Indie Game Radar: Starshock

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This latest indie alpha I stumbled across has actually been in the wild for around 18 months. PC Gamer did a blurb about it in March last year, but there hasn’t been much word on the game since. After finishing the alpha and reading up about the developer’s intentions with the finished product, Starshock could be right up my alley.

Basically, it tries to take the shooter fundamentals of DOOM and Wolfenstein along with some of their level design philosophy, and marry it to the atmosphere and storytelling of System Shock. I think the basic foundation the alpha presents pulls this off well. Some have compared it to Delver, which is a callback to Ultima Underworld (an early relative of Wolfenstein and DOOM as well as a predecessor to System Shock). Another thing that sells Starshock is it has a really neat visual direction based very much in the era of classic DOOM and the first System Shock.

In Starshock you’re lost on a space ship fighting mad robots with while basically navigating key card mazes. The demo and screenshots from the developer’s TIGSource thread indicate a good deal of weapon and enemy variety. On the flipside there’s a real feeling here that you have to scavenge for all your resources. You buy weapons from vending machines with what meager money you can find, and the vendors aren’t always available, so you have to be really careful about what you buy. The developer even said they know players aren’t going to make it on their first try, wanting them to learn and plan. The alpha is pretty challenging, but admittedly because it’s not fully balanced yet. Enemies react to your appearance so quickly it’s virtually impossible to dodge their fire, so you’ll be taking a lot of damage in each encounter. There’s also a weird thing about some breakable crates being on top of inaccessible tables. Mind you, it’s an extremely early alpha from last year, and the developer has already shown extensive work beyond it, announcing they’re rewriting the entire engine in a deal with Night Dive (the guys who brought System Shock 2 back from the dead).

The level design is somewhere between DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D, maybe a bit more on the Wolfenstein side of the spectrum in that its levels are plotted in realistic, plausible ways. It also seems like the levels are made by simply organizing rooms on a top-down display like Wolfenstein. The alpha shows off some interesting environmental tricks that could make for neat set pieces in the full game, especially in its later section. Like its inspiration, Starshock even features secret areas you find by randomly hitting sections of walls or paying attention to the minimap.

Most people who look at Starshock today would probably compare it to Minecraft (Delver got the same comparisons). People who know better however would probably say it looks like DOOM and System Shock but slightly brighter and more colorful. The enemy sprites and textures all show off some really good pixel art, and they’ve all been significantly upgraded since the alpha. The style is still somewhat dark, but in a way that’s a little bit closer to the manga aesthetic of an early 90’s Japanese arcade game than anything else. One odd thing is how everything in the environment you interact with — terminals and vending machines, are literally just wall textures, but that perhaps is just true for the alpha. In any case, I’ve been yearning for some indie games that make good use of basic 3D graphics (read: not Minecraft clones) for a while, and this looks to be a great example. The most incomplete part of the alpha is definitely its sound. There pretty much is none outside a simple ominous ambient theme and the player character’s footsteps.

The reason I say this game might be right up my alley is because it seems to strike right at the hart of the main advantage of pixelated low-polygon 3D graphics for indies. It let’s them create deep, involving games without having to make them incredibly short or 2D. I’ve been waiting for indies to try to make System Shock or Deus Ex-inspired 3D games and some finally seem to be trying it. It’s just that indie budgets require these games to have basically the same graphics as System Shock. With good art direction I’m perfectly fine with that.

BULLETS:

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