Lasers, rockets and squids ... Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy reviewed08 Jun 2015 0
Being honest I’m not that much of a space game fan despite being a bit of a Star Wars (films) addict – I think the last space combat game I really enjoyed was the old classic Tie Fighter (which you can still get on Steam if you’ve never played it). However, something about Slitherine’s Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy caught my eye when reading Wargamer.com’s first impressions piece. Not sure quite what it was as the game obviously isn’t like Tie Fighter, but anyway, read on to see what I thought once I got my hands on the game.
To cover the basic details of the game first, Star Hammer is a 3D turn based tactical space battle game using a WEGO rather than an IGOUGO system. It is also a story driven game, although it is not entirely linear and you get options along the way as to the missions you can select so you have some control over how the campaign pans out. Additionally, I believe, the way you fight your battles can influence the missions you are offered – this depends on whether you are more attack or defence minded in your tactics. I think this is a nice touch but am unsure just how much in affects the campaign – I’m only part way through at the moment.
There is a tutorial to get you started with the game and to let you learn how things work before you get into the real missions. The tutorial is pretty well paced and takes you through things without throwing too much at you at once. At the end of it you should have the basics sorted, and you’ll be ready to get on with the meat of the game. It is also worth mentioning at this point that the initial missions of the campaign also ramp up the threat as you progress so that you are not immediately overwhelmed – gives you a chance to master those basic skills before the really tough enemy turn up.
I found that the movement of ships is really easy. The maximum distance a ship can move is shown by an arc and there is a “shadow” version of the ship which you then drag with the mouse to the position you want it to move to. Movement does not stay within a single plane, however, and there are 6 degrees of “height” in which to position your ship when it moves. Now this clearly isn’t a “full” 3D in terms of an infinite 3D space, however, it is, I think, a nice way to manage a third dimension whilst keeping things playable.
As this is a turn based game each turn starts with a planning phase in which you choose where your ships are going to move to and this is followed by a real time phase where you watch the turn play out with both sides moving (WEGO remember) and shooting, etc. You can even replay the real time part if you want before moving on to the next turn. Although the real time phase is pretty and tells you what is happening, the real core of the game is the planning phase in my view. This is because as well as where to move, there is a whole raft of options for you to play around with in this phase. One of the most important is the allocation of power between Shields, Weapons and Engines. This is done through a simple interface where you have a triangle with Shields, Weapons, and Engines at the points, and you move a marker around inside it to divert power around. There are also a number of “preset” levels if you don’t want to micromanage this. Additionally there’s another interface section for shield power. If you’ve taken a lot of damage to, say, your front shields, you may want to divert power there to boost them, however, this will impact on your shield power in other areas so you have to plan ahead and try and work out where the next attack will be coming from and allocate accordingly.
You also have management control over weapons. Your ships have a certain number and types of weapons, and, if you are so minded you can set targeting priorities for each individual weapon system. For example you might want to target the closest enemy, or the one that you think is the most dangerous, or the most damaged, and so on. Alternatively you can again just automate this depending on your micromanagement desires. Some ships may have missiles or countermeasures which you always need to target manually, but given their effect in the game it is probably better that they cannot be automated as I reckon the AI wouldn’t be sending them where you’d really want them – so no automation here will mean you don’t get frustrated at “the stupid computer”. Oh, and if you’re really desperate you can ram the enemy vessels …
So far in the battles I’ve found that the AI is pretty sensible and competent. It uses tactics and tries to exploit the abilities of the ships it controls to your disadvantage – there isn’t just a mad rush towards you so that you can just pick them off with ease, you do need to think about what you’re doing. Additionally, just like your forces the enemy has a range of ships with different abilities and weapons systems. Also they aren’t the same sorts of ships as yours, so they can do things that your ships can’t and vice versa. In my mind this makes the game more interesting than if both sides were very similar.
As I mentioned earlier the game is based around a story driven campaign, however, this is not all the game is about. There is also a “Skirmish” mode for the game which gives you some other options. In fact these are probably going to be the options that give the game longevity. Here you can choose to play out a scenario from the campaign you have already completed – always nice to see if you can do better without having to start all over again – or you can set up a stand alone battle of your own. With this option you can either choose the forces (friendly and enemy) from a points pool or you can just go with a “Surprise me” option where the whole scenario is randomly generated for you. This latter gives you a great quick battle option as it is only 2 clicks and you’re in – something to do at lunchtime perhaps?
So far I’ve been really positive about Star Hammer, however, there are a couple of things I was a bit disappointed with. Firstly this is just a single player game, there is no multiplayer option. Secondly you can only play the humans and not the aliens (Nautilids) – and let’s be honest, we all like to have the option to play the baddies. These aren’t killer issues for me, however, the lack of multiplayer especially was a disappointment.
Apart from the two negatives I just mentioned, overall I have so far really enjoyed Star Hammer. The game looks good and the WEGO turn system works really well. In fact, although it is a turn based game I’ve often found myself rushing through a turn faster than I ought to as I got so involved with the battle that it started feeling a bit like a real time game. That is actually quite an achievement for a turn based game in my experience. And when I finally reach the end of the campaign, I’m looking forward to many more games from the Skirmish facility. All I’d ask of the devs just now is that they have a look at a multiplayer version