by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
WELL, WHADDYA KNOW?
I usually avoid saying ďI was pleasantly surprisedĒ by games because I like to give things the benefit of the doubt before trying them. But a game with a name like Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy had me snoring before I had finished reading it. I had to look it up just now to make sure I actually got the name right. Well, you should never judge a book by its cover, and in the same way you should never judge a game by its name. I was pleasantly surprised by Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy.
If you know about board games such as Star Wars: Armada and its ilk, then youíll have a good idea of how Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy works. Itís a turn based space combat game, and youíre never really certain of what your opponent will do next, because both sides plan out their turns at the same time. The planning phase is immediately followed by a real time section where you watch the turn play out. If youíve swerved to avoid an incoming ship, but theyíve had the same idea as you and made the same maneuver, then youíre going to crash and thereís nothing you can do about it.
FUN IN MICROMANAGEMENT
Itís Star Hammerís style of combat that appealed to the board game lover in me. You have free camera control over the entire battlefield, and as much time as you want to plan out your turn. On top of that, the game allows you to be meticulous. It has one of the better implementations of power diversion and shield management Iíve seen in a game. You have a triangle with Shields, Weapons, and Engines at the points, and you move a marker around inside it to divert power around. Additionally thereís another menu for shield power. If youíve taken a lot of damage to your left shields, you may want to divert power there to compensate, but this will decrease shield power in other areas so you have to predict where the next attack will be coming from.
As for weapons,again thereís micromanagement here. A ship will have a certain number of weapons, and you can set targeting priorities for each individual one. You might want to target the closest enemy, or the one thatís on the least health, and so on. Some ships will have missiles or countermeasures which you will need to target manually. You can even ram opponents if things get particularly desperate. As for engines, the more power you divert to them, the faster you can move and turn. This is represented by a movement arc, which gets bigger if you can move faster within a turn. There are in fact five planes of movement, which you can move up and down between, so these battles can become quite complex 3D affairs, particularly in the later parts of the game.
Bear in mind that youíre doing all of this for every ship in your fleet, and those numbers will increase as the game goes on. Also bear in mind that a turn only lasts a matter of seconds, so youíll be doing this a lot over the course of just one mission. Of course you donít have to micromanage every subsystem each turn, but itís nice to have that level of detail available if required. For the most part you can use the standard settings and just focus on moving your ships to advantageous positions. Getting a battering from one side? Turn and face the other way. All becoming a bit much? Thereís no shame in retreating for a while until your shields recharge. Divert power to the engines and get moving.
A BIT MORE POLISH
Sadly the complexity is limited to the combat. When it comes to story, weíre back in the realms of generic sci fi. There are a few different factions, one of which is an alien race who have synthetic ships. There are invasions, and skirmishes, and missing ships, and the like. Itís all been done before and to make matters worse, itís not delivered all that well. Everything is told via a dialogue that ticks over in the top corner thatís quite easy to completely miss or ignore. You can click it open and read through the conversations at your leisure, but there was nothing there to grip me. Graphically, Star Hammer looks fine, albeit a bit bland. Thatís part of the problem of a game set in space though, how do you make it look exciting? The spaceships are pretty basic in their design, the weapons arenít very flashy, and the UI could do with snazzing up a bit, but none of it is bad.
BLENDING IN FLEETS
Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy is a game thatís held up by its gameplay, which is better than being held up by pretty graphics. Itís a game for the patient, as youíll be spending a lot of time paused and micromanaging. Itís a shame that it doesnít look better, and that there isnít a more compelling story to it all. If these are things that could be worked into a sequel, it could be something quite special. For now, it slips comfortably in with other sci fi strategy titles.
A great blend of tactical gameplay followed by a quick burst of action.
Bland visuals and story. Can become repetitive.