Manning our own an intergalactic starship probably isn’t something we’re going to achieve anytime soon. I know, the truth of that fact is a hard pill to swallow. But it’s not all bad. Games like Mass Effect and FTL: Faster Than Light are doing a great job at fulfilling our desire to explore the stars. Indie developer War Balloon Games has made exploring the stars cheaper than ever with their $2.99 iOS title, Star Command.
Right from the beginning Star Command tasks you with creating an avatar from a simple set of options and naming your intergalactic vessel. Your spacecraft is filled with empty rooms, and after a few introductory missions you’ll soon have plasma canons and medical bays filling your ship.
Star Command offers more rooms than there are spaces on the ship, and therefore a level of customization. Do you opt for the dodge generator room over the shield booster? The machine gun over the laser canon? Each choice will affect how your ship plays, but your choices aren’t set in stone as rooms can be deleted.
These rooms are manned by your steadily growing crew. As you assign them to specific rooms, they take on a particular role on your ship based off the color of their shirt. Blue shirts heal your crew, red shirts shoot hostile ship invaders and yellow shirts make repairs. You’ll grow attached to the little guys that man your ship, and might be a little heart-broken if they get sucked out into the vacuum of space or blown away by an enemy missile breaching your shields.
If you’ve noticed some similarities between Star Command and FTL: Faster Than Light, you wouldn’t be wrong. Both games are similar in some regards, but the core gameplay plays quite differently. Where FTL has a heavy tactical focus, Star Command is much less about tactics and more about keeping a level head. You pilot your ship around the galaxy making enemies, and nearly every planet you visit results in a space battle. The goal of these battles is to take down the enemy’s shields and blast away their hull before they kill your ship’s captain.
To win these battles and rake in resources for upgrades, you will have to stay calm as the enemy destroys your shields, boards your ship, kills your crew members, breaches your hull and sets fire to your medical bay all at the same time. What’s more, you will have to fight back by managing ammo, ordering tactical crew to stop invaders and play touch-based mini games to fire your ship’s weapons at maximum efficiency.
Needless to say, this is a lot to keep track of. However, managing your ship under pressure is where Star Command truly succeeds in simulating command of an intergalactic vessel. The game is only hampered somewhat by inadequate touch screen controls. I have long, lanky fingers, and I still found selecting the right crew member or location when things became crowded an effort in frustration. Accidentally sending a beloved crew member to their death happened far too often and resulted in quite a few mission restarts.
Despite the imperfect controls, Star Command offers an odd but delightful mixture of cute pixellated graphics and beautiful space-inspired background art. Each enemy encounter also features some witty dialogue choices, but for the most part the dialogue choices you make have little consequence. Most encounters trigger a battle no matter what you choose, and this belittles the choices you do make.
A single playthrough won’t take very long, but upon completion a higher difficulty unlocks with new, bigger ships with new rooms to manage. More importantly, you will want to play through again despite the story retreading upon itself and questionable controls. Not only because the core gameplay keeps your heart rate up, but also because Star Command succeeds in making you feel like a star ship captain as you tap away from the safety of your couch.