Dead Star Review
Dead Star is not a big AAA game, but it comes with a big pedigree. It was developed by Armature, a studio that has in its ranks some pretty seasoned industry veterans. The concept is cool: a top-down twin-stick shooter that has added elements of MOBAs, RPGs, and even old-school arcade classics like Asteroids. The fact that it’s free for PlayStation Plus members makes the argument moot as to whether it is worth the money. But even for free, is it worth your time to play it? The short answer is yes – but for how long depends on how much you enjoy the centerpiece of Dead Star, its multiplayer arena combat.
Dead Star does not make the best first impression visually. The ships and other objects on the screen are very tiny, and I literally had a hard time seeing myself on screen at first. I think I know the reason why; in multiplayer arena battles, you want to see a lot of the environment, such as enemies near you, so the view has been zoomed out appropriately. It is just that it gets a bit awkward when the screen is full of objects.
Visuals, while showing some cool detail and polish, have a rather drab color palette that isn’t the most visually appealing at times. The setting of the game is, after all, a space-prison filled with junk and asteroids – but no matter the reason, most of what you encounter are black or grey rocks, and on a black space background, there isn’t as much variety in the look of Dead Star.
“The story is there if you want it, but it isn’t much more than a setup for the multiplayer combat.”
Why are you in this dull space wasteland? The story is there if you want it, but it isn’t much more than a setup for the multiplayer combat. Something about a law made after a long period of war, in which punishment means being sent to this prison to fight it out with everyone else for survival, collecting resources and killing to survive.
All you really need to know is that you are on a team, fighting against another team to capture hexagonal regions on a procedurally generated map. In Conquest Mode, the main mode of Dead Star, you play team PvP in either 5×5 or 10×10 – 10×10 seemed to be the most common choice (and the best). The goal is simple: capture regions to secure resources, and eventually capture the enemy team’s Home Base. You can win in one of two ways: take every region adjacent to the enemy home base which lowers their Shield, and destroy it. Or, you can commandeer enough Outposts to eventually get control of the Guardian Defense cannon, which gives your team an insta-win by taking out the enemy base in one big shot.
Starting out Dead Star, be prepared to suck pretty bad for a while. Your puny ship will get smoked by other players quite a bit, as expected in most multiplayer game modes. But over time you do get upgrades to your ship’s defenses and weaponry, and so the game’s degree of enjoyability is directly proportional to the time you are willing to invest. A strength of the game is the variety in upgrading; you can add not just weapons and armor but extra drones to help deflect attacks, more health, speed, and other bonuses. You get these upgrades from a variety of actions, including capturing outposts, helping support an attack, or even just staying alive for a long time. Also, each player’s ship can only achieve a maximum level of 10, so you can’t max out everything – you have to make some tough choice as to what you want to beef up on your particular ship. Put it all together, and it makes for a really balanced battlefield and a deep RPG aspect that keeps the experience fresh.
Adding another layer of choice is the ships you can take into battle, each with their own advantages and drawbacks, depending on the situation. Do you want a quick but weak Scout to get that Outpost before the enemy does? Or a Raider, to carry those resources you just looted? Maybe you need a Frigate, the slow but well-defended behemoth for when the fight gets tough? And that isn’t all you have to consider; each class of ship also has three alien variations, each with different tendencies. At least they are all unlocked from the start, and once you choose your three ships to carry into battle, you are set.
“But despite all the layers and categories of choice, Dead Star doesn’t feel daunting at all – you can jump right in get into the fun quickly and easily.”
A feature I really liked was the ability to switch between my chosen ships, in battle, as my needs demanded. I might race to an outpost with the Scout first, then switch to a Raider. When I wanted to help out my team with a tough fight, I moved to the Frigate. You are constantly assessing the battlefield in Dead Star, and adapting accordingly; thus, your skill at knowing when to choose the right ship is as crucial as your fighting ability, and this game really rewards players who are willing to take the time and learn its intricacies.
But despite all the layers and categories of choice, Dead Star doesn’t feel daunting at all – you can jump right in get into the fun quickly and easily. Combat in Dead Star is pure, chaotic fun, as you fly around and try to outmaneuver your enemies, and hit them while avoiding getting hit yourself. Aiming with the right stick, however, is quite awkward and it took me a long time to get used to targeting with my right thumb while moving with my left – all while remembering to press the trigger. It reminded me of being a kid and trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I’d like to say that it eventually felt natural, but it never really did.
A big downside to the Conquest mode battles, though, was the fact that you really need to act as a coordinated team to win, and this was made difficult when so few of my team had headsets to communicate. What ended up happening was people trying to go individually out into battle, and that put us at a serious disadvantage against an enemy with a good game plan. The game design also encourages a defensive style of play, since capturing Outposts gives your team such a boost. With captured Outposts delivering easy Ore and XP, there wasn’t much incentive to try and destroy the enemy’s Home Base, so matches sometimes went on too long. Hopefully future patches add some more incentives to play offensively.
Another mode that you can experience is Escape Run. The premise is, since this is a space-prison, every once in a while the prisoners (ie. you and a few fellow-players) try to break out. In this mode, your four-man team controls a ship that gets warped into other people’s games. They shoot at you and you try to stay alive. If you survive, you get rare rewards. Since this mode is awarded only to an outstanding player in the Conquest mode, I didn’t get a chance to try it, but it sounds pretty rad.
Overall, Dead Star is a game that starts out a bit slow, but gets better the more you play it. This game won’t win any Golden Joystick Awards for its visuals, but the core of the Conquest PvP is pure, fun multiplayer anarchy at times. You can play this game in a lots of ways, and almost tailor the experience to your own gaming tastes – with staggering variety in upgrades, augmentation, ship classes, and strategic options. Hopefully, Armature can work on giving Conquest players more incentive to play offensively, or else players might get frustrated after not too long. But all the elements are here for a solid multiplayer space arena-shooter, and Dead Star definitely is one game you should check out.
***A PSN code was provided by the publisher***
- Tons of ship and upgrade choice
- Super-fun PvP combat
- Accessible and easy to get into
- Drab visuals
- Conquest Mode too defensive