now. The music in the game is great, works amazingly well with the art style. Unfortunately the rest of the audio is either missing or pretty minimal. But all these downsides are common for the beta stages of a game. I have every confidence that Juggernaut Games are taking suggestions and complaints on board to make a game they can truly be proud of.
StarCrawlers is a fresh new game that I’ll be looking forward to playing once the beta is complete. A must-play for old and young RPG fans alike. You’ll find yourself saying “one more mission”, until you notice it’s 5am and you haven’t blinked in four hours. A galactic hit and an inspiring KickStarter success story.