If you come to this arcade-style shooter expecting to top high score tables and perfect one credit runs, then you’re in for a disappointment. Although its roots can be traced as far back as the arcade classic Asteroids, due to it featuring a similar thrust and turn control scheme (not to mention countless asteroids), it’s a shooter of the messy and chaotic kind.
Take a few hits, let a few enemies slip past – nothing seems to matter here. The screen is almost constantly filled with tiny bullets, making it impossible not to take damage, and many of your own attacks lack the precision to find their target every time. Enemies are quick to overwhelm too, but thankfully, the spacecraft is equipped with a rechargeable shield that can brush most damage off.
Another reason for the Asteroids comparison is that the ship’s movement is equally imprecise, gliding around the screen after building even the smallest amount of momentum. We should also note that this isn’t a twin-stick shooter, despite having the appearance of one, using the triggers to shoot and perform special attacks.
The campaign is spread across 80 missions, with the map screen’s branching path usually providing a choice of two – main missions and ‘sweep and clear’ sub-quests. The first batch of missions are story-driven, each featuring a reasonably lavish cut-scene. Sadly, these soon dry up, leaving you to slog through one similar stage to next without rhythm or reason.
Some missions end with a boss battle or introduce a new enemy type (race), and that’s your lot for variety. Well, that’s unless you count the occasional difficulty spike as a change of tack.
The whole shebang is tied to a crafting system, helping to elevate some of the tedium. At the end of each mission a handful of weapon, engine, and shield blueprints unlock, adding something new to your arsenal while boosting defences. Seeing your spacecraft go from weedy to robust not only adds a welcome sense of progression, but it’s also Stellatum’s saving grace.
It allows for a degree of experimentation too, as some weapons are more useful than others. We quickly ditched floating space mines in favour of a rocket barrage, and always equipped repair drones when facing one of those aforementioned difficulty spikes.
In terms of content, Stellatum is just about able to warrant the £12.49 asking price – it’ll take several hours to work through those 80 missions, and there’s a randomised arena mode.
However, it’s hard to imagine many who take up Stellatum’s challenge staying the course. Repetition soon kicks in, and while it does feature some nice visuals – such as alluring explosions and glowing laser blasts – a bigger variety of backdrops would have made a world of difference. Adding to the visual shortcomings, text is far too small and the UI lacks clarity.
The multi-player mode has also been given the chop in this console release. And at the last minute, from the looks of it – it’s mentioned in the press release but not in the product description on the digital stores.
While we didn’t outright detest spending time with Stellatum, with every passing hour it became more of a slog. It gets the basics right, but the bloat lets it down. Asking players to endure 80 levels of shooting tedium is an exceedingly tall order.