I’d heard about Star Citizen from various people I follow, but never really looked deeply into it. I usually start paying attention to a game after it has been released as a finished product or at least when it has a beta test signalling its imminent launch.
I knew that Star Citizen was being developed by the creator of the Wing Commander series, that it was being crowdfunded and that it was hoping to have a bit of everything including a space combat sim, first-person shooter, an epic roleplaying storyline campaign and a persistent universe to explore.
So when somebody told me about the Fall Free Fly event back in October, where you could sign up and try out the game for a free trial, I decided to jump in and check it out.
Back in my early PC gaming days, I remember playing Wing Commander 2: Vengeance of the Kilrathi and Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger. I never actually finished either of them – I can’t remember why – but what I do remember is that I enjoyed the cinematic storytelling and roleplaying aspects of the games (especially in Wing Commander 3 which featured full video cutscenes with Mark Hamill). I also didn’t mind the space dogfighter combat.
While downloading and installing Star Citizen, I read up about the current state of the game and saw that the story mode, dubbed “Squadron 42”, wasn’t implemented yet. But what they did have available to try out was the space flight/combat simulation and an early portion of the persistent universe gameplay.
The game is still in development, so I was fully prepared to experience bugginess and unfinished content during this trial, but shrug it off and try to enjoy whatever was on offer.
After launching the game, you’re presented with the main menu and only a few options, such as launching the “Arena Commander” module – which is the free flight simulator, and also “Universe” – which is a sample of what will become the MMO portion of the game.
I decided I’m only interested how the game feels as an MMO right now, and within that there’s also the opportunity to free fly around in your ship, so I jumped into “Universe” and spent the rest of the week there.
I was presented with two options to load into – “Area 18” and “Crusader”. There weren’t any descriptions about what these were, so in the spirit of exploration I just picked the first option, which was Area 18.
After loading, I found myself in first-person mode, in a small room filled with other people who looked identical to me, turning and looking at each other in confusion. It was a little bit comical. I managed to run out of the room and start exploring the area which I determined must be an example of a social hub, as there was a bar and a few stores offering clothing, armour and weapons.
It took a while to work out how to play – there wasn’t a tutorial available at the time. While some controls were intuitive, such as movement using the WASD keys and mouse look, other hotkeys were less obvious or not-standard to any of the other games I have played. It required consulting the key mapping in the main menu options to work out simple things like how to bring up the mouse cursor so I could click on the chat box.
It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only noob around, as there were a steady stream of new arrivals popping into the tiny welcome room and asking questions in the local chat.
There wasn’t really much to do, other than running around looking at stuff and using the various shops. The city did look very impressive though, and I thought this was a good sign for how amazing the completed game would look.
There’s no character customisation yet, hence everyone looking identical, but to differentiate myself from other players, I figured out how to buy some new clothes using the default starting credits I had been allocated. Perhaps I’ve been playing too much of The Secret World when the first thing I do in a new game is to go buy clothing for my character? After all, fashion is everything.
Going on a crusade
After spending all my credits on clothes and having nothing left to do in Area 18, players in the chat recommended moving on to the “Crusader” instance, where you get to fly your ship around.
Now this is where I started to get a good sense of Star Citizen’s potential as a space MMO. You wake up in a bunk aboard Port Olisar, a space station orbiting a large planet called Crusader. After walking out of the habitation zone, I managed to find the flight departures room and order for my ship to be brought to a landing pad. Then, I had to exit an airlock and found my ship waiting at the designated spot. After finding the ladder to climb in, I was ready for take off!
It was a nicely immersive experience having to find my ship and get in manually, as opposed to how you launch your ship in Eve Online for example, where you click a button and instantly cut from human avatar to ship launching out of a station. As I was walking around in Port Olisar I got to see other players running around looking for their landing pads and listening to the background audio announcements from station staff making it sound like a busy port.
Having launched myself into space, it was time to find something to do. I’d figured out how to bring up a mission journal during my experimentation earlier at Area 18, but there weren’t any missions available there. But now here in Crusader, there were a few different mission options available.
During the week I managed to try all the missions offered, and they each give a taste of what you might expect from a full game. There were ICC Probe missions, which involved investigating distress signals around the system and fighting off pirates. There were communications array repair missions which involved flying to an array, exiting your ship in your space suit and boarding the station to repair it. There was also an investigation which involved exploring an abandoned station in zero gravity, looking for evidence that could help a widow with her insurance claim.
In addition to those, there was a mission that involved taking a security job aboard a station and guarding a console from intruders. This one was interesting, because it is essentially a PvP mission pitting you against other players. When a player does something naughty such as attacking another innocent player, they get criminal status. The only way for them to clear it is to hack a console aboard a security station. So if you take that security job you’re essentially volunteering to fight off all the criminal players who are hoping to wipe their records clean.
I managed to stream some of my play time running ICC probe missions in Star Citizen on Twitch.
Crew reporting for duty
One last thing I managed to get a taste of was the cooperative multiplayer aspect of the game, in the form of multi-crewed ships. Some of the larger ships in the game allow multiple crew members to fly. So rather than flying your own ship around, you might choose to hop aboard a friend’s vessel and man one of their weapons turrets or sit in the engineering seat and help keep the shields powered during space battles.
While the concept of being on someone else’s crew was interesting, at the moment there wasn’t really that much to do other than be a passenger along for the ride. When they implement some more systems aboard the ship that crew members can control, it might be more fun to play.
I did have a hilarious moment when I accidentally opened the rear hatch while in mid-flight and I got blown out into space, requiring the pilot to turn around and pick me up.
Potential for greatness
Despite having a lot of bugs to squash and many more features to implement, Star Citizen seems to be a game that has a lot of potential to become great. But there are other space games with multiplayer persistent universes, such as Elite Dangerous and Eve Online that Star Citizen will have to compete against.
One of the things that I feel Eve Online is lacking is the immersion of being able to walk around a social hub in your human form, or the ability to leave your ship in space and do an EVA. Those things are possible in Star Citizen.
Star Citizen has a downside for me, that probably won’t be a problem for others – the first-person nature of the game. I’m one of those people who can’t play in first-person perspective for long without getting motion sickness. I found the toggle to zoom out into third-person mode, but you can’t play the whole game like that, as some of the UI elements don’t display in third-person mode and you can’t fly your ship or aim your ground weapon in third-person mode.
There’s also the long development time for the game. When will there actually be a full Star Citizen game available to play and not just a collection of alpha-stage modules? Will the game run out of crowd funding and become vapourware?
It was fun to be able to try out a new game for a week, and I’m going to be looking out for more news about Star Citizen in the future. But for now, I think I’ll wait a bit longer and see if something with more substance emerges before jumping on the bandwagon.