If there is one thing that can be said about a lot of us in the gaming community, it’s that we’re nostalgic. We like to remember past days when we had marathon sessions of games with friends and family, as well as those specific titles that really impressed us and made an impact on our lives. We all have a story about the first video games we played and why they interested us enough to make gaming one of our main hobbies and interests. Many of these memories/stories date back to the dawn of gaming, to titles that many of the latest generation of gamers haven’t even heard of.
One of those fan favourite/nostalgic titles is Star Raiders – a space flight combat game that was originally released in 1979 which was recently remade by Incinerator Studios for the XBOX Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. It captivated audiences when it was first released, by allowing gamers to feel like they were inside the cockpit of a futuristic space fighter, aiming at oncoming ships and asteroids as they approached their field of vision.
An ongoing attempt to revitalize old and beloved retro franchises has seen it return as a three-dimensional space shooter that sees gamers flying through space from a third-person vantage point, shooting oncoming enemies and taking out large destroyers. It’s similar in some ways to its predecessor of decades past, but it plays a bit differently, being that you’re not assuming a cockpit view. Though it’s still the same type of game in several ways, and in spirit.
This 2011 remake tells a tale of a group of young space cadets, who have just graduated from a recruitment/training program for the Star Raiders – a team of star-fighters who protect the galaxy from threats and disturbances. Moving comics act as storytelling cutscenes, setting up the team’s back stories, detailing each individual character including the hotshot main character, the girl seeking revenge for her father’s death and the muscle.
They progress to tell a story about incoming attacks from an evil group known as the Cylons, which sees the team enter into battle far earlier than expected. It’s this battle between the Star Raiders and the attacking Cylons, which creates the premise for the game’s several hour long campaign, which takes players to ten different galaxies through a grid-based galaxy map.
As mentioned previously, all of the title’s space exploration and combat is completed through a third-person perspective, that sees you viewing from behind your spaceship. Normally, this works quite well and could have here, but the game features clunky controls and a camera that doesn’t always work the way you’d like it to. This means you’ll fly into things you should have been able to avoid, and that moving through space won’t be as smooth as it should be in this type of game.
Controlling your flight path with the joysticks (which are also used for aiming) works alright, but is cumbersome due to the aforementioned reasons. Setting up turret fire can be troublesome at times, but you can luckily use the Y button to select primary targets that are highlighted and ready for homing rockets. Be warned though, as your ship only has a certain amount of energy for both its primary and secondary weapons, meaning that you’re out of luck when you run out, unless you can find a refresh beacon that will provide you with additional resources.
The creative thing about your ship is the fact that it can morph into three different set-ups: assault, strafe and turret. Each one has its own pros, cons and abilities. For example, the assault type allows you to get around faster and can shoot homing rockets, but it’s a bit clunky and has a weak turret. The strafe transformation allows you to lock onto targets with a more powerful turret, but it’s slow and doesn’t have a very powerful rocket attack. Lastly, the turret mode is essentially a floating tank mode, with a very powerful turret gun but little to no flight abilities.
Your goal is to use these abilities to your best advantage in different types of situations, though the assault type is the only one you’ll really need for a lot of the time. Transforming is easy though, and can be completed at the touch of a button. New weapon upgrades can be purchased for each, using in-game currency, earned for completing objectives or destroying floating comets filled with profitable minerals. Additional items such as new cyborg co-pilots can be purchased for additional shield, damage or weapon bonuses.
Each galaxy you visit contains approximately four missions of varying listed types. However, though they different names, most of the game’s forty missions end up feeling identical, save for the odd few. Most missions give you a set amount of enemy fighters to take out, along with an additional task asking you to take out sentry turrets or take down large ships blocking trade routes, completed by shooting energy cores on their exteriors.
Unfortunately, 90% of the game’s missions follow these similar designs or mildly altered versions of them, making the game feel repetitive and boring after a short while. There are the odd hints of creativity where you’re tasked with taking out generators or destroying a space elevator above a nice looking planet in daylight, but these missions are few and far between. However, even the more creative missions can be frustrating at times due to clunky flight mechanics, though you get used to them after a while.
Unfortunately, clunky controls and repetition aren’t the only issues dogging this game. It’s obvious that the developers tried to make this a creative little title, but most of their ideas didn’t translate that well into gameplay. Some of the more creative missions don’t work that well because of vague objectives which lack any real descriptions. You’ll spend a while trying to find a tiny core or passcode that you need to find to progress, which can be very frustrating.
It’s this lack of intelligent design that makes the game more of a frustrating experience than an entertaining way to spend time in a virtual representation of the final frontier. However, there are moments where the game mechanics work better than others, which can be mildly entertaining for brief periods of time. Most missions only tend to last several minutes, with most grading you on how long it takes you to complete all of its objectives, rather than failing you via a set time period. There are a few that do feature clocks that count down, but they’re not very prevalent.
One mission in particular that is bad for this tasks you with attacking an enemy star base that is located on an asteroid. You’re asked to fly over a large area, to destroy items with the only real hint being a legend that isn’t very helpful. Then, when you complete that and find the tiny collectible items required to progress, your next objective is to ‘explore’ a series of tunnels. However, it’s not like it sounds – you’ll spend a lot of time flying through each part of the tunnel labyrinth, entering on one end and exiting at another, without being able to progress onto your next mission.
What is actually meant by the term explore is that you have to destroy a wall that looks like most others, find a passcode and then leave. There is a radar system in place, but it’s almost always full of different coloured dots with next to no explanation of what they mean. Even the in-game help menu and legends offer next to no help or information, other than a listing of what each gauge represents on the HUD.
Star Raiders’ gameplay generally feels dated and uninspired, which is something that also filters through into its presentation. It’s not a bad looking game, but it lacks visual polish, variety and colour, for the most part. Most missions and enemies look the same, which really adds to the feeling of repetition. It also tends to look a bit muddy at times, resembling an XBLA launch title or a last generation retail title. However, its daylight sections show a lot more detail and tend to look much nicer.
Its cutscenes are much the same way – okay looking, but utterly forgettable. Their included voice acting is really cheesy, which was a missed opportunity. On top of all of this, the in-game sound effects are repetitive and uninspired, with most of the in-mission sounds being audio effects from your guns and/or enemy fighters.
It’s great that video game publishers and developers are interested in revisiting popular franchises, bringing them out of the proverbial gaming vault. However, the memories that fans have of their beloved retro titles are so dear to them that it usually takes a lot for a remake to impress them – which is much the same as film remakes. Unfortunately, Star Raiders 2011 isn’t an inspired or overly engaging remake.
Due to some questionable design choices, cumbersome flight/combat mechanics and a ton of repetitive missions, it’s tough to recommend to most gamers. There’s a lot of content in the forty missions, but it’s just not overly fun or engaging. Not to mention the fact that there’s no online content, other than leaderboards. Though it must be said that, once you get used to the way it works, it gets a bit better, it’s still never anything to write home about. It’s too bad for fans of the original game, because some more time in development and some altered design choices could have made this a much more interesting title, which could’ve paid a great homage to its well-liked predecessor.
Star Raiders is very repetitive and clunky, and with vague objectives that don't offer much description, it can lead to a frustrating experience