Distant Star: Revenant Fleet is an indie RTS game set in space, developed by Blazing Griffin LTD, a small independent studio in Edinburgh. Enriched by an atmospheric soundtrack and visuals akin to that of Geometry Wars, the game instantly grabs your attention as it hurls you into what’s set-up as an absolutely do-or-die-moment ambush. You can imagine the disappointment then, when you slowly begin to realise Distant Star quickly fails to maintain your interest and enthusiasm with which you started your voyage into space with.
When the game opens, your fleet are being ambushed by your fleet leader known as the Warmonger. Apparently, the Warmonger is your closest friend and he’s betrayed you, so after the opening battle in which you can’t actually fail, you read a pop-up message (which is how Distant Star’s story is disappointingly told) where the obvious intention is to emphasise that your character has been betrayed and seeks revenge/ justice. You’re then thrust rather boringly into a storyline that, while presenting a clearly emotionally charged narrative, is failed by the game’s audio.
It’s a clear-cut problem in the indie game industry and Distant Star is no different, the devs find it easier to tell the story through means such as pop-up boxes than to actually ask around for volunteers and include dialogue. Asking an indie game to have a small cutscene where you’re in your ship ranting about your friend’s betrayal is probably a bit too much to ask…but sound is the next best thing if you can’t provide the visual. It’d have been just as easy to keep the same screen and just have your character, voice-acted by a volunteer, rant about how their friend has betrayed them and they shall seek justice. Maybe even coupled with subtitles to make sure the gamer is aware it’s their character talking. Give the game soul. Blazing Griffin Ltd is clearly an ambitious studio who can go far, that much is true from the graphics they can produce, their willingness to give us a cutscene as good as the opening one and their clear focus on storyline. For a studio ambitious enough to do that, I find it a wasted opportunity to not include audio.
A fairly big block of text like this would suit being voice-acted much more. Added to the fact you have literally just one option to pick in response. The dialogue in the game, or lack thereof, is the clear downfall of Distant Star.
The game plays like a normal RTS space-y game, for there are a few of them. You right click on the ship(s) you want to use and right click on the target, they fire at the enemy and you have to make sure you’re monitoring your entire fleet’s efforts and making sure they’re all doing something in aid of the battle happening. Pretty self-explanatory even if you haven’t played an RTS before and the simplicity of the game mechanics only emphasises the minimalistic approach to Distant Star. In this case however, it’s a case of less is more, the simplistic approach is useful for easing gamers into the experience on offer. There’s a difference between challenging the tired cliches and just making something too complicated and when it comes down to game mechanics it’s more than acceptable to stick to what people are used to, especially since gamers as a whole are becoming anti-change slowly. It’s worth noting however that Distant Star does actually feel on the clunky side and I found myself unable to maintain 100 % control because my ships would either go somewhere where I didn’t tell them to, travel too slowly or travel too fast, it just felt a little random.
There are different types of ships and you have to choose which types to purchase and use in your fleet of up to 5 ships on a mission. In a typical fashion, different ships have different respective skills and weaknesses. Some ships like Pulsars will fire a different type of shot which can do a pretty nice amount of damage, some ships like the Gunships are focused on being tanky and slowly ripping enemy ships to shreds with missiles. Lancers are fairly agile, they’re focused on getting to the enemy and swarming them, putting them under pressure while the Gunships and Pulsars chip away from a distance. All standard stuff you’d expect to see really, with different ships providing different roles/ abilities so your fleet can literally cover every threat.
An example of ship selection to choose from.
On a positive note, the game does have a solid amount of levels and there does seem to be a natural progression of difficulty as the player progresses through the levels. Distant Star is consistent enough and does its best to be an immersive RTS focused on a solid, emotional storyline. The fact you get to see different amount of sectors with information about who occupies them, the difficulty associated with that sector etc takes you back to the days of Crash Bandicoot/ Rayman/ pretty much any PS game ever where you can track your progression through the game’s narrative.
When I say that the game grabs your attention by hurling you into action, I mean it. The game opens with a visually stunning cutscene with voice acting to boot, explaining races and a war which you know nothing about but feel like you grew up hearing whispers of. It causes the gamer to double-take and question whether they’re playing a triple A release and not a game made by a quaint little studio in Scotland. It’s an odd comparison, I grant, but the game reminds me ever so much of Star Wars: The Old Republic. In that, you’re thrust into an opening cinematic with lightsabers thrusting all over the screen as Sith Lords jump over flying debris while battling against Jedi, then when the dust settles and the loading screens begin, you realise just how cheated you were. That’s not to say I feel like Distant Star is a cheat. It is a visually appealing game, however ultimately the opening cinematic provides expectations the game sadly can’t live up to.
The price is undoubtedly steep for what you get but then you have to wonder just how much the cutscene and polished graphics in-game cost them, but the game is so traditionally minimalistic that you’re left questioning whether you were better off keeping the money safely aside for the next Steam sale.
In conclusion, Distant Star: Revenant Fleet is a decent attempt by Blazing Griffin to create something pretty important within the indie gaming community, however it feels like a game that’s best suited on the App Store. The opening cinematics and polished graphics feel like they’re perhaps wasted on a game lacking in soul in some parts despite the immersiveness it contains in others. Blazing Griffin can definitely go far and make a decent game but they’re going to need voice actors and perhaps more complicated/ changing gameplay to create something truly memorable.
- The game is visually appealing throughout which helps to maintain interest.
- The background music is a wonderful mixture of atmosphere/ suspense
- The game is fairly long with a variety of scenarios
- The use of pop-up boxes to show conversations/ story progression
- The clunky, cliche controls
- Slightly overpriced for what it is