You’d think that when video games are mentioned, there would be that image of flying around and shooting stuff in space, which there is plenty of. But the titles that fit such descriptions tend to be those of the olden days, like StarFox, Wing Commander, or X-Wing vs TIE Fighter. They’re the type of games that you’d play with joysticks, which is supposedly an analogous image that represents video games but actually doesn’t come up enough.
Starlight Inception is a space combat simulator made by Escape Hatch Entertainment which seeks to bring the genre back to prominence. There have been quite a few of these space sims coming out recently through indie devs, and more ambitious ones like Star Citizen are being made right now. In the case of this game, it’s yet another result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it seems that this has turned out to be one of those games that justify the cynicism that resulted from the oversaturation of developers begging for money through those sites.
Escape Hatch had lofty goals for this game, with exploration being a primary focus. They call this the “rebellious stepchild of Wing Commander”, which makes heads tilt slightly in amusement and curiosity. This game lets you walk around your spaceship and experience actually being in space and fighting against other fleets and interlopers. In between battles, there are also lots of fully rendered cutscenes that tell the story of the game and let you understand what you’ve gotten yourself into. Unfortunately, that’s not really what you’d be focusing on.
However, it seems that they couldn’t keep up in the visual department in fulfilling that promise of breadth and vastness. At first glance, things don’t look good with an interface that would make a graphic designer have psychotic fits. As for the graphics itself, it’s looks pretty enough when you’re flying around in space if you can ignore the heads-up display that looks flat and could draw similarities to Battlecruiser 3000AD (a reference that goes way back). But once you go down to terrestrial level, things get really ugly as environments look barely textured in any way.
This game looks like it’s for the PlayStation 2, even though we’re in the age of the PlayStation 4. The graphics doesn’t even reach proper PS3 levels, and the performance issues make it worse. There are framerate drops, bugs and glitches, and other technical issues to go with the graphical issues. Also, if you thought that Watch Dogs had problems with draw distancing, then this game would kick you to the curb. Those who are aware of the old Atari Jaguar game Cybermorph (whether you actually played it or watched that particular Angry Video Game Nerd episode) would find draw distancing in this game to be similar to that.
Moving around in this game feels weird, even archaic if you can look back that far. Perhaps the ship movement is fine for the most part, but when you’re playing as your character roaming around the ship, there is no realistic walk animation at all. You then think that you’re in an early 90′s FPS, and even those that came later had that bobbing effect when you walk or run forward. The ship exploration is nice, but it basically attempted to pull off what X Rebirth tried to do and also didn’t do so well.
But despite all of these maladies, the gameplay itself is actually serviceable. While it’s not totally amazing, it does let you do a lot of the things that you’d expect in a space combat sim, flying around and avoiding enemy fire while trying to get hits on them as well. The AI isn’t very bright though, and mission objectives are generic and dull, so the competency of the core gameplay doesn’t do enough to make up for the graphical gaffes, but at least it keeps this game from being totally a waste.
Another thing that’s worth noting is that Escape Hatch has taken the painful but responsible route of fixing problems through patches and even replying to comments on major review sites, taking the feedback objectively despite all the community backlash. This stands in contrast to how Day One: Garry’s Incident and Guise of the Wolf was handled.
The game is a rickety hunk of space junk that still does have a working engine and can fly from planet to planet if you nurse it all the way through. But if you really want to play a space combat sim that is truly worth its salt, then get into the Strike Suit series, either Zero or Infinity.
Tested in PS Vita. Final Score: 4/10