By – Steven Smith

Starship Rubicon Header

Indie developer Joseph Perry, aka Wick, successfully Kickstarted his very first game in Starship Rubicon, which was then released for free. Now, online publisher Cheerful Ghost decided to re-release this game with reworked art, audio and new features.  On the surface, Starship Rubicon looks like a basic arcade style space shooter with some roguelike elements. Underneath there are a lot of fun mechanics that will feel familiar to experienced gamers. It would be easy to simply call this game a mashup of many other titles, but that wouldn’t do justice to what Starship Rubicon delivers.

The premise is fairly straightforward; an alien race, simply referred to as Nemesis, has destroyed the earth and you are the only known survivor. With some help from the wise cracking AI, you must now travel the universe looking for a new world to call home. Initially you are given a choice of ships, each with its own advantages, and a star map that contains a set of nodes and connecting lines. Hovering the cursor over these nodes provides limited information. After a while you will learn to distinguish between nodes that are safer or more dangerous than others. Simply choose a node connected to your current position to travel there.

Once at your destination you will be in direct control of your ship as it is thrust into combat with Nemesis forces. The controls are pretty simple, but do take a bit of practice. In front of the ship is a targeting reticle, which is controlled by the mouse. Wherever this reticle moves, the ship will rotate to face it. The left mouse button fires your primary weapon while the right mouse button activates your thrusters and propels your ship forward. The games’ physics system applies inertia, so your ship keeps moving even after the thrusters are turned off. This makes it a little tricky to maneuver around as your ship doesn’t change direction right away. There is also a secondary fire mode and speed boost. What your secondary fire actually does is initially dependent on which ship you choose, anything from homing missiles or a powerful laser beam to a teleporter that instantly moves your ship to the point you are aiming. The secondary weapon can also be swapped out using the games upgrade system, more on that later.

Starship Rubicon Review Sum

Your typical mission consists of flying around and destroying all enemy ships in the given area. Though these battles can get quite frantic, this doesn’t make the game a mindless button masher. In order to fire your primary weapons the force field around your ship must be lowered. This leaves you defenseless every time you attack, timing and a bit of strategy is necessary to make it through some of the tougher battles. Once the level is clear a space gate activates, flying through it while using your speed boost returns you to the star map to pick a new node.

Depending on the type of node chosen you may also be given a specific task, such as rescuing another ship from Nemesis forces or a boss battle. Rescue missions give you the option to have these ships join you in future missions. These new allies appear along the side of your star map, when you select one it will show up as an NPC in whatever node you visit next. After using an ally there is a cool down period before they can be selected again. Some offer additional benefits beyond combat support, for example one of my companions would fully repair my ship after every battle.

When an enemy ship is destroyed it leaves behind shiny little bits. You can collect these by flying the ship over them. This is the in-game currency system which can be used to repair your ship or unlock new ships. When you die these credits may be used to restore your ship and continue playing. I found this to be an interesting way to balance between permadeath and infinite saves and reloads, although permadeath is forced if you play the game on Hard. Throughout the galaxy you will find asteroids, some are just rock but you can find some made of credits. Taking the time to destroy these asteroids allows you to mine quite a bit of money. There are also nodes that contain traveling merchants who can sell you upgrades for your ship.

Starship Rubicon Review Sum

The upgrade system in Starship Rubicon surprised me by being more complex than it first appears. Your ship is displayed as a grid and upgrades are shown as collections of shapes that snap into it. Depending on the value and quality of the upgrade the pieces to it can be quite large or awkwardly shaped. The key is getting all your upgrades arranged to fit around each other within the confines of your ship.

At first I found this idea a little silly, but once I acquired a few more upgrades I found myself really concentrating on how to best fit the pieces together and worrying about future upgrades. To make the whole system even more complex, some grid squares on the ship have symbols such as a circle or plus sign. Certain upgrades have a corresponding symbol somewhere in the piece. If you can align the upgrade’s symbol with that of the ship, it can greatly increase the efficacy of the part. In the main menu you have the option to unlock new ships, color schemes and additional upgrades.

Graphically speaking the game definitely draws its influence from the 8-bit era of gaming. The ships themselves look like they would be at home in an early arcade machine. This is contrasted nicely with the much higher resolution of the backgrounds. Likewise the music has a very retro, almost chiptune feel to it. While not an overly memorable soundtrack, meaning I wasn’t humming it to myself later, it fits perfectly within the game and just feels just right.

Starship Rubicon Review Sum

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Admittedly, it seems a little odd for a developer to charge money for a game that was originally released for free, but in the world of indie gaming it is not uncommon. Like other developers in this situation, Joseph “Wick” Perry added many new features and improvements to his original game that help justify the $10 price tag. The original version can still be found but at this point it should be thought of as more of a demo, which makes this newer release the full version, and it’s a real treat for fans of the space shooter genre.

Starship Rubicon Technical Summary:

Starship Rubicon Review Sum

  • Time played – 4 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1680×1050
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Control Scheme – Mouse and Keyboard
  • System Specification – 2.93GHz Intel i7 870, 4GB RAM, GeForce 9800GT
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • DRM – None
  • Saved Game Location – (Game Folder)\Pilots
  • Bugs/Crashes – None
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