Star Command is a space captain simulator where you are the captain of your own ship in a star fleet. The game borrows a lot from the Star Trek series, such as all of your characters wearing blue, red, and yellow shirts based on their profession within your ship. While commanding your ship, you hire crew members and customize your interior before heading into battle against a variety of different aliens, all done in a very charming pixelated graphical style.
While it’s easy to compare Star Command and the earlier spaceship simulator FTL, there’s actually very little beyond the basic ideas that are really similar. The first thing that will set this game apart from something like FTL is the fact that it has an actual story. The game starts with you being sent out to check on a distress call and you encounter an alien ship that serves as your first battle. After each mission you get a call from Star Command to head to a new location, but things quickly go awry. Soon you are framed for destroying an ally ship and you have to go on the run and prove your innocence in a clever and charming story that involves some fairly obvious but fun deception plot lines.
The gameplay of Star Command is highly addicting and is probably the most fun I have had on an iPhone game recently. That being said, it does have some minor issues. You are presented with the layout of your ship, which has empty rooms that you need to build on. You can click on these rooms and choose what you want to build such as weapons posts, shield boosters, and even sentry drone workshops. The bigger ships offer you the ability to build bigger ships but before the update you only had one ship to choose from until you beat the game. So after you build all of the rooms that you want, your next job is to staff them. When you start the game you have red, yellow, and blue coins in your inventory. These represent the different job classes and you use them to hire crew members or build your facilities. The only way to get these coins is by completing missions so you can try to grind some out if you need to. You can click on your crew members and assign them to rooms, and this is actually where it can be a little tricky. The area of touch on an iPhone screen is fairly small so it can be kind of difficult to tap the right spots you want your people to travel to. This also goes for tapping ammo icons when you need to create more ammo in your weapon rooms. I played on an iPhone 4S and didn’t really have trouble myself but if you have big fingers than an iPad maybe the way to go.
Space combat was tricky to get used to but can be fun when you get the hang of it. When you engage in a battle you can have up to two weapons posts on your ship that fire separately that each have their own timing based mini game tied to each of them. If you miss the timed presses then you miss your shots. Aside from space combat you also have to deal with invasion forces. If your shields are depleted then aliens will beam onto your ship and you have to fight them off with your crew members. Only crew in red shirts can fire guns so you can reassign crew if you have to and trust me, you often will at first. To avoid taking damage to your ship you can produce dodge and shield tokens that can cause shots to miss your ship or your shields to instantly recharge. However if you lose your shields and then your hull takes damage you can have holes appear that will suck your crew out into the vacuum of space. Be careful, because if you lose your ship, then it’s game over!
I really enjoy the look of this game. It has an isometric, pixelated art style that works super well and is extremely colorful and reminiscent of the 16-bit era. The ships are all drawn with great detail and it works very well with the writing that is almost poking fun at some sci-fi tropes. The sound is also really nice, with some great sound effects for the space battles and compelling music. However I did experience some technical issues. When I reached the last few missions of the game I suddenly ran into a terrible frame rate issue where it dropped down by half. I’ve talked to other players who were trying the game on phone models less than the 4S and they had technical problems scattered throughout the game as well, but for me it was only at the very end. Even though I had these issues, when the first patch for the game came out they totally disappeared and it’s been fine for me ever since. It’s important that this game maintains its frame rate because there can be a lot going on at once, which can leave you incredibly flustered, but that’s really part of the fun. You often have to deal with repelling overpowering invaders on your ship and still manage to be attacking the enemy ship while most of your rooms are on fire with technicians rushing to repair everything. It all depends on how well you handle yourself under pressure if you are going to have fun in these situations.
Star Command is a very unique iOS experience that I hope to see a lot more of in the future. The biggest problem I have with this game compared to FTL is that you aren’t going to see a lot of variety in your play experiences because, unlike FTL, there is a full story here that takes about four hours to run through so you’re pretty much tied to the same path every time you play with very little branching. Most of your variety comes with the fact that every battle won’t play out the same and always remains fun, and when you finish the game you are given the option to start over with a new game plus that’s much harder (but with a more powerful ship), or to continue with your crew onto more side missions with more variety. While the story does cut into the ability to have more stuff in the game, it’s a much appreciated addition and it’s something that works in the games favor, especially since it’s a fun story to play through as well. It’s worth noting that Star Command was a Kickstarter game, and there are still things that were listed on the Kickstarter page that aren’t in the game yet (there is even a “contraband” option on your crew members that just says “coming soon”) but even with what is here, Star Command is worth checking out and is a hell of a good time.
*NOTE this review was written after the V1.01 patch*