Hello gentle readers, the name is Clay, and I am here to say, I am gonna write some words in a major way!
Yes, I am also completely insane, but that’s just how I am. Today, as my first review on this site, I figured I would start with a small introduction about myself, and then get into my review of the first person sci fi dungeon crawler, Starcrawlers.
As I have said, my name is Clay. I am an older gent (older than the others who write here) and have been gaming since the bygone days of the Atari 2600. Although in 1994 I got my first PC (a Compaq Presario 520 All-In-One desktop with 4MB of Ram. Oh yeah) and have been a PC Gamer ever since. I tend towards RPG and Strategy games mostly, with a dash here and there of other things. Truthfully, the only genre I really don’t play heavily are Sports games like NBA 2k and the like.
Now I am going to do things a tad different than my two compatriots. My reviews will generally be divided into 4 main sections, as it helps me to organize my thoughts. I may also have videos sprinkled about as I have a tendency to record myself playing these games. The four categories, which I personally believe make up the four pillars of a good game, are “Story”, “Visuals”, “Audio”, and “Gameplay”. If a game has a solid foundation in these four categories, then it should be a good solid game! If not…well then you get stuff like Day One: Garry’s Incident shudder.
Now, the game I am reviewing today, as my inaugural review, is Starcrawlers. As previously mentioned, this is a First Person Turn Based Dungeon Crawling RPG. That’s a mouthful, I know. Most people would just call it a DRPG. It is currently in Early Access, being developed by Juggernaut Games. You can find it on Steam EA for $19.99.
Visually, this game is a treat. It features very nice well designed environments in 3D, with solid 2D sprite work for enemies and characters. The areas all feel good, and are distinct enough that you can easily tell where you are, whether you are in an old mining complex, a derelict ship, or a corporate station. Each zone feels unique and has its own atmosphere. The enemies are also visually distinct and fairly easy to ID once you have fought them a few times. The UI is easy to navigate as well and information is laid out in an easy to understand fashion. Overall, its solid work and I personally enjoy it. Also NPC Sprites are colorful and fun to look at. And while it may seem like an odd thing to mention, but thankfully the text is easy to read. I have played many an RPG with weird font choices and it bugs me, especially in a game with lots of text and no voice work.
Also one complaint I do have is that during combat, if you have pets summoned, you can only view their healthbars on the initiative tracker. There is no static display letting you keep tabs on your pet health, which can in fact cause issues sometimes, as for an Engineer, as an example, one of your pet options can taunt.
The sound work in this game is serviceable. The music is frequently overshadowed in combat by the sound effects, which are again solid but nothing noteworthy. There is no voice work or voice acting at this time, so no comment really there. Truthfully, I barely notice the sound most of the time unless I am in the main station. The music that plays there is dreary, and monotone, and I suppose it’s meant to be that way, to give you a feeling of being out on a lone space station in the middle of space. Combat music though does have a more frantic feel, but again can frequently get overshadowed by the booms and zaps of your special attacks and guns.
During exploration, when you can hear the music in the dungeons, its really quite nice.
This being a first person dungeon crawler in the vein of the classics like The Bards Tale, Wizardry, and Might and Magic, the gameplay better be solid. This is why most of us play DRPGs. At least it’s why I play them. I love the idea of just exploring an area, looking for secrets and hidden treasures and trying to piece together what occurred there with the limited information presented to me.
And Starcrawlers gets this down pat.
I want to also point out that this game is not easy, by any stretch. Be ready for a challenge. If you don’t pay attention, or get unlucky, you can and will die. In fact, my first time playing did not last very long as I got soundly destroyed early on in a mission. Don’t be afraid to grind out gear and cash for med kits as they are something you will want. What’s interesting about the difficulty is that normal is rough, but easy is really easy. There is a visible jump rather then a soft curve, and it’s kinda jarring.
Your team of Crawlers are made up of folks you hire and level up. You can take up to four per mission, and can have one of each class recruited. The classes are all fairly interesting and fun to use, and include Engineer, Cyber Ninja, Smuggler, Void Psyker, Hacker, Soldier, and Force Psyker. There is also a hidden one but I am not going to ruin that for you. When the game starts up you are prompted to make your first character, that you get for free. The rest must be purchased for increasing amounts of credits, and are recruited at the level of your highest character. IE If you recruit someone and your highest level character is 4, then the recruit is level 4 and comes with level appropriate gear. My current team consists of a Force Psyker, Smuggler, Hacker, and Void Psyker for example, but early on I was using an Engineer and Cyber Ninja instead of the two Psykers. It all comes down to playstyle.
Each class also has 3 ability trees, with 5 tiers in each. Each tier has 1 or 2 abilities available, sometimes active and sometimes passive. Each tree for each class is fairly unique, so there are plenty of options. Also, each character can only equip 5 active abilities at a time, so you have to pick and choose once a characters get advanced enough. Also, classes give you special non-combat options during missions. Find a locked door, and a Hacker might be able to crack it open rather then you having to do the Hacking Minigame. Run across an NPC, your smuggler might be able to talk them into doing things for you. Find a locked crate, and your Engineer might notice valuable salvage in it rather than junk, etc.
