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StarDrive Preview

Space bears, and space wolves, and space owls! Oh, my! Coming from indie developer Zero Sum Games, StarDrive will be the latest PC ‘4X’ title allowing players to control one of eight very unique and colorful races. Last year saw a resurgence of space strategy titles with the release of Sins of the Solar Empire, Endless Space, Legends of Pegasus among others – although the latter suffered from broken gameplay mechanics and never recovered.

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Much like the customizable species from Endless Space, StarDrive features a similar point-based trait system utilizing both positive and negative traits. Choosing negative traits will allow you to spend more points on positive traits, although you want to be careful when choosing negative traits that can be quite detrimental.

While the game’s visuals are presented in 3D with some gorgeous looking textured planets in the background, the gameplay is presented on a two dimensional plane from a top-down vantage point – all in real-time. You are able to pause the action to formulate your next move, but I assume it will only be available in single-player modes (I haven’t tested the multiplayer modes as of this preview).

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Traveling between planets and various other star systems – which could feature well over 60 systems depending on the map size – require the use of warp drives – think Chewbacca punching the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace to invade a Star Destroyer. Much like the sci-fi fiction, interdiction fields can be utilized to not only pull ships out of light speed, but also prevents them from escaping. You may want to make a note of that. But we are getting ahead of ourselves with advanced tactics; first we need to touch on the basics of colonizing planets to expand the empire.

Each planet allows players to micromanage their entire operation, as well as let the AI take full control – under your supervision. It is a simple process, as you leave generalized directions for each planet and the colonists. Should the planet produce food to supply the Empire? How about turning the entire populace into bookworms and having them focus on technological research? Or you can always take the brutish path and force them to build a never-ending stream of warships.

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The colonists must be protected from not only invading forces, but also starvation. Trying to colonize a planet such as Mercury without first researching the necessary equipment to safely produces crops to nourish the colonists is not a mistake I would like to repeat a second time. Those brave souls…but I digress. Using freighters to ferry food and goods to the newly colonized planets is another solution, but isn’t the fastest solution.

Planets aren’t always uninhabited and if you spread your empire too fast, you may be caught off guard when unearthing an Ancient Race protecting the very same planet you sought to colonize. The rewards are usually worth the risk and these random occurrences keep games feeling exciting.

Giving players direct control of any ship in the fleet, players can use the mouse and keyboard to move the ship and fire any installed weapons. Moving felt a bit clunky, but then again you are controlling a massive starship. Going along with having direct control, Zero Sum Games is giving gamers the ability to build their own spaceships and space stations, utilizing a simple to use grid based system. Simply select the desired component from a menu and drop it into an open section on the hull, just don’t forget ships need an engine in order to navigate through space. It may not seem like a moot point, but it’s quite easy to get carried away with weapons that you forget about the basics.

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If war doesn’t suit your style, you can always try the diplomatic approach, although some races are much more agreeable than others. After a treaty has been signed, feel free to trade technologies in the hope the treaty will lead to an ever-lasting federation between the races.

The current Beta build feels almost complete with minor bugs appearing every now and again, as well as a few balancing concerns with some of the equipment. Tutorials can be accessed at any point, although there aren’t any playable tutorials – only a couple videos and copious amounts of text to read. Even in the beta state, there are quite a few promising mods that may be worth a look closer to the game’s release.

StarDrive will be released on April 19, 2013 on Steam for $29.99, but if you pre-purchase before launch you can gain access to the beta, as well as get the game for $24.99

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  • ECWSandman

    4X and Bears? PREORDERED!