Review: Star Raiders

Game: Star Raiders
Format: Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, PC
Developer: Incinerator Studios
Publisher: Atari

Incinerator Studios’ Star Raiders is the latest example of an Atari project that aims at reviving well known franchises from their past. We have already seen fairly decent releases in the form of Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime, and Yar’s Revenge, but these games left us wanting a little more from them.

The original Star Raiders, released in 1979, was one of the earliest examples of a first person space fight simulator, and arguably served as the inspiration for seminal games such as Elite, and the Star Wars X-Wing/Tie Fighter series. So you could say that, considering the series’ heritage, this game has a lot to live up to.

It is fortunate then that Star Raiders is actually a very decent game. There are not an awful lot of space shooters out there on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and as such it gives this game an air of freshness to it. Star Raiders manages to remain true to its roots and also bring the series in to the 21st century by including more modern gameplay elements, including an upgrade system and tactical transformation of your space ship.

To set the scene, you take the role of a cadet in the Star Raiders, an interstellar space force that is engaged in a bitter war with a race of aliens called Zylons. The Zylons have been attacking the human forces for months now and, in an effort to end the war, the human forces are looking to build an ancient weapon called The Rapture, which will hopefully bring an end to all hostilities.

To be frank, the story in this game is mostly unimportant. Between missions you are given detailed briefings on what is going on, and occasionally animated comic book style cut scenes will play to fill in some more of the story, complete with an actual voice over, which is a first for Atari’s downloadable games. However, pretty much all of this is unnecessary. Each mission basically tasks you with destroying every enemy out there. Every now and then you will get a mission that requires some finesse, such as navigating your way through an asteroid’s labyrinthine tunnel system, or to carefully shoot the locks off of gigantic containers in order to steal previous cargo, but for the most part missions revolve around dog fights in space.

Fans of the classic Star Raiders games will find a lot to like here

Your ship is capable of transforming in to one of three types of vessel with a simple touch of a button. The first type is the assault class, which is capable of moving at great speed and has ample fire power, including homing missiles. The second transformation endows your vehicle with more delicate and precise movement, including the ability to strafe. This transformation is ideal for taking out larger cruisers that require you to hover around waiting for their weak spots to be exposed. The final transformation is the turret, which has a heavy power machine gun and an EMP laser, but it is only capable of limited movement. The turret is most useful when you are being charged at by several Zylon ships at once and can turn the tide of battle in an instant.

The ability to transform gives the game a much needed tactical element, which contributes towards allowing the developers to include more varied mission types, that prevents the game from becoming stale. Thankfully, should you chose the wrong transformation and be destroyed, the game features an incredibly generous respawn system that gets you back in to the action within seconds without any real consequences for your poor performance.

One thing to keep an eye on is your ship’s energy metre on the left hand side of your reticule. When that is depleted you cannot fire any more weapons and must fly by a recharge station. Fortunately, when your energy levels reach a certain level, a blue arrow appears on screen indicating the nearest recharge station. A similar red arrow also appears on screen to indicate where your highlighted target is in the (likely) event that you go rocketing past each other.

There are numerous upgrades to purchase for your ship, such as new powerful machine guns, rocket launchers, and robot A.I that boost your stats. The currency to purchase these upgrades can be earned by destroying enemies, or shooting glowing asteroids. Should you find that a certain upgrade is not working out, you can swap your upgrades in the pause menu, even mid battle. It is very clear that the developers have wanted to make this game as easy to play as possible, likely in an effort to court those that played the original back in the day.

The shift from first person to third person gives a wider field of view

While the gameplay is very user friendly, I did find the menu system a little unwieldy at first, particularly the level select menu, which takes the form of a galaxy map. Upon completing a mission you can choose to advance to the next mission, or stick around to hunt down some more money. At first it was not very clear how to end a mission once you were done exploring, although a little experimentation will solve that issue.

Another issue is that on missions with objectives more varied than “destroy everything!” it can be a little unclear where you need to go. The game does feature a mini map in the corner, but it fails to mark your objectives on the map clearly. For instance, on the mission where you have to explore the caverns on an asteroid, it took me a long time to actually find the entrance to the caverns, never mind the actual thing I was looking for in the caverns. It seems to be a strange omission, but it does not reflect too badly on the game’s performance overall.

Review Round-Up

Graphics 4/5: Despite featuring a predominantly grey/brown colour palette, the actual graphics themselves are well designed and clear. The design of your ship is evocative of the design of the mechs in Konami’s Zone of the Enders series, and they have really nailed the expansive beauty of space.

Sound 2/5: The music, for the most part, is your average decent performance that just falls short of being memorable. There is a limited amount of voice acting, and it too is decent enough.

Gameplay 4/5: By taking your standard space shooting simulator and including more modern gameplay elements, such as the upgrade system and the ability to transform your vehicle, Incinerator Studios have made a really promising game.

Longevity 3/5: This is a single player game only, with no co-op or competitive multiplayer modes. This will bother some, but I found the single player campaign thoroughly enjoyable. There are over two dozen missions in the game to keep you busy, as well as your standard trophies/achievements. Xbox 360 owners will also be awarded a Star Raiders Avatar T Shirt for their trouble, which is a welcome addition.

Overall: 4 out of 5

Space Raiders is a great re-imagining of a classic title, with a decent level of tactical depth. By staying true to the series’ roots Star Raiders manages to evoke a strong nostalgic feeling in those that grew up on previous entries in the series, or the games that were influenced by it. It has been billed as the first episode in a series of games, and I look forward to playing the sequels.

Star Raiders is available now on Xbox Live arcade for 800 Microsoft Points (about £6.50), and will be coming to the Playstation Network and PC soon.

– Luke Mears