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Star Citizen Alpha Review: A Rough Start to a Smooth Game

Space scene in the Star Citizen alpha build

The Star Citizen alpha promises a great space sim with some real potential.

The Star Citizen alpha has been out for some time now, with plenty of commentary to boot. Despite multiple setbacks and missed deadlines, space sim and series fans alike are still holding their breath for what could very well be a great game.

As a newcomer to the series, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Star Citizen makes a lot of promises, but based on what I’ve seen so far, I have faith that this game will deliver.

Of course, faith alone isn’t going to guarantee that I’ll like the game, especially since it’s easy to make claims in print and have the public accept them as fact. Hence why I recently downloaded the Alpha. I’ve been playing it for the past few days and I have to say, I’m excited. From what little I’ve seen, Star Citizen is shaping up to be something great, but there’s still a lot to work out.

Star Citizen Alpha Review – Getting Started

Despite ultimately liking it, the Star Citizen Alpha was a bit of a thorn in my side before I even had a chance to get in the game. Without going into too much detail, there were some login issues that — following a brief forum search — I had to correct by tinkering with my browser’s settings. But this was just the beginning.

Then there were control problems. Now, I have a pretty basic joystick — a Logitech Extreme 3D Pro — and it’s not an uncommon model either. Yet for some reason, the game wasn’t recognizing it at all. So off again to the forums I went, this time learning to solve the issue by switching the USB ports of my wireless mouse and controller.

So basically after about an hour or so of troubleshooting and tinkering, I was finally able to jump in and start flying. I’m willing to admit I was irritated at this point, but in the end I used the “blame the Alpha” argument and just moved on.

Star Citizen Alpha Review – Gameplay

The gameplay in the Star Citizen Alpha occasionally takes some getting used to, but that’s no surprise. This title is complex, with a lot of mechanics and controls to learn. Sadly, the tutorial (which from what I read was available at one point) is on a temporary hiatus. Fortunately, a quick look at the keybindings is enough to at least get the basics, like deploying landing gear and other details. Plus, there are plenty of places online with info for beginners.

Spaceship piloting in the Star Citizen alpha buildFlight and Space Combat

Being that the flight aspect of Star Citizen was my main interest, I opted to try free-flight mode first to get my bearings. After doing a few barrel rolls, blindly firing weapons, adjusting the controls and learning about the HUD, I felt ready to try a challenge.

The other available instant flight option is a drone simulation, where you can take on waves of AI opponents in a mock pirate assault. Despite being shot down several times at first, I eventually got the hang of it and had a blast.

Fighting in space gets intense, but Star Citizen seems to have this in the bag. Joystick controls are responsive, flight is relatively smooth and the entire encounter kind of makes me feel like I’m in Battlestar Galactica.

The only real gripe I have in this respect is that frame rate seems to drop substantially when flying certain ships, like the Mustang I bought with my package. Judging by the forums, it’s a known issue — again, I give it a pass by playing the “Alpha” card.

So, irritating bugs aside, I give Star Citizen a thumbs up in the flight department.

The FPS Element

The FPS portion is the second major thing we see in the Star Citizen Alpha. Right now, it seems the only way to experience this is by entering the “Universe,” which is essentially Star Citizen’s currently limited open world.

Gunplay in the Star Citizen alpha buildMy pilot awoke to the sounds of gunfire. After scurrying up to hit the hangar for a valiant defense, I encountered my first “public enemy” — a player who has a track record of stirring up trouble. Funny enough, he was headed for the ship I had set for myself (a Hornet) and was firing at it with his machine gun. Highly unimpressed, I took some shots of my own and he retreated.

Having run out of ammo, I attempted to reload. Nothing happened. I then tried to switch to my handgun — again, no response. Apparently, the ability to switch/reload has a habit of freezing. Another Alpha gripe, I suppose.

Overall, however, the FPS controls are very intuitive, so the learning curve there is essentially nil. Hopefully, however, they’ll fix that weapon switching bug soon, as it could easily do someone in when they’re in combat.

But the first-person aspect doesn’t stop there. Once you’re out doing flight missions in the Universe, many functions require you to exit your ship and tinker with control panels or closely examine unidentified signals. It’s kind of cool to have the space sim and FPS elements constantly intertwined, rather than being strictly separated between ground and flight.

