Star Hunter review

Regrettably, I gave up on this game.  It really is too bad, because I can see that it’s well-engineered and thought-through.  And I liked the general idea of a spacefaring merchant archaologist — a cross between Han Solo and Indiana Jones.  But the puzzles take place over a vast range of spaces, and the game doesn’t communicate the expectations enough for you to understand what it is you’re supposed to be doing next.

In combination, those two faults become critical.  There is some attempt to limit the explorable space by preventing you from hopping in your spaceship and going anywhere (dammit) — you need navigation tapes, and apparently you hocked all yours except your destination tape on this venture, because you’re stuck at an old archeological planet until you find one of the archeologist’s tapes kicking around.

Then, it becomes somewhat more difficult:  the tape takes you to the android bazzar, where you can hock what you’ve found and buy something else.

Unfortunately, without any notion what I should be doing, I bought a tape for a random planet, which I noodled around on and soon found myself stuck.  Consulting the walkthrough, I saw I was supposed to have talked with the androids far more than I did, discover the one clue that would have lead me to the right purchase, and from there kept on with that kind of thing over a span of several planets and several visits to the android bazzar.

The *fault* with this game is that you can too easily render it unwinnable – it simulator-driven, rather than narrative-driven, and you’re given a wide enough range of tools that you can easily screw yourself.  You can beam down to the planet without bringing along the beam-me-up button.  You can buy the wrong thing at the android bazzar, at which point you have no money can can’t unlock access to the next puzzle.  But you won’t know that until getting to the wrong planet too early and finding yourself stymied.

There’s an elevator that you can operate without being in it, at which point it goes off and leaves you — taking the only control panel with it.  And all of this is particularly a problem, because you’re only given one move of UNDO.  Apparently a deliberate decision on the author’s part, and not a very friendly one.

The game has an empty, barren feel that was probably more to do with the design than the archaeology-between-the-stars setting.  The descriptions are terse, there’s no one to talk to, and the gadgetry, while impressive, were sparsely scattered around the space, and mostly only ever did one thing at a time.  (You could upgrade certain items.)

So, all together, this game just doesn’t do enough right:  there’s not enough story — no cut scenes at all, apart from your arrival in new locations, which don’t count — so we don’t care enough about the PC; the game isn’t intrusive enough in directing the player, or letting him know about his options for collecting information, so we wander off — and the game is unforgiving about wandering, easily rendering you stuck.

Perplexingly, all the androids were the same, except for their color.  That kind of thing works, servicably, in console games, where we can actually see the color and it makes more of an impression on us, and where the game developers save development labor and computer space by tweaking the palette of an existing sprite, over and over.  But here the effect was one of monotony.

Console games can afford that trick because they are so stimulating.  And they’re built on a lot of relatively spectacular user action – computer response loops.  But text games are less stimulating to the senses.  The advantage of text is that you can harness the user’s imagination; but you do that through narrative and vivid description — neither of which this game used much of.

Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 6:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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