Star Command’s pre-launch history is far from sterling. Funded in part through a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game missed several projected releases before hitting the iOS App Store in May of this year, putting it a whopping year and three months behind developer Star Command LLC’s original schedule. I’ve always paid close attention to the title – mostly because I love reading about vaporware, not to mention the drama a bungled crowdfunding campaign is sure to bring – but could never quite bring myself to download it, mostly because my only iOS device is slower than Betty White after a handful of Klonopin.
Then it came out on Android, a platform that I love and have decent hardware for. After a long, hard look at the game, I can tell you readers out there one thing for sure: I’d much rather have the sense mystery than the reality. In other words, Star Command falls much closer to Duke Nukem Forever than it does Half Life 2 on the games-that-took-forever-to-come-out scale. If you’re not familiar with one or both of those titles, rest assured that’s a bad place to be.
A long time ago…
The world of Star Command is similar to the Star Trek universe. And yes, I know the headline references that other ultra-popular space-based franchise. Sue me. Space federations, intergalactic politics, ships with full, specialized crews instead of smugglers, wookiees, and dust farmers… throw in a bald captain with a British accent and a visor-equpped LeVar Burton, combine it with the game’s middling story, and you have a bad-to-below-average episode of The Next Generation.
Those aren’t the only places from which the game draws inspiration, however. It’s clear the developers also took several pages from FTL: Faster Than Light’s book, especially when it comes to ship administration. Like the ultra-popular PC game, much of your job in Star Command revolves around the doldrums of day-to-day ship administration: It’s up to you to upgrade your ship’s systems, hire/acquire the crew that runs those systems, manage scarce resources, and optimize the vessel’s power usage. Combat is pretty similar, too, with cooldown-based systems aplenty and a selection of cool-looking, but static, vessels representing the combat.
Unfortunately, the gameplay just isn’t up to the source material’s level. The story is short and static; while it may be worth playing a new run now and again to try a new ship or combination of facilities out, you’ll experience the same story each time, with a few (very) small changes here and there depending on the choices you make. The weapon selection is super, super limited – three installable guns in total – and the rest of the buildable facilities, while helpful, don’t lend any variety to the game’s overall stagnant feel.
…in a freelancer’s office far, far away…
Upgrading helps a little here… just not enough to make the game feel worthwhile. Winning battles and completing tasks rewards you tokens of varying colors, which can (of course) be used to modify your existing systems. You could, for instance, increase a given gun’s fire rate or make the minigame you play to fire it a little less difficult. The problem is that nothing you add really makes the game more fun. Maybe the developers should add that option in next time around.
Then there’s the the control scheme, which is confusing at best and a tablet-snappingly frustrating mess at worse. Selecting individual units within the ship’s grid-based layout during combat is a crapshoot with a definite emphasis on crap. Ditto for sending units to repair fires and busted equipment on your vessel when it takes damage. If I played on a phone (or even a tweener device like the Galaxy Note III), this would almost be understandable. On my 10” tablet, it absolutely is not.
…a charming young writer put Space Command down and walked away forever
In the end, it’s not a single game-breaking issue that makes Star Command bad. The game just doesn’t offer much in the way of fun. Because of that, I really can’t say that fixing one thing or another would make the overall experience better. If you’ve played it, your opinion very well may be different — its review scores are all over the place – but I have to call it like I see it. Whatever made the concept cool enough to warrant a successful crowdfunding venture just isn’t there for me. Given how excited I was to play the game when I heard it finally came to Android, that’s a disappointing thought indeed.