TA Plays: ‘Star Command’ – A Brutal And Quirky Sci-fi Sim

At the top level, Star Command is a sci-fi simulation game that focuses on the real guts of an interstellar ship — you know, the people, the facilities, and the technology that makes travel and battle possible. As far as feel goes, it’s something of sci-fi slugfest where you find yourself limping out of every battle in a charred ship that’s being staffed by a skeleton crew because everyone either (a) got sucked out of the hull, (b) got incinerated by phasers, or (c) died in a fire. I’m not really sure that this is the feel that creator War Balloon was ultimately looking for, but this is how it came across to us for the first couple of hours. And, spoiler, this is a pretty cool thing.

We didn’t know this when we first booted it up, but Star Command is story-driven. You play as a commander of a ship in Star Command, a “Star Trek"-inspired Federation of sorts. In the opening moments, you’re tasked with responding to various threats in our system under their watchful eye. After a brief tutorial, things get real when you discover a busted up ship which explodes as soon as you get there. Star Command gets on the honker and blames you for the explosion, saying you fired on the thing. From here, the adventure takes on a different tone entirely. You’re now the commander of a rogue ship in a big galaxy with an assortment of alien species and various tricks, traps, rewards, and oddities.

The delivery of all this stuff comes from a “Hail" button, which is available directly on the UI. When you hit it, a static image pops up on the screen and you interact with whoever is on the other side of the intergalactic telephone. Interestingly, War Balloon has also added in a dialogue tree system that allows you to answer as a space jerk or a space hero or something in-between. These choices, we’ve discovered, actually matter: if you invite aliens onto your ship there’s a real chance they’ll set it on fire and then start blasting away at you. Bolstering this is Star Command‘s dark and humorous foes and allies; you’re never quite sure what to make of anyone, but you’ll end up laughing even if your ship gets blown up.

Positioning is, maybe, the most important strategic component of battle. Your first ship allows you to build two weapon rooms in addition to a shield generator and a commander’s choice between a dodge battery or a healing room. On Earth, you can recruit folks to man these rooms. Interestingly, manning a room gives your dudes special abilities. Engineers that you use for, say, the dodge battery can also fix breaches and put out fires. Anyone in a weapons room automatically gains the ability to shoot at bad guys who board. Fights often start and end with massive fights on the deck, as enemies teleport into your ship and start shooting up rooms. Putting weapons guys in choke points is a smart play, and so is re-assigning non-essential staff to a weapons deck so they can get access to guns. The push and pull here is that any unmanned room isn’t going to work. Pull a weapons guy out of his room and whatever gun he was controlling is now offline until he gets back.

Another wrinkle: some rooms require ammunition. Plasma cannons and the shield room do, for example. The people in the room build up the ammo, so you’ll need to keep some folks in these rooms and doing their jobs if you’ve got any hope of winning a fight. As we’ve been playing, we’ve learned that an overstaffed ship is often the best; you want a ton of dudes who can fire and take the heat off important people. This might be on purpose — gunners wear red shirts, after all.

When a gun is loaded and ready to fire, you pick the gun and then it auto-targets to the aggressive ship. There’s no flying or moving about the ship in Star Command. When you do fire, a mini-game pops up. With the plasma gun, you match up two lines as they intersect on a random point on the enemy ship. It’s easy, but in the heat of battle not so much.

Our video goes through a lot of this and also touches on the token system, which is just as important to your rooms (which can be upgraded) and your recruitment. Check it out so you can see it in action since it’s a little touch to explain:

Simple clicks take care of all of the action, and it’s probably important to note that most of the game functions in real-time. If you’re slow with moving people around, the ship will suffer more than likely. It also bears mentioning again that fights are tough. In a second, a fully manned and slick ship can be thrown into a fiery chaotic existence. That’s just the state being for the game it seems, which makes for some real nail biters.

Strategically, Star Command seems sound and the core loop — moving around dudes, using ammo, and deploying strikes — is definitely engaging and, well, pretty fun. As we move out of the first couple of hours, it’ll be neat to see where the story goes. Is this a tale of redemption? Is it a revenge story? Also, how many more aliens will we vaporize for fear of trickery? It’s been a lot so far!

Star Command is probably due out soon. We’ll let you know when it hits.