Making videogames is hard. Whether you’re aware of that inconvenient truth or not, it goes some way to explain why Star Command’s belated arrival lacks the scope of its pitched purview. It’s tempting to deplore the pixel-cute space opera for everything that it isn’t – namely, a handful of feature omissions proposed in the original Kickstarter outline – but that would be cruelly missing the point of an otherwise engaging and spirited space opera.
The pillars of Star Command’s gameplay are fundamentally divided into two halves. First you must outfit your modest star vessel with essential facilities and crew, assigning each of the ship’s willing underlings with a specific role aboard the craft. Each crew member is easily distinguishable: engineers wear yellow shirts, red shirts man the guns and blue shirts act as medics. Managerial requirements are minimal: making sure science, artillery and mechanical are fully operational, and redistributing resources when a destructive threat dictates it.
Star Command doesn’t offer a huge amount of time to comprehend the various systems, as it propels players through deepest space on a linear set of missions, almost all of which conclude in some sort of battle with extra-terrestrial species. The ill-considered escalation in difficulty results in a turbulent first hour involving dying ensigns, hull breaches and juggling crew members between multiple sectors in a panicked-induced bout of galactic musical chairs. The key is effectively shirt-swapping your way through a major conflict, responding to marauders beaming aboard your ship by repositioning crew effectively in different departments without leaving a plasma cannon unmanned or a dodge generator without an engineer ready to evade enemy fire.
This is rarely anything other than a taut experience, and the introduction of an effective crop of simplistic time-based minigames (used to launch attacks on enemy ships) commingled into the main action amplifies the tension tremendously.
Persevere beyond the obfuscation and awkwardness of the opening act and everything begins to click into place: your finely-tuned vessel becomes a labour of pride, and deliberating how best to distribute tokens rewarded post-conflicts – the in-game currency used to build, staff and upgrade facilities – becomes genuinely involving. The simulation side of Star Command barely stretches beyond those principles, ultimately lacking the depth to truly compel once its meagre campaign concludes – more advanced ships become available after the game is complete – but despite this, its limitations feel of little consequence. Star Command essentially amounts to a pastiche of sci-fi television tropes (with all the superficiality that invokes) rather than a full immersion into the role of an actual captain. It might not match up to the developer’s original intentions, but it’s more than a worthy voyage into a new world.