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Starlink

April 16th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Galactic domination has always been high on my to-do list, and for the most part, I manage to accomplish it seven or eight times a month.  “Starlink” lets me do it all over again, taking bits and pieces from other real-time strategy games and rolling them up into one interesting package.  If you’ve ever played “Eufloria”, “Auralux”, “Oil Rush”, “Planets Under Attack”, or “Mayhem Intergalactic”, you’ll be instantly familiar with the mechanics of “Starlink.” There are a few things about “Starlink” however that drew me to it.  Before I get into specifics, I’d like to thank Michael Lyashenko from Tasharen Entertainment for providing me with a free copy of the game.

Starlink

Starlink (PC, Mac, Linux, Android)

The main menu allows the player to name a profile, adjust game options, view stats, and set up a game.  The game supports single and multiplayer modes along with the ability to set AI opponents.  This allows players to go head to head in a free-for-all like setting or team up against the AI.  Multiplayer supports up to six players (including yourself) in both local and online play.  The options menu allows you to toggle tutorial and hint messages, as well as ranked play.  There are audio sliders, but nothing to address screen resolution or fullscreen toggle.  The window itself can be resized with the mouse, should you wish to make the screen bigger. The profile system allows importing and exporting, but it looks like only one profile can be in existence at a time.  When starting a new game, you can choose your starting abilities, level of difficulty, galaxy size, number of players, the time limit, and whether or not you want a random seed.

Like most real-time strategy games of this type, stars under your control will automatically produce ships.  You can see the number of ships a star has by simply looking above it, and the color specifies what player owns them.  The object of the game is to branch out to other stars with those your ships, hopefully conquering said stars as you go.  Conquering a star will turn its color over to yours and it will begin producing ships for your empire.  The challenge, of course, is holding onto what you already have once your forces are spread thin.  What I found different about “Starlink” is that my stars seemed to produce ships at various rates, depending on whether or not I was winning or losing.  The more forces I had under my control it seemed, the longer it took to build ships.  Some locations add variants to ship production as well as combat efficiency, so perhaps I wasn’t able to keep up with what was going on around me.

Starlink

Simple to play, difficult to master.

What’s worth mentioning right off the bat is the abilities that you can bring with you into the match before it begins.  Players will be able to choose from a list of abilities, each with varying costs, that they’ll be able to employ during the game.  Some abilities are more expensive than others, so one player might have a bunch of cheap/weak abilities while another may have only a couple of expensive/high-powered ones.  It’s this mechanic that drew me to “Starlink”, since I often felt that Eufloria and games like it could use a bit more in terms of gameplay.  “Oil Rush” features a tech tree and usable abilities, but they remain fixed from game to game.  Being able to choose different abilities and see how they interact together has a certain appeal.  It’s important to note that you won’t have access to these abilities right away and with that, it’s worth talking about experience points.

Win or lose, players earn experience points after a match has concluded, which ties in with their profile.  While there is a ton of games out there like “Starlink”, not many allow one game to tie in with another.  A player will be able to unlock new content by earning experience points, much like in “Planets Under Attack.” This new content will add new strategies to the table for players to consider as they progress from game to game.  You’ll only be able to choose between a few different abilities from the start, but as you level up, you’ll be able to choose the more powerful ones.  I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t start playing with these abilities straight away, but being forced to unlock them kept me playing.

Starlink

You’ll have to play many games before you see the really cool stuff.

In terms of graphics, the visuals are stunning and remind me of “Auralux” a bit.  The color schemes are sharp and eye-catching.  It’s just a shame I never could take a moment to enjoy them.  Despite the stunning visuals, I did take issue with the difficulty of the game, even on beginner.  In my opinion, the game could stand to be made easier on the beginner level.  I was able to hold my own due to my experience with games like this, but virgins to the genre will be overwhelmed and possibly frustrated.  If I were to improve upon this balance, I’d make the AI produce less ships, less frequently on the easier levels.  As a reward for playing harder levels, players could earn more XP than they normally would.  I also had an issue with the user-friendly nature of the game itself.  The game prompted me to update the game, but gave no instruction on how to do so.  I downloaded the zip file from the official website again, but that didn’t seem to do it.  Without being able to install build 1.24, my ranked games ceased to record properly, among other things.  I also wasn’t able to zoom and move the camera around the game map during my play sessions, preventing me from seeing what my opponents were up to.

Simply put, “Starlink” has been done before one way or another, but that doesn’t make it any less of a joy to play.  The abilities mechanic adds strategic depth and replayability, since you can customize your loadout before a match starts.  There’s also quite a bit of replayability in the fact that experience points you earn carry with you, altering how you play the game once you begin unlocking new content.  For $4.99, it’s not a bad deal since most games of the genre are either just as expensive or moreso.  “Starlink” is easily recommendable to fans of the genre and strategy game enthusiasts.  With some more work, it could appeal to a wider audience.  It could stand to be more friendly to new players for example, as well as provide more direction for updating the game when new builds get released.  Casual gamers and those who have never played games like this may want to stick to “Eufloria”, as this game will provide a heck of a challenge and then some even on the easier difficulty levels.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Editor’s Note (4/16/13): The developer contacted me after the review went live and offered the following tips:

“* You can play the game in an “unranked” mode (chosen in options) that let you play with most abilities right away without having to unlock them.
* You can pause the game at any time if you need time to think (space bar, or button in the top left corner).
* You get 35% experience at beginner, 75% on easy, 100% on normal, 150% on hard, and 200% on nightmare difficulties.
* You get a 50% bonus against AI at beginner difficulty in combat.
* Your empire has a ship cap, so if you have a lot of stars under your control it’s worth turning off production on far-away stars by having them enter defensive mode (click).
* You can go full screen by pressing F5.

*Ships will be produced at a star if:

1. The star is sending ships somewhere.
2. The star is connected to a neutral or hostile star. 

So if you have a star far in the back of your territory, having it enter defensive mode prevents ships from spawning there, letting them be created closer to the front lines.

*The note about your profile not being saved is regarding server-side. It still gets saved locally. Your progress is always kept. You never lose it. It’s just that it may not be tracked on the server side unless you’re running the latest version. It’s done this way so that if I add new stats or change how stats work, everything is fair.” – Michael Lyashenko

These are good to know and figured I’d pass them along.  Some of these negate what I said in my review, but at the time, I had no way of knowing that these features existed.  My apologies if I misled anyone!  In regards to the update problem, the developer has resolved this issue.  Owners of the game will need to redownload the zip file from the official website (link above) to update their build.

You can learn more about and purchase “Starlink” by visiting the following websites:

http://starlink.tasharen.com/

http://www.desura.com/games/starlink

You can view video play sessions here:

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