Stellar Tactics Puts the 'Explore' Back Into Exploration
Stellar Tactics is a pre-alpha game in development by Maverick Games and is currently in Early Access on Steam. It is, as the name suggests, a tactical RPG set in the vast reaches of space. RPG being the operative term, since it’s focus is on adventure and character development rather than deep strategic simulation.
When I was a kid I was fascinated by space. I would sit and watch Star Trek on television, first the original series and later the Next Generation, DS9, Voyager, etc. I would wait all week for the next episode and when it came on, sit enraptured at each new space adventure.
When I was a bit older I watched the Alien movies for the first time and found that space could also be quite terrifying, I mean pull-the-covers-over-your-head-and-hope-the-monster-goes-away kind of terrifying. If Gene Roddenberry (RIP) and James Cameron got together today to collaborate on a game I imagine it would look very much like Stellar Tactics.
The game imagines space as a very dangerous place, but also filled with unimaginable discoveries and Errol Flynn worthy adventures. Stellar Tactics gives the player free reign in a randomly generated universe of possibility.
The Story So Far
The narrative in the game is a little thin, yet compelling. It tells a story, at least in the prologue, of a virus called the Phage that wiped out humanity’s home and sent them searching for a new one out among the stars. Zombies, aliens, space madness, the game has a little of everything. It needs some fleshing out, but all things considered it kept me interested and moving forward from one mission goal to the next quite smoothly.
In the game you play a crack tactical team that has been awoken from hypersleep to deal with a menagerie of genetically mutated creatures threatening the future of all mankind. The game is based on hard science, so your characters have been in space for a thousand years or so on their way to an exoplanet far far away that can, hopefully, support human life.
Unfortunately, there was a problem during transport, which is why you find yourself standing on the cold metal floor in your skivvies wondering where the slippers and pulse rifles are stored. I won't give out any spoilers here, but I will say that time and space are used in clever ways throughout the story and what appears to be a run of the mill bug-hunt turns out to be much more. There may even be a xenomorph involved.
The Good Stuff
Supporting the story is a tactical turn based RPG that works pretty well. It's not quite on par with XCOM or the Shadowrun series, but it isn't meant to be. It needs some refinement, but it is already quite good even in it’s current pre-alpha state. If that were all the game aspired to be I think it would be a perfectly acceptable addition to the genre, but it is so much more than that.
After playing through the prologue which serves both as a tutorial and a story primer, you get your very own spaceship and an enormous randomly generated universe to explore. While the game is not intended to be a space simulator any more than it is a tactical combat simulation, it does space exploration quite well and it will only get better in upcoming patches.
The next version of the game, which I'm told is coming very soon, will open the universe up dramatically giving players the freedom to explore to their heart’s desire, and exploration really is the meat and potatoes here.
Come across an abandoned freighter adrift in space or an ancient ruin on a planet surface? No problem! Land your ship and loot that bad boy, provided you can clear out whatever alien baddies might be lurking in the dark corners that is. Stellar Tactics gives us something to do in space besides delivering cargo and looking at the pretty stars. Now we can actually explore those new worlds and discover those new civilizations.
Explore planetary and orbital stations, mine, trade, or just zoom around the universe looking for trouble. The choice is yours and that freedom of exploration combined with a solid story thread adds up to a game uniquely poised to capture your imagination and make you feel like a kid staring through a telescope for the first time.
The Not-as-Good Stuff
Of course none of this adds up to a perfect game, not yet anyway. I’ll admit it’s rough around the edges, but it is also being developed by one man. Not a team of crack developers with abundant resources behind them, just one guy and his computer. Granted that guy is Don Wilkins who has worked on some pretty amazing games in the past like Wizardry, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and others, so take that with a grain of salt.
The graphics are nice, but still need some work, mostly on the UI. A lot of the art there feels like placeholders at the moment and the interface font is a little hard on the eyes, but this should all be improved as the game goes into full alpha development. The current character avatars are also kind of awful, but they are definitely being replaced with some very attractive looking art in the upcoming patch.
The game is still early in development, so a few bugs are to be expected. I look at the game like a fixer-upper house. I can either look and see the faded paint, dirty carpets, and broken bits or I can look past all that and see the potential of the thing, see what it will become in the expert hands of a lot of very expensive contractors. Only in this case there is only one expert and the price of entry isn’t high at all, a mere $20 on Steam.
If you are a fan of sci-fi tactical RPGs then Stellar Tactics is definitely for you. A compelling story, solid game mechanics, and a very active and responsive developer adds up to a pretty amazing game that will only get better as development continues. Now if you'll excuse me I have just found a strange space station that desperately needs to be explored. I wonder what my intrepid little team will find this time...