It’s been eight months since I reviewed FTL: Faster Than Light, but we’re still waiting for many of Kickstarter’s first class of games to graduate to really understand if crowdfunding is a viable way to make them – and not just make them, make good ones. I must admit, Star Command was the first game I bought for my iPad – a new purchase all its own – and I look forward to more games like it. Like FTL, Star Command is a spaceship manager, but unlike that masochistic Roguelike, this integrates hints of X-COM and Bullfrog-era strategy tropes to become a charming strategy game all its own.
As a newly-promoted command in the titular organization, a riff on Star Trek‘s Starfleet, you’re given a blank ship and a small crew to get things going. Over the course of a dozen missions, you’ll seek out strange, new worlds, battle enemy vessels and hold off boarding parties of armed invaders.
Your crew is segmented into three roles based on the ship facility they’re assigned to: yellow shirts handle the ship’s mechanics and can repair damage, blue shirts are science officers who can make sure your crew is healed and your ship shielded, but your red shirts have the important and grim task to ensure your weaponry is operational and alien invaders are shot to cosmic dust. To its credit, while you can freely re-assign your crew, you can’t make everyone a security officer and have a bunch of free blasters when the space insects arrive to pester your crew.
When combat begins, which it will on every mission, you’ll need to task your crew is producing ammo, defending the ship and staying alive. As boarding parties land, your security forces will be deployed along the ship’s isometric grid to roll the bad guys away. You can always pick up more men at the nearest starbase, but like X-COM, you’ll grieve the loss of an experienced officer and their special abilities, people you can literally call your own. I wish the game had a little more diversity in their designs (or maybe the pixel-art presentation doesn’t really allow for the breadth) because I had a hard time telling many apart, especially amongst your alien crew. While fending off boarding parties isn’t a big deal beyond moving your red shirts into place, ship-to-ship combat requires mastery of each weapon’s specific mini-game (a fun distraction) and ensuring ammo is always coming.
Managing your ship becomes a complex game of Whack-A-Mole as you’ll need to make sure personnel are properly placed, your ship’s ready to dodge at a moment’s notice and any critical damage you take – like hull breaches that can suck your crew out into the cosmos – is handled fast. In Star Command’s late game, I found that by making sure my Dodge Generator was always well-supplied, I could avoid pretty much any threat and boarding parties were kept away, but only after a few frustrating moments when the game kept selecting crewmates, instead of the room they were in, while trying to produce more ammo and charges. Managing your staff can be a pain, even on a tablet, often causing red shirts to get moved to improper locations, opening themselves up to fire as they waltzed across the deck. Thankfully enemy boarders don’t seem to dish out much damage, leaving the only real scenario in which a crewmate dies for when you deploy a single red shirt to handle an entire party.
Would it have hurt to have non-combat missions as its original Kickstarter campaign suggests would be included? Definitely not. The game teases what those missions could be like, but in the few hours it took to beat the game’s campaign the first time around, I wasn’t turned off by its militaristic bent. However, I could definitely see how some would consider Star Command to be a repetitive struggle at times. Once I figured out the best route to operating my vessel in a mission, I often ignored the enemy ship’s health levels since I wasn’t required to mix up my approach in the moment-to-moment action and my vessel was effectively secure once I upgraded the Dodge Generator to its max.
Barring the occasional typo, Star Command‘s presentation is amazing. While the story is short and simple, it’s given a kind of grandeur through a variety of interstitial interactions with a gaggle of alien races, including Russian zombies. My biggest problem with the game, as alluded to previously, is that there just isn’t enough of it. While developer Warballoon promises DLC in the future – there are plenty of untouched planets in the systems you visit – that’s still a promissory note. The game is also begging for a Spaceteam-like multiplayer mode. How amazing would that be? Pretty damn amazing.
Lessons learned, I’ll be taking full advantage of its New Game+ mode to battle in larger ships on higher difficulties, the first time I’ve ever been compelled to replay a game so soon after completion. On its own, Star Command is an incredibly fun strategy game with a lot of potential that doesn’t bog down what’s already in the package.