Reviews

Starvoid Review

In the outer rim of the galaxy, society is lawless. Cut off from the comfort and safety of the galaxy’s inner nexus, the outer rim’s inhabitants have had no choice but to engage in the rough, dirty business of mere survival for hundreds of years. While interstellar space travel was still possible during this time, few who traveled to the rim were expected to return, giving those in the rim little reason to believe they would ever reconnect with civilization in the nexus.

That is until the discovery of Starvoid. This new technology and the fuel named after it revolutionized space travel. Whether they wanted it or not, those in the outer ring suddenly found themselves within arms’ reach of the nexus. Even more importantly, they found themselves highly desired as scouts, miners, and mercenaries by the large corporations looking to secure this precious new fuel, which could only be found in the outer rim.

Welcome to Starvoid, a real-time strategy (RTS) game built from the ground up for fast-paced player versus player (PvP) action. While a battle for resources is the dominant theme of the game, you will not be spending time gathering materials, building up towns or developing strong economies when you play. Instead, you will be dropped into a PvP environment where you will be able to enter the fray almost immediately. If you’re the type of RTS gamer who enjoys rushing the other team(s) as soon as possible, this one’s for you.

We’ve all heard of “plug and play” media devices, but rarely can this same phrase be used to describe the type of combat environment an RTS game strives to provide. With twenty-one servers up and ready to handle up to twelve players each (6 per team), all you need to do is drop into a populated server and in a matter of seconds you can be mixing it up with other players across several maps and in three different game modes.

If this “hit the ground running” combat philosophy wasn’t enough to grab your attention, I’d recommend taking a look at the visual design of the battle maps, combat droids, and commanders. With graphics that are clean, crisp and adjustable in detail I found myself wishing I had a more than a mere integrated graphics card so I could fully appreciate the hard work that the developers put into each aspect of the visual design.

For those who have powerful gaming computers, you will find that the higher level graphics settings really do make a difference in the gameplay experience. The overall visual presentation creates an acceptable gaming environment even on the lowest settings, but the higher settings draw you into the fight in a way that might otherwise be missed. With that having been said, be mindful of your computer’s performance at these settings, as they really can chew up a good amount of computing power.

The developers at Zeal Game Studios didn’t slouch in creating the audio experience for this game either. Fitting in with the “wild west of space” concept, the background music has a rather noticeable western feel to it. While it might seem difficult to merge music that is fitting for a cowboy movie with music that is fitting for a game with droid combat, somehow these guys managed to pull it off in a way that genuinely adds to the entertainment value of the game.

The sound effects add value to the overall gaming experience as well. Each effect fits well with its associated action and helps draw the player into combat in a way that the visual aspects of the game can’t do alone. The voice responses of the various commanders are also good, each fitting well with the type of personality they are supposed to represent.

Now that we’ve gone over the core concept, audio and video aspects of the game, let’s dive into what this is all about, the PvP matches themselves. When a player is dropped into a match for the first time, they will encounter pop up tutorial window that helps familiarize them with the control system. Given that this happens in a live match, players are faced with the choice of learning as they go, or taking a moment out of their first battle to get an idea of what they are doing first.

I chose the learning as I play route and was glad I did. I found that the control system was pretty easy to figure out, so getting a clue of how to play Starvoid was more a matter of learning basic tactics specific to this game rather than pounding my keyboard in frustration while learning how to gain basic control over my units.

Units can be selected in a variety of ways, which made it easier to figure out how to control where they were on the map, when they got there and what they did along the way etc. Also, the relatively small number of units I had control over at any given time made it significantly easier to learn how coordinate my forces compared to the learning curve I would have faced in gaining control over dozens or even hundreds of units.

Once I had learned how to control my forces over a few games, I then had a chance to look into what I consider to be the best part of this game. That is the ability to fine tune my commanders, their equipment, their droids, etc. through the customization of what the Starvoid calls “contracts”.

The combinations one can put together to form contracts go above and beyond the “rock paper scissors” balancing system seen in many PvP oriented games. While each commander you select does have a specific role they are best at, such as head-on assaults or stealth based attacks, their equipment and the droids they use can assist them in that role in a variety of ways. This raises the difficulty players will experience in preparing themselves to deal with different approaches to filling the same roles.

The difficulty in knowing exactly what you’re up against and tweaking your own contracts in response to what you see others bring to the table does a lot to serve as a basis for a respectable measure of in-depth strategic gameplay. When players have the ability to choose between four pre-made contracts as well as four custom-built contracts each time they spawn, players will likely find themselves required to adapt to the often changing face of their enemies instead of getting bored with the steady hum of rock-paper-scissors.

The assurance of players being kept on their toes each match is certainly a good thing, but it is only part of what is intended to attract players to Starvoid on a long-term basis. As players level up and gain access to new equipment, abilities, etc. they will also find there are other customization options available through purchasable downloaded content. These options include different commanders, gear etc.

Having purchased one of these commanders and a weapon for them at about $4.50 (USD) total, I can say with confidence that these downloadable content options are not game breakers or sources of an unfair advantage, rather they are slightly different from the other commanders in some ways that will fit some player’s play styles better than others.

The whole process of leveling up, testing out different customization options and even the possibility of buying new things to add to the mix should, in theory, keep players occupied for a good amount of time, except there is one major problem. Right now pretty much no one is playing, meaning that all you will encounter when logging in are matches without anyone to play against.

Starvoid has no bots, or single player mode to speak of. It is entirely reliant on an active player base to provide the kind of experience it is designed for. This becomes a major problem when the maximum number of people who can be playing in matches across the entire game is 252 and the business model gives very little reason for new players to try the game in comparison to its competition.

This creates a situation where new players are not being brought in to sustain the prerequisite player base and even if they were, the max server population isn’t capable of handling the large influx of new players that typically occurs when a game is successful in attracting new customers.

If this game is to have any replay value to speak of, there are going to have to be some major changes in how it attracts customers and how the servers’ capacity to handle them once the game has grabbed their attention. As it is now, the game is a wasteland population-wise, which in my opinion is an outright shame because of the potential this game would have under different circumstances.

Speaking of overall potential, I was glad to find out that while ESRB and other content ratings are still pending on Starvoid, for the most part, this is a game that in my opinion can accommodate a larger age range of players due to its content than other similar games such as League of Legends. If you’re the type of gamer, parent or both who is not a fan of games riddled with sexually revealing images, graphic violence, and foul language, Starvoid will be among the list of games that should be considered at worst as a mild offender, not a severe one.

 

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Denis Hirschhorn

Denis lives in northern Massachusetts. Most familiar with MMORPG’s, he has been playing games in that genre for over a decade. When not playing MMROPG’s or engaging in other activities, he occasionally will fire up the PS3 and play games on that platform. As an aspiring martial artist he has an appreciation for action and strategy games and has probably spent way too much time trying to perfect the way he runs missions while playing them.

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