by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
Giant bugs and collapsing space
Bugs – StarForge was originally supposed to be full of them. The giant alien kind ripped straight from military sci-fi, bearing their great claws and mandibles. Instead, it’s full of the other sort of bugs: graphical glitches, crashes, generally unexpected results. Originally pitched as a game with Starship Trooper-esque fort defences, with players desperately fighting off hordes of fleshy pests on unknown worlds, at some point all of this was cut leaving only a basic “survival” mode.
Like Minecraft, StarForge is one of those “infinitely” procedural sandboxes. The world is voxel-based, swapping pixelated blocks for great blobby volumes and textureless swathes of land. At a glimpse the worlds look more natural, but there is a massive lack of detail even on the highest graphical setting. Objects and trees constantly pop in and out of existence and the horizon is constantly glistening with buggy textures – StarForge spends most of the time looking like it’s about to split at the seams.
The most impressive part of the world is under the pulsating beam of the great megastructure that you spawn by. It acts as a beacon as you venture off into the wilderness. The rest of the world is indistinct and structure-less: there are great plains with plants to harvest for fibre, which can be used to make your first set of armour, and there are mountains that you can awkwardly climb up in search of ore and oil deposits which will allow you to construct more advanced equipment and crafting blocks. As you mine the land with your oddly animated pneumatic drill the terrain will deform, allowing you to dig into the ground or through mountains.
Survival without meaning
One of the challenges of any sandbox is dealing with the player’s question, “what do I do?”. StarForge never really answers this. Its survival mode isn’t at all challenging. A few small aliens will randomly skim the surface of the world and become aggravated if you wander too close, but they don’t properly roam, and they have little to no intelligence. You can venture further afield into snow and desert biomes where rarer ores and stuff like sulphur and sand can be found, but the crafting options are extremely limited and there isn’t really a need for most items. You can harvest food from native animals and exotic mushrooms, but other than slow starvation there is no real threat. There’s the option to build a base and even fortify it with defensive turrets powered by generators, but as enemies are so rare and neither roam nor get any bigger or more concentrated as time passes or night comes, it’s really an exercise in futility. In addition to all of this, any time I tried to play on a multiplayer sever, interaction with other people was impossible due to lag unrelated to the ping. StarForge won’t even allow you to be bored alongside friends.
A good survival mode needs impetus; danger needs to be focussed so players can set themselves goals. Games like Minecraft and Terraria have the danger of night, a progression system that drives you deeper underground and even dungeons and alternative dimensions. Danger roams and spreads in Don’t Starve and even Early Access games like Darkwood ramp up as the days pass. What does StarForge have? I could do without the drill and brightly coloured beacons. The most logical and meaningful solution to being isolated on one of StarForge’s unknown planets would surely have been a small capsule filled with space-cyanide.
The joy of virtual suicide
There are a couple of thrills to be found in StarForge. One involves climbing to the top of the largest mountain and racing down it in 3rd person, watching as your avatar skids, flips and slides endlessly and uncontrollably down the jagged slopes. The physics in StarForge are completely bizarre, alien attacks will send your body spiralling towards the horizon, and even running looks wonky and odd –but at least these instances can be amusing.
The second most enjoyable instance is falling from space. Whilst it’s technically possible to grind enough resources to build your own space-copter, it’s a lot easier to just spawn one in creative mode. The skies are filled with strange floating asteroids, all of which are of course pointless and in no way utilised by the game’s systems. Nevertheless, you can travel up to visit. There are no enemies in space and even what could have been a majestic view of the planet from above – something which at one point existed in a pre-Alpha version – is spoilt by the reality of the two-dimensional mess below. I finally managed to ascend high enough, where perched on an asteroid I spawned myself the game’s equivalent of Halo’s Warthog. I then drove off the asteroid, knowing full well I’d spend the next few minutes slowly plummeting to my death. At last, some fun.
Throughout my time playing StarForge I questioned my existence and the meaningless of life in a dark, unknowable universe. Most notably, I decided on several occasions to end it all and partake in virtual suicide. Filled with the wrong sort of bugs and a general dearth of content, StarForge is an officially released game that feels a long, long way from completion. Unfortunately, with its release also comes officially squandered potential. Much of what was promised is unlikely to ever be delivered, and in some cases what was once an interesting concept has now been stripped bare. StarForge may well be infinite, but it’s a rather small infinity.
Committing virtual suicide, nice sky box
A buggy mess, another blow to Early Access, lack of content, boredom the main antagonism in survival mode, broken promises