Star Control: Origins Review - Space Oddity

Star Control: Origins Review – Space Oddity

Star Control: Origins Review – Space Oddity. Star Control II was released in 1992 and remains notable for its bold amalgam of seemingly disparate ideas. It combined space exploration, arcade combat, resource management, trading, questing and chatting with aliens in a way that suggested its creators were still eagerly discovering what a game could be. This reboot, from strategy game developer Stardock, is a mostly faithful adaptation. It delivers an expansive galaxy steeped in mystery, knowing sci-fi winks and modern interface convenience, but as a genre mashup it can at times feel shallow and the overall experience is uneven.

Star Control: Origins begins with the human race donning its crisp and immaculately tailored Star Control uniform and making first contact with alien life. Within moments you find yourself appointed captain of the only ship in the human fleet equipped with a hyperdrive and thus entrusted with representing your species in the fledgling field of galactic diplomacy. This is no lavish 3D space sim a la Elite Dangerous, it should be noted. Most of the time you’ll be looking at a flat 2D starfield as your ship putters around the galaxy. In combat, it looks much the same, and all conversations are shown as cartoonishly animated 2D scenes with plenty of text. Elsewhere, there are sector maps to analyze and ship upgrade blueprints to pore over–even a hyperlinked captain’s log that records all your discoveries. The presentation definitely leans heavily into the strategy portion of its genre mashup.

It quickly transpires that there are a lot of aliens in the galaxy, many of whom are well aware of the existence of humans and, let’s be honest, seem surprised we’re capable of rubbing two sticks together, let alone piloting a vessel between stars. Some of the aliens you meet will be friendly and keen to support your endeavors with advice, extra ships, and fuel top-ups. Others will be less friendly, interested in either taking advantage of your interstellar naivety by sending you on errands in exchange for their favor or shooting you on sight.

Star Control: Origins Review - Space Oddity

Aliens are painted in broad strokes, each species distinguished by their physical appearance and one or two glaring personality traits. The Mu’Kay are squid who are good-natured but really hate (and eat) fish, for example, while the Tywom are hapless but well-meaning slugs who have resigned themselves to being the most boring species in the galaxy. There’s little nuance to the way each alien species is portrayed–they’re all glib sketches with one element exaggerated for comic effect. Despite this, the writing is consistently excellent, regardless of whether you’re hearing from an important quest-giver or generic NPC. A nice line about quirky details, good comedic timing, and the odd genuinely good joke elevates each alien beyond mere caricature. Encounters, even those that end in violence, are always played for laughs, resulting in a lighthearted, almost jovial tone that belies the starcharts and spreadsheet-style presentation elsewhere.

When you’re not chinwagging with your new extraterrestrial friends, you’re probably being pelted with laser fire by the Skryve or the Drenkend or one of the other new enemies you’ve offended by poking your helmet beyond the Milky Way. Combat plays out on a discrete 2D arena where you battle one-on-one with an enemy ship. There’s some strategy here as you weigh up the odds of your weaker ships winning versus the likelihood you might need to save your better ships for the next fight. And there’s some skill required to make effective use of each ship’s weapon loadout and handling, as well as managing the power-ups scattered around the arena.

But for the most part, as a top-down shoot ‘em up duel where you only control one ship with two weapons, combat feels too slight, too simplistic, a deficiency exacerbated by the frustratingly erratic AI behavior that sees it veer between unerring accuracy and blundering idiocy for no discernible reason. It’s as infuriating when a weaker enemy ship hits you with every single missile as it is hilarious when the next enemy ship blows itself up by repeatedly crashing into asteroids. You can’t skip combat if it’s not to your taste, though you can outfit your ship with an upgrade that leaves combat to the AI–and leaves you to suffer through watching it. I spent an hour or so saving up to buy the AI-controlled fleet upgrade, only to disable it immediately after despairing at how its idea of an effective combat maneuver was to follow the enemy ship in a circle and hurl itself at every proximity mine the enemy dropped.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Review - Mighty Adventure

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review – Mighty Adventure

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review – Mighty Adventure. The soft reboot that was Assassin’s Creed Origins introduced a new approach to the series’ brand of stealth-action gameplay, along with an expansive and vibrant open world with many dynamic systems at work. In this year’s follow-up, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, developer Ubisoft Quebec builds upon its predecessor’s pillars, and in the process shows greater confidence in the series’ new direction.

Set in Ancient Greece, Odyssey predates the previous game by several centuries. During the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE, you take on the role of either Alexios or Kassandra, siblings and former Spartans-turned-mercenaries. In keeping with series tradition, Odyssey features parallel storylines, with the main narrative taking place in the distant past and the overarching plot set in the present day. After pivotal moments dealing with political intrigue and wartime conflict in Greece, you’ll jump back to the modern day to continue the story of Layla Hassan, introduced in Origins, who’s working to uncover the secrets of the first civilization. Throughout your travels in Ancient Greece you’ll uncover lost tombs, engage in naval warfare on the high seas, and assassinate the key members of a shadowy conspiracy seeking control of the known world.

In your trek through the Greek mainland and the islands of the Mediterranean sea, you come across diverse locales that showcase lush environments that pay tribute to the old gods, while rubbing shoulders with the many historical figures of the era looking to make their impression in Greek society. The amount of detail packed into each location is impressive, tied together by an active and dynamic ecosystem where local wildlife and civilians keep their territory. But as you dive further, you’ll see the many hardships and realities of life in Ancient Greece firsthand, including the horrors of slavery and the ever-present war between the military-driven Spartans and the bureaucratic Athenian army.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Review - Mighty Adventure

Featuring a map that’s more than double the size of the previous game, Odyssey is built to be explored and has incidental content to reward your wanderlust. You get the sense that your actions will have a lasting impact wherever you go, and Odyssey offers up a wealth of content that fuels your growth at a steady pace. Though the issue of level-gating comes up occasionally, preventing you from actively exploring any region as you wish, you can take a break from the main story and dive into the breadth of side content at your leisure. Several side quests offer a surprising amount of depth and heart and feature some of Odyssey’s more standout moments.

Throughout the main story and in side-quests, you’ll make several key decisions that affect the game’s narrative and your character’s journey. While many of the choices you make are largely inconsequential and result only in slightly different endings for quests, the fateful decisions that do matter can lead to drastic turns of events, with some storylines and characters meeting their end prematurely. In moments you’d least expect, you’ll see the payoff for decisions made early on in the story, for better or worse. With nine different possible outcomes at the main story’s conclusion, there’s a surprisingly large amount of cause and effect that can make the narrative feel all your own.

The different protagonists also offer up some of Odyssey’s most endearing and entertaining moments. Despite the grim nature of the game, jokes and fun gags often break the tension, even during serious events. Though both Kassandra and Alexios share the same dialogue and story beats, their differing personalities, gender, and points of view offer unique flavor, making them stand apart–with some scenes and questlines feeling more appropriate with a particular character.

Romancing side characters is also possible in Odyssey. While some of these scenes can be amusing, they’re mostly just bizarre shows of affection that have no real purpose. These scenes almost always result in a shallow aside during the conversation, with the characters slinking off-screen before returning to the conversation without skipping a beat. Most often, these awkward romance opportunities appear immediately after (or during) otherwise harrowing events. Aside from seeing some additional scenes with certain characters, there’s really no benefit to engaging in romance at all. The inclusion of these scenes feels cheap and can sully otherwise interesting conversations.