StarDrive - High Quality 4X Action Space Strategy (BETA PREVIEW)

After featuring two news articles on Iceberg Interactive and Zero Sum's upcoming 4X game Stardrive (here and here) we finally got our hands on a key for this promising space strategy. With all the elements and more from any other 4X games that we love, Stardrive proved to be a proper gem!

With such a list of features described in our previous articles it is fair to say that Stardrive is a game that we at Indie Retro News are very excited about. And so with much expectation and trepidation (I'm not fantastic at 4X strategy!) Stardrive (Beta) was added to my Steam library, downloaded, installed and eventually the adventure began!

Or well, it did an hour or so later, after much video watching and reading in the tutorial section! Stardrive doesn't have the same active tutorials as say Sins of a Solar Empire but instead has a series of short videos giving an overview of the game, how to start and so on, coupled with rather a lot of reading! Which isn't actually a problem as it just made me more curious as to how the gameplay would really be, and the lessons that I picked up were invaluable! It's hard to say whether Stardrive would have benefited from a guided in-game tutorial over the current method, I'm going to say no as after reading the help on offer I felt more than able to begin a proper game, diving in at the deep end!

Beginning a game of Stardrive has more customisation options than a luxury car salesroom, and is only the start of levels of detail perhaps unseen since Galactic Civilizations 2. The game options are self explanatory, changing the size, abundance and difficulty of the universe as well as the relative speed, I kept the default, normal difficulty, medium size with a normal amount of solar systems along with having the full seven opponents. Picking race is between human and the seven alien races, all have their own basic traits but your chosen race is fully customisable. Selecting traits uses a skill point system which allows you to choose negative buffs in order to obtain more points for specific positive racial traits. It took me a long time to decide what way to inconvenience my human population in order to conquer the galaxy. I just went with all minor positive traits so that I was able to have a foot-up near the start! So the Retroid race was born and their quest for control of a turbulent galaxy commenced...

As 100% speed takes 5 seconds per turn it can take a while to get started. Fortunately the game speed is controllable using the '+' and '-' keys and the space bar to pause! This is phenomenally useful during combat and periodically overviewing the empire, but less so near the start while waiting for research and production to begin in earnest. Starting involves exploring the universe to discover nearby systems to colonise, sending colony ships to set up your off world expansions and providing these with the basic supplies to become useful. If you have the luck that I have you'll end up surrounded by nearly useless planets that drain your resources and a lack of production requiring long waiting times for constructing useful buildings. Resources are handled by - credits; used to buy spies and other items - food; for your colonists and colony expansion - and production; for building ships and on-world buildings. Resource management takes place on a planet by planet basis, all planets can be manually controlled or left to follow an automatic management schedule whilst the empire overview screen allows for a birds eye perspective to be used to control imports/exports and storage and to link quickly to specific planets (avoiding the task of finding them on the map).  As with all complex strategy games balancing the resources and planning your research are the key for successful universe domination. Oh, and ships, glorious, enormous, fully re-speccable ships.

Stardrive has a reasonably large focus on its ship creator and several threads can be found on the forums where folks have customised titan class ships to unbelievable levels. To take full advantage of the opportunities available you firstly have to research technology in the direction you intend to go, for example researching energy weapons opens up trees towards a disintegrator array or quantum torpedoes! Armour, power and physics are all helpful technologies and ship hull research gives the basic building blocks for your fleet. I found that at the start of the game the fighters were adequate for defense and basic escort runs and that as ship progression evolved it was fine to use the in-game ships, of which there are plenty. Ship customisation is most important when battling as it allows you to have ships that have firing arcs that take most advantage of every situation and the ability to turn minimising hull damage. All ships can be user controlled using the W,A,S,D keys, an interesting option that I found was a bit pointless outside battling large enemy ships, as click to move options were quicker and could be used whilst paused. The seamless zoom is where the controls excel. Zooming out gives a large empire view while zooming in to observe individual skirmishes is as simple as scrolling the mousewheel. Of course this is accompanied by the sounds of battle and the smug feeling when you destroy enemy ships!

Talking of enemies, it's been a fairly peaceful overview of the game so far! But Stardrive has that deceptive effect. Alien species communicate with you periodically, and the introductions allow you to question them (as far as they are happy to answer) and negotiate trading and peace terms. Although none agreed to join a federation with the Retroids in control they all agreed to non-aggression pacts and all but one to trading agreements. I acquired much technology over time by trading and this supplement to the research was invaluable. All alien races are well illustrated, have their own personalities and communicating with them actually felt like it meant something - a feature that is missing in a lot of strategy games. Whilst the initial peace lasted all of about 15 minutes until they told me that my pitiful fleets meant that I was next on the list of races to be exterminated it wasn't until about an hour or so into the game before the Cordrazine collective finally declared war on me. A war that I felt was going well until their invasion fleets arrived. At this stage I hadn't researched enough big ships but held them off with plenty of small fighters before they overwhelmed my farthest systems. They then decided to steal my colonies! Stardrive's colony invasions meant that several of my colonies were lost to troops from the Cordrazines. If I had had finished researching terraforming I would have been able to put ground troops and defences on my planets to withstand these bombardments, but I hadn't so I couldn't and thus lost two solar systems in what equated to around 100 turns. I retreated to the rest of my empire.

Unfortunately due to the fact that I was having a shockingly destructive war and my production and research weren't at level where I could build enough and large enough ships another two races decided that I was now weak enough to attack me. Excellent. I worked flat to the mat to get a defensive fleet large enough to repel the invaders but this is where earlier efforts in the game came back to haunt me. Due to not having the terraforming technology early enough I wasn't able to build anything except biospheres on many of my planets and the lack of production and shipyards meant that I couldn't provide enough ships to combat a full conquering force. Slowly but surely my colonies were taken over mainly by the Cordrazine collective and I lost even more possibility to win. Inevitably after around 5 hours of hard work (including pauses) my first game ended in a defeat and I was the third race to be wiped out, RIP Retroids, please keep our culture in a museum at least!

Stardrive may have defeated me the first time, but considering I haven't played a 4X since Sins of a Solar Empire I think I did OK to learn the game. Of course I am now in the middle of a more epic, larger, longer second game and I would love to share this with you, but I will leave it to you to experience the fun, frustration and immense pleasure that I did whilst playing! Writing this review has reminded me of some of the high (and low) points of my first game, and given me the evaluation I required to perhaps do better next time! I hope that many of you will take a longer look at Stardrive and see how it can satisfy your 4X cravings!

Overall Stardrive is a fantastic game with great levels of detail, stories that develop during the game play, surprises (for example contact from undisclosed alien races) and graphics to rival any of the best strategies out there. Further promises include multiplayer and modding so keep an eye out on updates to hear more about these. To find more information follow the links below and search YouTube for plenty of in-game video! Thanks for reading!:




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