Iceberg Interactive’s precession of complex and varied strategy videogames is about to get a shot in the arm, with the upcoming release of StarDrive. Presented with the cartoonish appeal of a puppetry science-fiction shell in the vein of Star Wars, underneath that welcoming exterior lies a cold, demanding 4X strategy experience. StarDrive is easy to love, but hard to dominate.
As a deep and constantly challenging experience, StarDrive does of course offer a gentle learning curve for newcomers. However, the developers at Zer0sum are well aware that even this may not be enough and so have included a number of tutorial videos also. Of course, no one wants to buy a new videogame and sit watching videos for an hour before playing – unless it’s a new Metal Gear Solid title, perhaps – and so diving in at the deep end is really the only option. Challenging? Without a doubt. Impossible? Close, but not quite.
Beginning by choosing your race, social outlook and historical achievements, players will shape many aspects of their campaign including ship design and ultimate goal. All races are vying for expansion, controlling a specific part of the far reaches, but some will be friendly while others are immediately hostile depending on the decisions made here. There are some clues as to how your choices will affect these instances, but thankfully it’s possible to spin every selection into something that resembles a believable universe.
Eight races exist in the preview build Electronic Theatre was able to get hands-on with and it’s believed that these are the selection that StarDrive will launch with. What’s more important, however, are the choices made regarding the ‘physical,’ ‘sociological’ and ‘history and tradition’ aspects of your race. Ranging from saving food resources to charming other races with your shapely physique, being efficient to employing heavy taxation, these attributes will determine the starting point of your race, and thus the path of the adventure that will follow.
Once into the videogame itself, the first order of the day is exploration. The scale of StarDrive is second to none, with players able to zoom up close to a single ship right out to the point at which several solar systems are visible at any point. It’s a remarkable achievement when you factor in the later possibilities – several battles, colonisation and teams of exploration vessels could well be going about their business all at the same time in addition to that of the enemy units – there’s a lot of number crunching going on under the hood in StarDrive.
At the very start of the videogame things will remain quiet, eerily so even, as you navigate your way through the may stars in an attempt to locate somewhere appropriate for expansion. Once meeting with other races there will be two vital ingredients to success: diplomacy and combat. The former is a simple case of negotiation, providing the other races with what they want or need in a way that doesn’t hinder your own plans. More challenging however is taking a turn towards violence, especially as until the point when it strikes building your military might is likely to have been one of your lowest priorities.
A key aspect of combat is that of preparation. Players have the ability to completely remodel all of their vessels to an astounding degree, factoring in issues such as speed and manoeuvrability in addition to the all-important fire-power; harsh lessons will be learnt fast when taking your ships out into the field. Combat is conducted in real-time with commands issued remotely, and planning ahead the right formation and tactical arrangement of units can make a world of difference.
Set for release exclusive on PC next month, Electronic Theatre barely managed to scratch the surface of StarDrive during our time with the videogame. It’s a deep and compelling experience that can leave whole days in it’s wake, and players unable to think of anything else but reaching that next star. This is not a videogame for casual strategy videogame fans nor for those attracted by the cheerfully coloured humanised animals; StarDrive is a videogame for the core 4X audience, and based on the evidence presented to Electronic Theatre there’s no reason to doubt that it will deliver an experience that meets their demands.