Every Captain is a red shirt in this tough as nails retro-looking space strategy sim. Dive in head first and enjoy, but try not to get too attached to anyone… they’re most likely not going to be around to collect that space pension.
There’s an Achievement for losing ten captains in Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander that you’ll very likely see pop within the game’s first three hours. Or less if you can’t keep up with this excellently fierce hybrid of simulation and turn-based combat. Don’t let the pretty pixels lure you into false sense of security, folks. The AI in this game will eat you alive every chance it gets and not paying attention to the clock, your crew’s needs and a few other variables will have you headed to a previous save or even restarting entirely if you’re lax in your remembering to save duties.
Talented developer Massive Damage Inc. has cooked up a fine mix of throwback and modern gameplay that echoes the classics while getting in modern time management bits and impressive turn-based combat that will keep you glued to the screen even as things fall apart. While not as deep or complex as the original X-COM or a few other gems from days one by to present day, the game’s got a way of luring you in with plenty of challenge, some great humor when needed and a ton of replay value. Fallout Shelter with a hefty side of 4X, anyone? YES.
Granted, the most jaded strategy super geniuses will find, use, and whine about exploiting certain tactics for “easy” wins only they think make the game “boring” or not on par with their faves from the past. But the thing about that line of thought is all it does is keep gamers like that from approaching a game like this with an actual sense of wonder and hell, appreciation for what works well in this particular game.
For everyone else, the game will school them as they grow into it, offering up a hefty amount of challenge nearly every step of the way. Managing those deadlines, exploring/expanding your starbase, dealing with increasing invasions and invading areas yourself, all and more will keep you hooked in for too many hours. It’s nice that the game provides you with plenty of opportunities to train your captains in the many ways of being true to that rank. From running the awesome starships you’ll build for them, to exploring not so empty rooms in that starbase.
That is, until they start dropping like flies in a vacuum. In addition to dying in glorious battle (defiantly, at that!), you can lose captain and crew on a planet run, raid or worst of all, IN your own starbase as they’re checking out a room. Boo. Let me tell you, folks, there is nothing more embarrassing and annoying than a simple room clear task that turns into a one-sided death match against some ugly alien thing hiding in the darkness.
The thing is, in a few battles inside the base or in when your base is attacked from space, you also lose a random amount of crew members. This gets depressing if you’re in the sad spot of already being behind in getting missions completed, haven’t yet filled an empty captain slot and fall under attack thanks to a pirate attack you forgot to check was coming a few game days back. Oops. Still, you can recruit new captains, hire or carry away new crew from faraway resource points or otherwise gain replacements. Managing everything takes patience, a lot of reading and good organization skills. But the game tends to give you time enough to slide things together once you get the systems straight.
Dying horribly or not dying for a bunch of missions, the game looks fantastic, rocking its 16-bit style too well and packing an excellent soundtrack with that pixel perfection. The game’s art is varied enough that it can get away with mixing lovely SNES/Genesis-style main art and some gorgeous, similarly colored renders that do a grand job of elevating the game to a sort of instant classic status.
There’s more than enough game here to keep you dialed in for a while and after that alien mothership (yikes, it is MASSIVE) goes down in flames (well, if you win), you’ll more than likely get up, stretch, go have a cuppa and want to start up another game file just so you can pop back in and maybe lose a few LESS captains and crew this time. Great games do that to people, you know. Give this one a shot and prepare for a chunk of challenge as well as a decent intro to this type of game experience if you’re new and have the head for it.
Review code courtesy of the publisher