Mini Review – Star Raiders
The Star Raiders name may not mean much to most of you but it was one of the first “proper” 3D space shooters. Released on one of those Atari consoles that so enthralled our American cousins back in 1979, the game went on to quiet inspire many better-known imitators, the most celebrated being Elite. It’s now over thirty years since the original game and Incinerator Studios (chiefly responsible for the those Disney Cars games) have released this remake on Xbox Live Arcade and Games For Windows and right from the off it’s pretty obvious that the Windows version was their lead format.
The game borrows from the original story of Man vs. the Zylons, a race of aliens with no real character or backstory, and sees you flying through thirty levels of space, taking out whatever intergalactic fuckwits are silly enough to fly in front of your crosshairs. The story here is told through static screens of text with cartoon artwork. Here’s the first problem: the text is eye-fuckingly tiny. It’s literally a strain to read it on a 32inch hi-def Samsung, although presumably easier on a monitor at arm’s reach. Like I said, Windows was probably the lead format.
The thirty levels all basically play out in the same way until the endgame. You’re either taking out Zylon Fighters (small, zippy combat ships), Frigates (small battleships), Cruisers (bigger battleships) and eventually BaseStars (huge structures that you need to fly inside of to destroy them). It’s all very staid and predictable and, unfortunately, very very dull. You see, there’s no real threat of danger. Your ship respawns when you are shot down, with no penalty, and aside from the occasional ‘against the clock’ sequence there’s no real danger of failing.
Even the combat itself is pretty tedious. As is usual it’s all about trying to place your crosshairs on an enemy and taking him out with guns or missiles, but it’s all very slow with no real sense of movement even when you are boosting, and your ship is capable of taking tons of damage even before you start upgrading it. The upgrades also make no real difference to the gameplay. You maybe get to destroy things a little faster than before but given that you’re never in any danger, what does it matter?
One nice touch is that your ship can transform through three separate forms. The first form allows you more speed and movement, the next is slower but better for tricky navigation and targeting and finally you have your ‘turret’ form which sacrifices movement for firepower. The different forms are all useful and add some degree of tactical play to proceedings but you aren’t able to individually configure their controls which is annoying as some of them are better suited to an inverted Y axis than others. Also the game occasionally forgets that you’ve inverted it which is confusing and annoying.
On the plus side, there aren’t many space shooters on the 360 and this is a lot better than the risible Battlestar Galactica XBLA game. Also, the final story mission is sufficiently challenging, although this is in part due to the fact that its so badly signposted but the final sequence of the level does get the pulse racing a little.
Graphically, everything’s a little average. The space here is just a bit too bland compared to better examples of the genre (Freelancer for example) and ship graphics are fairly jagged and poor. Add to that some terrible slowdown when you take out a Cruiser or BaseStar and it’s all a bit underwhelming.
Some very irritating missable achievements further enforce the feeling that this Xbox Live Arcade version is something of an afterthought and other baffling design decisions (such as the terrible menus and the inability to replay missions) show Star Raiders up as a very amateur effort. It’s not a terrible game and it works well as a reimagining of the original game but fans of the genre should stick with Darkstar One for a more complete, if flawed, experience or Aces of the Galaxy for its better and more exciting combat.
Our achievement guide can be found HERE.