Star Command is a fun, fast-paced, uncomplicated, and delightful little game that came along just when I needed it. I'm spending the week in one of my least favorite cities--let's just say it's in the southeastern U.S. to avoid upsetting any of my readers--where it's 100+ every day this week. I've been returning to my hotel room at night after hours of teaching, exhausted, with less than an hour to devote to fun things, and if I had to face Sentinel Worlds during that hour...well, I wouldn't. I'd just watch TV, and you'd all be waiting until next week for the next posting.
After my triumph in my first mission yesterday, I immediately headed to headquarters and got another one, to defeat five transports of criminals circling a planet within the Triangle. I decided to postpone this and just explore a little of the galaxy outside the Triangle first. So after upgrading some of my ship's weapons and buying more armor, I headed out. This turned out to be a mistake. First of all, fuel decreases fast as you explore the galaxy, and until I get a bigger ship, I can't go very far from a starport. Second, there's some mean, mean stuff in the area outside the Triangle.
The pre-combat screen tells you a little about the terrain you're fighting on and what you're facing.
I had some luck exploring planets and retrieving artifacts and biospecimens for later sale (although it turns out you don't really get much money for either). But in the midst of my explorations, I was attacked on a planet by hordes of "insect hatchlings." This was my first experience in squad-based combat (as opposed to space combat), and it was fairly interesting. You begin each combat with a "communications phase" in which your codebreaker or psychic tries to speak to the enemy. If this fails, you go into a tactical combat screen. The game tells you what squares represent good offensive positions, which ones represent good defensive positions, and how many squads of enemies you face. You maneuver around this combat screen, engaging with heavy or light weapons (some neat animation associated with this), until one of you is dead.
Unfortunately, it was me. I faced far too many enemies to even hope to win, even though I enjoyed watching my characters mow them down with flamethrowers. Lesson learned: stay in the Triangle until I'm stronger. There are other combat variables associated with gravity and atmosphere that I still have to learn.
Reloading, I went out to perform the mission. I found the group of five transports after exploring several planets in the system, and I defeated them all in a very satisfying round of space combat. I had trained a couple of my characters in astro-gunnery, and I had spent money outfitting every angle of my ship with one weapon or another. This allowed me to shoot at enemies no matter what direction they came at me from.
After my victory, I returned to the starport for more rewards, promotions, and training. Training and leveling are quite satisfying in the game. You gain one training session for every mission that you complete, and you can purchase additional sessions for 200,000 gold, meaning--and this is a big thing for me--you never run out of reasons to make money. Each training session raises one chosen statistic by 1-10 points, and it also raises a skill by a half or whole point. There seems to be some randomness associated with this, but it's partly based on the character's intelligence score. I don't know if this is a good strategy or not, but I've decided to have each character specialize in one or two skills instead of trying to create "well-rounded" characters that have lots of skills.
I've been saving my money for a new ship, so I didn't buy much in the way of upgrades. My third mission asked me to visit a planet just outside the Triangle where some miners were being hassled by pirates. When I encountered the pirates, they were in just one ship, so I took the opportunity to close with it and board:
The shipboard combat screen was just like the planet-based squad combat, only with tables and chairs instead of rocks and trees. This time, I won handily and towed the defeated ship back to base for some nice salvage.
There are three things that I really like about this game so far:
1. "The Triangle" helps define a fairly small section of the galaxy, from which you can explore in relative safety. This makes it easy to ease in to the game. Contrast with Sentinel Worlds, where you start in the middle of combat.
2. There seems to be a lot of freedom of movement. You can take missions or just start exploring. If you do go exploring, there are lots of things to do, from fighting pirates and aliens to exploring planets. The exploration isn't as detailed or nuanced as Sentinel Worlds (or even Starflight), but it's still fun.
3. The missions are really well-constructed to introduce you each gameplay element in turn. I know there's a lot more to come because I can buy espionage equipment and environmental suits and such. I haven't even experimented with chemical weapons or explosives or my "Esper" abilities. But the game eases you into its complexities instead of throwing them all at you at once.
4. Completing missions (at least so far) is fairly fast-paced and immediately rewarding with money (I keep writing "gold" and having to delete it) and training.
Again, a perfect game to play for short bursts of time. To the extent that I post any more this week, it'll probably be about Star Command exclusively.