Also, as a note: Dialog and what is said by your team is wholly dependent on which class you bring. Each class has their own “voice” which is a nice touch and makes them feel like they have their own personality. Void Psykers, for example, are nuts and say really strange things, while Engineers talk like a good ol’ boy from down south.
Further, weapons and armor are fairly unique. You have both melee weapons and guns, each divided into a few types. Light, Dual, and Heavy for melee, and then SMGs, Shotguns, Pistols, Assault Rifles for guns. You also have Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor types, and various shields and trinkets. Tons of customization to help fit your team and your style. There are of course usable items and junk loot to pick up, and even some form of crafting which I have not fully figured out yet.
There are two parts to this game: The Town, and the Dungeons. In Town, which is actually a Space Station, you can visit a doctor for healing supplies or to respec your characters, you can visit a black market to buy rare goods (And some other features which are not yet implemented), visit a merchant to sell gear or upgrade existing gear for credits, and visit the bar where you can use storage, hire crawlers, and pick up missions. Missions are varied, and there are two primary types. Side missions, and Story missions. Story Missions are exactly what they sound like, where the primary story takes place and advances. Side missions are randomized missions that have various objectives, and take place in procedurally generated dungeons. These could be derelict space stations, mining complexes, or office buildings. Doing these missions will affect your standing with the various factions of the game, in both positive and negative ways. Doing a mission to sabotage a corporate tech lab will make the owners of that lab dislike you, while those who hired you will love you, as an example. You generally will use these side missions to grind experience and gain money and loot so you can then tackle the story missions.
A complaint I do have is that you can only save your game when on the Station screen. Once you enter a mission, you have to complete it in one shot. This sometimes is a pain as some maps can be a bit large, and battles can drag on, causing some of these missions to take a while. This prevents a person like me from playing in short bursts, which I sometimes prefer to do.
Since you spend a great deal of time in the dungeons, I am happy to report that they have more to them than just wandering around fighting dudes. The frequently include secrets, puzzles, and traps. Even sometimes NPCs that can assist you or hinder you, and events too. Movement is grid based. You use can move forward, backward, left, right, and turn. You use your mouse to look around, and enemies on screen only move when you do. When you become adjacent to an enemy sprite, it moves to the battle screen.
Combat is turn based, your team of crawlers against the enemies. Enemies are shown on screen as sprites, and your team is represented only by the health bars at the bottom of the screen and on top via the initiative tracker. Initiative is determined using a system called Time Units. Each action costs a certain amount of time units, and this dictates where your action places you during a fight. When a character or enemy reaches 0 Time Units they can take an action. For example, if your basic attack is 150 time units, then when you use it you drop to place 150 on the chart. If an enemy currently has 100 Time Units, you go after they do, but if your action only cost 55 time units then you would go again BEFORE the enemy could act. Its fairly easy to figure out once you get the hang of it. My hacker is fast enough with light armor, for example, that I frequently get two or three turns before an enemy gets to go with her, or anyone else on my team for that matter. You need to pay attention to your weapons and armor and what effect they have on your Time Units in battle, as heavier armor can inflict a penalty to your speed, basically making every action cost more, while light armor can do the opposite. Heavier weapons do more damage, but also cost more in Time. It’s a balancing act. Also your special attacks cost Time Units as well.
Here is an older video I did showing the game in action. Things have changed a bit, but the basic gameplay flow is still the same. Given that this video is nearly a year old, I am happy to report that the game has greatly improved. If you like this video, there are two others on my youtube channel following this.
Believe it or not, there is a story at play here, and so far from what I have seen its pretty interesting. It starts off fairly small. You are a new crawler come to Station X looking for work with a gal who pilots your ship named Luna. You get an easy job early on to go to a derelict ship and find out what happened. From there, a mystery begins to reveal itself, in between taking the odd side jobs and building your team. Currently however the story is not complete, and I am only on the third story mission at this time but it promises to be interesting, as I have three different choices on who to do the job for and advance the plot.
That is something I am really keen on and why it’s taking the developers so long to finish the game: your faction standings dictate how missions play out. If you are friendly with one group then the options and things during missions change. Hell, the missions can change slightly depending on what characters you bring. In one case, I had a Void Psyker with me and was able to start a boss fight by stunning the boss during a conversation. I also had an option with my smuggler to try to talk him down, but I felt that assaulting his mind with visions of horrors from beyond space and time to be a safe bet. He had a scraggly beard, and I only like those with groomed beards thank you very much!
I love this game. Truly, I do. It has its faults, like the issues with keeping tabs on pet health and the lack of saves during missions, but overall its an enjoyable experience and I have loved my time playing it. If you enjoy games like Wizardry, Legends of Grimrock, The Bards Tale or Might and Magic then I urge you to take a look at Starcrawlers. It’s a ton of fun. Just remember, you gotta learn to Crawl before you can Walk!