I have many fond memories of playing TIE Fighter when I was younger and it is still probably my all-time favorite Star Wars game. You’d think that it would have turned me onto other stuff like Wing Commander, but I actually never gave those a try. TIE Fighter is pretty much the only space combat “sim” that I have played but I still really enjoy the game type. It was just the other day when I was browsing the weekly PlayStation store update when I noticed that something called “Starlight Inception” had released on the Vita. I checked it out and apparently it was a successfully funded Kickstarter project and also released on the PC. Since I’ve been drifting more towards handheld gaming lately I was more interested in the Vita version so I reached out to Escape Hatch Entertainment and they were kind enough to drop us a review code. I can’t speak for the PC version of the game but these are my thoughts on the Vita version.
I knew that the Vita version was obviously going to be a downgrade visually but that doesn’t really bother me. TIE Fighter still looks great to me. The visuals are pretty rough, though. When walking around the interior of the main ship (which you do entirely too slow by the way) things look rather plain. However, after I actually got into my first mission I was pretty impressed by the space visuals and how everything looked. The game may not look as nice as its PC counterpart but it gets the job done. Honestly the only things I wish it had were a few particles here and there to give me the feeling that my ship is actually moving but that’s just me nitpicking.
The second mission was pretty awkward. You fly around near the surface of a city which had just recently suffered an explosive attack. The problem is that it mostly looks like a large gray wall with buildings sprouting up as if the view distance was incredibly short distance. I actually tried to find a youtube video of this scene for the PC version and after viewing it I kind of understand what they were doing for that mission. The problem is that pretty much all of the extra effects that actually make that scene work are missing from the Vita version.
Then, to make things even more interesting, the third mission of the game was back in space and looked pretty good. What truly blew my mind is that halfway through the level, which takes place in the space around Mars, you actually fly down to the planet to take out some ground vehicles and whatnot. I’ve never experienced anything like that before and I found the concept rather novel. Again, having only played TIE Fighter I might have missed other games doing such things. Heck, maybe even TIE Fighter did and I just don’t remember. The seamless (Well, almost. There was some slowdown) transition from space to planet is just really cool.
To be honest one of my biggest complaints with the game is how tiny the text is, along with some other UI elements. This is most likely a problem that only exists for the Vita version I imagine. A lot of the text is rather difficult to read but the thing that makes me the most sad is how the cockpit view is impossible to play in since you can’t make out what any of the controls are reading.
The music ise pretty awesome, though. No real complaints there.
Starlight Inception felt very familiar and comfortable to play. The mechanics are simple to understand and probably share many common elements prevalent in the genre. You can manage power allocation for your ship; boosting weapons, speed, defense, or repair at the cost of other features. In the same menu, which is reached by double tapping Square, you can also issue commands to your wingmen. It works well but given that it appears to be a radial menu I’d really like it if I could just zoom around it by holding my thumbstick in the desired direction rather than cycling through the entire thing.
The actual flying is done with the leftstick. It controls the pitch and direction of your ship while the right stick controls your rotation. Left bumper slows you down while right bumper kicks in afterburners and speeds you up. The Cross button fires your primary weapon and the Circle shoots missiles. Triangle can be used to cycle through enemies, which can also be done with the D-Pad down direction. Pressing up cycles through allies. It works pretty well for the limited amount of buttons they have available on the Vita. Unfortunately they don’t seem to make much use of the touchscreens, though. From what I could tell the only thing it did was switch the right stick from rolling your ship to panning the camera. I would have actually really liked it if they allowed for maybe some target features by tapping or maybe let you allocate power with sliders or something. There’s a lot of potential there.
Between missions you can use acquired CP (Command Points?) to purchase access to different ships and better armaments. There’s a pretty decent variety with all of the ships listed. You can also outfit your ships with various secondary items that boost your power or offer shields, cloaking, etc. Some pretty cool stuff to play around with if you can get enough points.
The one thing that bothers me most about the mission structure of the game is how vague it can get. There are a few parts where you are left with no nav point, no way to review previous communications, and really just no idea of what to do or where to go next. From my experience this usually seems to be the point where they want you to return and dock with your carrier except there was a point in a later mission where I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do. Even when I returned to the carrier I saw the normal guiding chevrons that direct your into the docking bay but for some strange reason they just went in a broken circle that lead nowhere. After flying a circle and accomplishing nothing I crashed myself and restarted at my last checkpoint but several minutes later I was just back here circling and not really understand what to do. It’s possible that I could have been bugged or something since there do seem to be quite a few bugs in the Vita version. Still, more navpoints would be appreciated. That may sound a little hypocritical because I’ve often been an opponent of waypoints and quest directions but come on… This is space, man. Space is BIG.
There is an additional mode called… Something Flight or Flight something. I’d have to double check on that. Anyway, it seems to be a lot like a tower defense of sorts. Ships continually pour out of a wormhole and, from what I could tell, fly along a specific path. You need to destroy the waves and survive. You can drop little space turrets to help you and I think you might even get wingmen to help you out. At first I thought it was rather easy and just parked in front of the wormhole and went skeet-shooting. The difficulty did ramp up though, especially when a gigantic ship popped out at the end and obliterated me.
There’s actually a multiplayer mode as well but it seems to be rather empty right now. The game did just come out and it is a niche title AND it’s on Vita so I imagine that the population wont be great. Still, I managed to get into a match with another guy but he was either really bad or there might be some balance issues. Basically I spawn camped him and went something like 12-0 for the match. I did feel a little bad about it afterwards, though.
Starlight Inception on Vita is a rather rough port. It suffers visually and performance… ly? Performance-like? Hell, it has some slowdown. BUT… You really wont find a lot of space combat games on portable systems. Well, there is Wingcommander IV, but still, Starlight Inception has a lot of potential and I think a few good patches could really fix the Vita version up. Really the things that would make me the most happy would be a better, and actually readable, cockpit mode along with maybe some better mission directions and ironing out a few bugs. You might be better off with the PC version for now, but I found myself having a lot of fun despite the negatives. If you are really looking for something more portable then this should do in a pinch and, after some patching, it can only get better. Now I’m actually very curious as to how the PC version is. Anyone care to share their experience?