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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Astralia (XBLIG)

Mining in space always seems to set off a whole heap of trouble (see: Dead Space, Red Faction) and things are no different in this Indie offering from developers Astroboid.

Although you might be tempted to look at the screens and think this is a twin-stick shooter, you might want to think again. Astralia will, in fact, actually tell you it's no twin job itself as the game starts! Well, your ship-board AI will. So what is Astralia if not a Geometry Wars style blaster? Well actually, it's kind of a strategy/shooter hybrid with a lil' RTS thrown in for good measure.

When things start up, you join your character as he/she has been sent for pilot training at a mining colony. A new smart building material, dubbed 'materia', has changed the landscape of just about everything the galaxy over- and it's being mined here.

Escort missions must sound great on paper.
Your rock-cuttin' ship is outfitted with an artificial intelligence named Astrid (if you just thought of Fringe, you get a star!) Seems that modern AI's are also made from materia and older programs, like Astrid, are sent off to places like the colony so they can slowly go crazy and delete themselves (one of their flaws) without causing a problem for anyone.

She'll fill you in on how to control your craft and how things work with mining and generating drones, among other things. But things get out of control quickly as 'space monsters' (yes, I know) begin an assault on your home base.

Thought to be just mindless creatures born in the void of deep space, these creatures actually start to organise and attack- and almost seem to have a plan of domination in place. It sort of reminds me of Aliens in a way since the bugs were originally assumed to be (by the marines) 'just animals'.

For an Indie, the story is actually pretty cool and well thought out, and while the writing is not the greatest overall, it really does have its moments. Story aside though (because it's not exactly necessary to the gameplay) there's an innovative play style that's been set up here. I'm not completely sure I've ever played something like this before.

See all those red dots? Yeah, those are bad guys.
The second stick, in case you're wondering, does not fire your weapons. Like I (and Astrid) said, this is no twin-stick shooter. Your ship does have weaponry though, make no mistake- you're outfitted with a standard gun that never runs out of ammo (but isn't all that effective), a laser (my fave), missiles, and mines. The trick is that all the weapons other than the gun take up materia- meaning that you'll have to mine more to shoot more.

Thankfully, there are no boggy gimmicks set up for the actual mining - just shoot the asteroids and fly over to get your materia. Easy-peasy. And it's a good thing that it is since you'll also need materia to construct drone ships. These little guys can fly in formation around you (there are several different flight patterns to choose from as well) and blast away at anything in front of them with any of the shooters that you can use yourself.

At different times over the course of play, you'll also have new choices open up to like constructing battle platforms and such. Now doing all this building while fighting can be a little confusing at times, since the action around you never stops.

The classic 'flock of geese' formation.
That means that when you're in a menu selecting which item you want to make, or setting up repairs on your craft; you're still being assaulted by the legions of monsters you've yet to dispatch. All the options are hot-keyed to make things easier when navigating, but it doesn't help all that much when you really need to make some more drones and you're seriously hurting and under a hail of fire. (what exactly are those monsters shooting at me anyway... maybe I don't want to know)

The graphics are fairly basic, you won't be wowed, but if you were under the impression that an Indie title would bowl you over, I've got a bridge to sell you. What you will find though is that everything is nice and clean looking with crisp designs that more than get the job done. That's really all you can ask for.

Overall, I really liked Astralia and if it sounds like Astroboid put a lot of thought and work into it, I'm pretty sure it's because they did. It's a well made, addictive, and surprisingly deep game that will have you playing 'one more level' for quite some time. Well done guys.

- Jason M





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Review: Astralia (XBLIG)
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