Star Citizen Preview Star Citizen Preview

Star Citizen Preview

Developer: Roberts Space Industries
Publisher: Roberts Space Industries
Platform: PC
Release: TBA

Star Citizen is a cult phenomenon and it isn't even out yet. Its impossible-seeming ambition, combined with its astonishingly successful crowd-funding campaign has made it the cause of many raised eyebrows and the butt of more than a few jokes. There has even been the odd accusation thrown Chris Roberts' way that his motives for amassing such a huge amount of money before the game has been made may not be entirely honourable.

It's certainly true that Roberts Space Industries are flusher than a menopausal toilet, and it's equally true that, right now, there isn't much game available for the $100-odd million which the studio has accrued. But I've spent the last week dipping in and out of what is currently on offer, and I must say I've had a genuinely excellent time. There are some problems and a lot of work left to do, but there's also the embryo of a seriously good space game there.

Star Citizen Preview Star Citizen Preview

That said, it is somewhat difficult to gauge how the final Star Citizen experience will hang together right now. The base game is divided into several components, including the single-player campaign named Squadron 42, and the persistent online universe that forms the meat of Star Citizen itself. On top of that, the currently available playable build is also split into two parts. There's a small chunk of galaxy that contains most of 2.0's spacey-fun times, while an open-city is available to explore in a separate instance.

Being unfamiliar with the game's fiction and unable to parse the names of locations which could equally belong to PC peripheral hardware, I ended up doing the city bit first, which at present is little more than a shell. It is an extraordinarily pretty shell, however, a sun-drenched, browny-red metropolis that falls somewhere between Star Wars and Blade Runner in its depiction of an interstellar civilisation. The plated metal streets, walkways and gantries are lined with towering structures and dazzling holographic displays, while the skies are abuzz with long lines of space-traffic.

Star Citizen Preview Star Citizen Preview

Even now, it's fairly clear how this hub-area will work. There's a gun store for purchasing weapons, a medical ward for healing, a bar that will no doubt offer a place to socialise with other players and pick up the odd side-mission, and a couple of faction buildings that will probably provide a career path for players. In terms of size it's reminiscent of a town from one of Bethesda's games, only with dozens of identical players bumbling around in it. As of now, however, none of this stuff actually functions. All it offers is an opportunity to gawp at its splendid cyberpunk vistas.

I'm also a tad concerned by how the on-foot part of the game feels. Star Citizen is equal parts space-sim and FPS, and currently, the basic running around feels rather floaty, as if the avatar's head is only tangentially attached to its body. I must confess to being surprised at the developers' adoption of the CryENGINE as the basis for such a massive game. While CryENGINE can certainly deliver from a visual perspective, performance-wise it's quite ungainly, and a tricky-tool to wield effectively.

Star Citizen Preview Star Citizen Preview

Anyway, after pootling around the city for a bit, I switched to the other part of the game, which offers what amounts to a playable 'vertical slice' of what the developers hope to offer in the final version. There's not a massive amount on offer, but what's there is pretty damned enjoyable.
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