StarDrive Review (PC)

I take issue when games are misrepresented in their advertising campaigns. I especially take issue when people like myself are deceived into buying them. Patiently waiting for a title to download from steam and then firing it up is a ritual most of us take part in. Sometimes we win and get a game that far exceeds our expectations, other times we lose and are left scratching our heads, wondering how a title that looked so promising can be so poor. Enter StarDrive, the subject of my tale of woe and frustration.
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To say I was excited by StarDrive’s launch trailer would be an understatement. The promise of intergalactic diplomacy, trade, and battle with races from all corners of the galaxy had me positively brimming with enthusiasm. I am no expert in 4X games; in fact I am new to them, but with the promise of a tutorial I dove in head first.

Only there was no tutorial. A series of slide cards describe the features, basic controls and other intricate functions of the game. Other than that you are on your own. In a title as complex as StarDrive (and trust me, despite my gripes with the game, it is complex) more instruction or hands on experience with each aspect would have been appreciated. Instead you are thrust into action with a home planet and a small fleet, ready to fumble your way through the many unexplained features.

As with all 4X games, you are tasked with exploring the galaxy, meeting other species, trading and if need be destroying them if they get in your way. This would be great fun if the game didn’t have such ridiculous difficulty spikes. Several times I was completely overwhelmed by enemy forces, having had no time to build up a fleet to defend myself with. Other species were erratic in their behaviour, declaring peace and then attacking me immediately after. Diplomacy and balancing still need considerable work.
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The unwelcoming interface does nothing to make the experience smoother. Smatterings of buttons litter the screen. Not only is it unclear what each of these do, there are far too many of them. When you do start to get to grips with the game’s quirks, slow-downs and crashes happen fairly often. This problem has cropped up for many on the Steam Forums and appears to be getting worse for some as patches roll out.

The raw nature of the game extends into the most basic features. Graphical settings are bare, with very little options changeable. It’s a hallmark of a game not quite ready for release yet.

Since launch StarDrive has been divisive. Fans of the game maintain that it is a triumph, most notable due to the developer, Zero Sum Games being a one man team. Just as many people feel that they have been ripped-off and given a game that is a long way off completion. This is where my main annoyance with the game lays. Had it been marketed as an Alpha, I would have no problem; instead the game is being sold as a complete product with a price tag to match. Given just how incomplete, buggy and broken it is currently, selling StarDrive as anything other than a game still heavily in development is tantamount to fraud.
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The 4X hard-core will find a lot to like despite the bugs and broken features. They will have no problem with understanding its more intricate features. For the less experienced among us, StarDrive does nothing to make the genre more accessible, largely due to its non-existent tutorial and massively unfair difficulty spikes.

Undoubtedly StarDrive has potential. I encourage those of you interested in it to keep the game on your radar. I cannot however recommend that you buy it. Purchasing it now gets you access to an alpha masquerading as a finished product. This game is nowhere near completion, no matter how vehemently some would argue otherwise. Worryingly, the developer is yet to address these concerns. Silence from both Zero Sum Games and Iceberg Interactive only gives credence to the argument that StarDrive is knowingly being mis-sold as a finished product.

Go buy Sword of The Stars or Sins of a Solar Empire instead.