Starlight Inception Review

Starlight Inception comes to Vita off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, reaching its $150,000 target. Promoting itself as the ‘Rebellious step-child of Wing Commander’. Thus giving itself quite the standard to live up to. So where to start? 

There is plenty to complain about with Starlight Inception, but that won’t be the end of the story here. However, let’s start with the game’s issues.

Visually Starlight Inception is very rough around the edges and gone are the days where you can easily say “it’s an Indie game with a small team” because there have been some stunning looking games released by minuscule teams and even individuals. The problem with Starlight Inception in the visual department is that it appears the team have tried to be to adventurous and possibly stretched themselves too far.

It’s not just the main visuals that seem to be lacking either. The fonts used for menus, stats and subtitles are just very hard to read. Almost feeling like an after thought, which just should not be the case. Subtitles for example are very small and have a black background to them, but the padding around the background is almost non-existent with the text tight to the edges and even breaking out from the box, which just makes things look poor and amateurish. If this can be fixed with a patch, then it simply has to be.

In trying to create a world that is vast, they really needed to have models to match. Yet here you have ships, characters and locations that look low res and poorly designed. The cut-scenes look very poor and very budget indeed, to the point where you feel the game would have been better without them, or used a similar technique seen in games like Velocity Ultra, where they use an animated comic strip style, which allows them to get creative and bypass the issues that arise with creating 3D environments and filling those with 3D models.

Yet, Escape Hatch Entertainment has kind of made a rod for the their own back. In trying to create an immersive experience, they allow you to walk the halls of the ship you are on, which of course needs fully realised environments and then the experience needs to remain when you hit the cut scenes.

Being able to walk around a fully realised spaceship is a nice idea, but feels like a needless add-on to a game that doesn’t need it. It adds very little in actual fact and you soon want to be clear of these sections and getting into those space battles. Again by trying to push what they can do, the acted out cut-scenes are also lacking, the production values are just missing and not in a ‘so bad it is good’ way either. They just feel lackluster.

With that said though, the bread and butter of a game like this, will be in the combat and the action side of things and it does improve here to a degree. From the outset you will notice little nods to other space combat games of the past and you do get a feel of the sheer size of the environment, but again in trying to achieve something impressive things start to fall down a little again.

Because of the size of the combat environments, you never really feel part of the action. You often need to navigate to various checkpoints whilst engaging with enemy craft and what you find is that most of the combat isn’t reminiscent of dogfighting, as you’ll have taken down a target from quite a distance away.

In the earlier levels, we couldn’t even tell you what the enemy looked like, again because we were able to take them down from over a thousand feet away, just shooting at the markers on the screen. This meant that the action felt a bit cumbersome for the most part. Whereas we wanted fast and frantic, just like the scenes you’d see in Star Wars and the like. That is what you expect from a space combat sim, yet this felt more like a RTS without the actual RTS elements.

But here is the thing, despite all these issues, we found that we were still playing. In other games where the are a plethora of issues, you can’t wait to put it down, write it up and move on. Here though you can see a solid game trying to get out and despite most of the action taking place from distance, the mechanics are more than competent. On the odd occasion you do get up close and personal, you see just how fights are meant to take place. Having to lead the craft you are trying to take down, or making sure you lock on to fire a missile, which does work really well and does get exciting and frantic. It is just that this doesn’t happen often enough.

As you get further into the game, you do notice the action pick up a bit more and the missions are nice a varied, when you consider the setting and style of the game and there really are some nice touches. These are just outweighed at the moment by the negatives, making it harder to forgive the graphical issues or the problems with the bits inbetween the action.

Beyond the main campaign, there is a mode called Fly Patrol, which is a nice mix of pure space combat with tower defense elements, which is a little like an Orcs Must Die in space. This works well and again offers up some nice variation, but yet again is sandwiched between needless story elements.

There is also online multiplayer which puts you straight into pure combat in an online environment and is where the game shines the most, as you are given a nice mix of options, with a Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Protect The Flag and Capture The Flag variations. At the time of writing, it wasn’t easy to find games, but when we was able to jump in, it was great fun and felt more like how the main game should have been treated.

This should have been a game that showed what is possible on a Vita, bringing another genre to the system and hopefully opening the door for more games to follow. But it does fall short on doing that and it doesn’t feel like it is the fault of the system. What you have here is a game that was perhaps too ambitious for its own good and had it dialed back some of that ambition, it could have been a must have.

Controls too are fairly solid, with your craft easy to control and the attacking options making sense from the off. It would have been nice to have an option to invert the movement controls. but you soon get used to the defaults.

Yet, don’t be entirely dismissive of Starlight Inception, because as we mentioned, despite the issues, we were still more than happy to carry on playing and the relaxed nature of the combat here made this somewhat of a laid back game to unwind with. It just needed to be a lot tighter, doing away with a fair amount of the fluff that accompanies the main game.

If you are desperate for a space combat game, then Starlight Inception will just about scratch that itch, yet it is far from an essential purchase, which is a shame, because as we said, there is a very solid game held back by its own ambition.