Spaceship and asteroid in the Star Citizen alpha buildStar Citizen Alpha Review – Graphics

Even for an Alpha, Star Citizen’s graphics are spectacular. I checked them out on all the settings, but even on “low,” the game looks very realistic.

Asteroids, space stations and other fighters appear stellar and detailed. It seems that Star Citizen is definitely on the right track in this regard.

Star Citizen Alpha Review – Sound and Music

The sound effects in Star Citizen are pretty much what you’d expect. Explosions, gunfire, engines — all that fun stuff.  But the music is something else entirely.

Music has a huge part to play in setting the tone of the game, and in this case, it’s not a calm one. While things sound pretty serene when you’re not in danger, the appearance of hostiles triggers a track of pulse-pounding music that just screams “action.” And there’s no shortage of that.

Star Citizen Alpha Review – Community

The community in the Star Citizen Alpha is one of the best I’ve encountered. They understand how difficult and overwhelming the game can be for new players, so no question is too big or too small.

Can’t figure out how to launch yourself from the landing pad? Experiencing lag? Maybe you want to tell someone off for shooting you in the head while boarding your ship (buddy, if you’re reading this, I hate you). Plug it into the general chat box and someone will immediately respond — trust me, you’ll need it.


Star Wars art - Classic Star Wars video games

10 Classic Star Wars Video Games That No Fan Should Miss

For the first time, a new generation of gamers and a new generation of viewers collided with Star Wars in an unprecedented way, with many games bleeding into the expanded universe of books and comics (until it was greatly cut off at the knees in The Force Awakens, but let’s leave that for another time).

Although the classic Star Wars game legacy attempts to live on in today’s era of DLC and lifelike graphics, these releases simply don’t carry the same appeal and charming simplicity of the late 20th and early 21st century [Click here to read more…]


Final Thoughts

After experiencing the Star Citizen Alpha, I’d have to say I’m very excited. Again, I understand that this version will have bugs and glitches, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t a pain to deal with. They did negatively affect my experience; however, when you peel back that layers (with some effort in my case), you see the hidden gem lying underneath.

If you ignore the glaring technical problems, what you have is a great space sim with some real potential. From what I see so far, Star Citizen is on the right track with its basic mechanics. Unfortunately, there’s really no telling how things will turn out, but in the meantime I’ll continue to experiment with what I have in hopes that the final product will be as epic and immersive as many expect.

Featured Images: Cloud Imperium Games / Roberts Space Industries International

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7 Responses

  1. Popovito

    Good article about your first experience with the game. Hope you’ll stay on for the whole ride it’s quite incredible to follow the development of such an ambitious project. Expect great things to come, soon.

    1. Alex Saez

      Thanks for the feedback, Popovito. I absolutely intend to stick with it. I haven’t been this excited about a space sim since X-Wing: Alliance back in the day. I just hope they can meet their promised release date goal at the end of this year (according to their website). However, I feel that, based on the state the game’s in, we might see a missed deadline.

      1. CJ

        Missed deadlines have happened, and they’ll happen again. The reason that Star Citizen has all of this incredible potential is due to the lack of a publisher to enforce deadlines. Chris Roberts always goes for doing things the right way, and the right way is usually the hard way. The hard way takes longer.

        1. Alex Saez

          A very solid point, CJ. I actually wrote another article about EA where I mention the drawbacks of tight deadlines. You’re absolutely right. Star Citizen’s independence means they don’t need to answer to shareholders. I’m totally fine with waiting, since it’s much better to know that the creators don’t have supervisors breathing down their backs.

      2. Glad to have you among the ranks of backers. No doubt you experienced a bit of information overload when signing up and deciding on a pledge package. And no doubt you’ve since learned some information you wish you had when you were signing up.

        I’ve created a web-based account creation and pledge guide. It’s a much kinder way to bring in new players than simply giving them a referral code and leaving them at the mercy of the RSI website.

        http://enlist.thebase.sc

        Existing backers can create custom URLs to embed their referral code, Twitch stream, YouTube channel, and in-game organization into the guide itself. Have a look and spread the word if you would be so kind.

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