Atari have produced some reasonably priced downloadable games as of late. Yar's Revenge comes to mind (and that's a title that yours truly reviewed) and now comes Star Raiders. Although this is (as far as I know) an original title whereas Yar's Revenge was a sequel to an earlier arcade classic, it's premise harks back to an earlier age as it were. Colonising space is a risky business and as the opening animation shows the player, many have fallen as mankind forges its ways across the stars. And obviously, not every species out there is going to welcome man with open arms and a friendly smile, no siree! Man encounters the Zylons, a race that take our progress not kindly at all, and it's not long before ships start getting attacked. Time to quash this opposition! Now the Zylons have fast ships and of course advanced technology, but man has not been sitting on his laurels either.
Like other games of this type, the ship itself is your main weapon. This craft has three attack modes that can be switched in flight and indeed mid combat. Flight, Turret and Combat are the three modes on offer and they each come equipped with their own weapon sets but more on that later.
So the stage is set for the adventure ahead. There is no point in trying to explain the plot as the above paragraph sums it up perfectly. It's space combat stripped to the bare bones here. There is no intergalactic trading, or side quests, the mission is clear, go out there and take on the Zylons!
The first thing you'll notice is that the battlefield is split into sectors. Each hex carries it's own mission objectives. These tend to range from engaging the enemy head on, recon, or escort missions and they each have their own reward. However the forces you work for don't give you a pay packet as such. In game money or credits are earned via salvage. Each time a Zylon ship is destroyed, it turns into a recyclable resource. This earns you advancements in the ships weaponry, armoury and support, such as an onboard android that assists your targeting systems.
There are also asteroids out there that can be collected too. Shoot them and the remains convert into credits that are automatically added to your account. But the question now must be, how easy or how hard is it to survive out there? Well let's see shall we.
GAMEPLAY: Upon entering a sector you'll be given a summary of the mission objectives. They will tell you how many ships you'll need to destroy before the sector is cleared. Once done, you can either return to the star map or stay in the sector and mine the golden asteroids to your hearts content. I have done this several times and as of yet, have yet to see any enemies re-spawn and come after me, but you'll probably get bored of the 'mining' pretty quickly and return to the star chart and pick another sector. The ship itself is a very manoeuvrable craft indeed and is simple to fly. The left stick moves it in the appropriate direction and the A button provides thrust. The X button applies the 'air brakes' as it were so you can slow the craft down and manoeuvre it more precisely. The two shoulder buttons effect pitch and yaw, the right rolling the craft to the right and the left to the left, simples!
Combat is a basic affair indeed, with the right trigger firing the main gun, the left launches missiles or fires the secondary weapon, depending on what mode the craft is in at the time. The mode is switched via a press of the 'B' button and the weapon set will change, to a different gun that may fire slower but deliver more damage, or instead of a missile, it will fire a concentrated beam of energy that will devastate anything in front of it. As with most games of this type there is a target lock in play. A triangle appears around an incoming enemy craft that switched from yellow to red once the lock is acquired. This can be switched from one target to another with a quick press of the Y button. Again simple indeed.
However there is a problem with the missions themselves. Surely the meaning of recon, is exactly that, go out there, explore and see if there is an enemy present and then if so, deal with it. No. I was quite surprised to see on at least one outing, recon meant meeting up with an allied ship and then protecting it until it can jump into hyperspace. Protecting the craft soon becomes a task to say the least, with fighters, gun platforms and a Zylon frigate to contend with! This marks a sudden jump in the level of difficulty, as you have to keep an eye on energy and shields, dispatch enemy fighters and gun platforms and try and juggle that with shooting out the weapon systems of the frigate itself. I will point out that coloured icons on a radar screen in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, will mark the location of most of the items you need to watch for. Red for enemies, blue for recharge stations which when flown close to, will replenish your ammo and shields, and green for friendly vessels.
The thing to remember is if you need to recharge the shields and ammo (and you will need to that's for sure) they will take you further away from the vessel that you are trying to protect. So recharge and then get back pretty darned quickly or you will find that the vessel has taken too much damage to jump. It took me a little while to figure out what was going on in the top left corner of the screen. There's a timer that keeps track of how long it took you to do each mission. That's no problem until dealing with the so called recon mission described above. It suddenly dawned on me that there is a time limit on the mission! So you'll have to work quickly whilst trying to juggle all of those objectives in the air. No easy task.
PHYSICS: Nice responsive controls, I cannot fault this element at all. Everything moves with a smoothness that you would expect in a space combat sim and it handles the action very smoothly indeed. Collisions are punishing (depending on the size of the object you hit obviously) so be careful.
GRAPHICS: OK so they lack the polish of games like Star Trek Legacy, but they are more than adequate for the task. Stars glimmer nicely, asteroids look solid and indeed prove to be when hitting them. No suddenly transparent graphics, finding your ship inside the target object which makes a change. Explosions look meaty enough, all in all adequate for the job at hand. Frame rate is nice and smooth, no drop out or sudden pop in. Nice job indeed.
SOUND: Whilst not as impressive as say a Star Wars soundtrack, the music is dramatic when needed but you are way too busy shooting stuff to really notice it! But when you do it conveys drama and captures the action nicely.
VOICE ACTING: Can't comment too much on that really. There are no Mass Effect style cut scenes just still pictures with a voice over that sounds somewhat like Bruce Campbell from the Evil Dead movies (?) But seeing as this is a budget priced downloadable game, I didn't expect too much. However some kind of in game voice communication, from say, allied ships to your fighter would be nice. You do feel that you are on your own here during the course of the action.
PRO'S: Fast and furious action. Go out to a sector, engage the enemy, collect salvage and upgrade the craft once you have earnt enough. Rinse and repeat. A simple, hands on system that an experienced gamer won't have a problem with. Novice gamers will soon get to grips with the controls no trouble at all. It looks good, and it's reasonably priced on the Xbox Live Arcade market at all and won't break the bank.
CON'S: No co-op or online game modes here. Just an online leaderboard. I don't bemoan the lack of online play but a co-op mode would have been welcome because there are times when the number of balls you have to juggle makes for a tricky time of it. That bit of added aid would have been welcome as the sudden jump in the in game difficulty causes frustration. This is a shame to say the least. You cannot alter the games difficulty either, what you see is what you get.
Sure there should be a challenge in a game but I feel that some novice gamers will soon find themselves frustrated and may just drop the control pad in exasperation and go and play something else. Gamers like me may well come back to it, but not time after time I feel. Indeed Dark Star One has that one more go factor that this game lacks slightly.
SUMMARY: A budget priced game that pleases but does not quite hit the bullseye.
Polished enough but with slight flaws here and there but still enjoyable. Just be prepared for some frustration as you go through it, that will either make you play on in determination to crack that so called recon mission or walk away muttering under your breath!
If you get into this then there is plenty to keep you occupied on a rainy day when there is nothing else much to do but some frustration may tempt you to ring your mates and go out for a pint or go online and play something else with a sci-fi theme with some mates.