In Space, No One Can Hear You Groan

HIGH Cool old-school space shooter aesthetic with Defender vibes.

LOW Insta-kills from swarming enemies. Frequent crashes, bugs, and lock-ups

WTF  How do the scout ships not shake themselves apart when they swerve like that?

Young me was very much into spaceships and fighter combat.  Just like everyone else my age, I cut my teeth on Star Wars, Transformers, Robotech, G-Force, and all the other sci-fi I could get my hands on.  If it offered interstellar war and copious explosions, I was there. 

Starfighter Renegade called to me because it hearkened back to those halcyon days and looked to scratch that “just blast a few baddies and go to bed” itch I’ve had lately, especially after some stressful times. When I realized that not only did I get to blast stuff but rescue stuff as well, I thought I was in going to be in heaven, as my love for Defender knows no bounds — and I’m currently staring at my mini-arcade cabinet as I type this.  Unfortunately, my rose-colored glasses could only tint so much.  Clunky controls, crashes,  and brutal difficulty prevented me from being anything other than mildly annoyed while playing, even as the concept and presentation tried its hardest to charm.

There is a story here – something about a horde of enemies trying to contaminate planets to suit their needs. It’s the evil version of “terraforming,” I suppose? This tale is told via proxy by a chatty ship-board AI buddy.  I’ve never needed a reason to blow up spaceships in the past (which probably says something about me) so the lack of a deep narrative is a feature, not a bug. 

The baddies are also kidnapping (alien-napping?) cube-like life forms off the planet, and it’s the player’s job to whisk them to safety in order to collect rewards and generally feel like a hero. 

From either a third-person, behind-the-ship or an in-cockpit view, players take control of a snazzy looking sleek fighter-craft and freely fly around each “world,” eliminating all threats through ridiculous amounts of laser fire.  The free-roaming levels feature truly gorgeous water effects and various land formations, allowing for thrilling chases through canyons or last-second evasion of incoming fire. 

Weapons can be upgraded after finding drops in some missions, and eventually a secondary VTOL-type thrust system allows players to hover and dash, switching back to standard flight with the click of a button. 

After objectives are met, it’s time to jump off-world into one of several minigames testing a pilot’s skill and agility by flying though various space-gates or destroying asteroids.  There’s even a secondary game called Xylophis accessible from the menu that’s equal parts Galaga and Centipede when players need a break from all the other alien-blasting.  So far, so awesome, right?

OK, so if I’m so chuffed then what’s with that tagline and the bummer of an intro? 

For starters, controls vary wildly between main missions and the bonus stages.  While trying to line up targets or fly through gates in minigames, the thumbsticks suddenly become extremely sensitive, which caused me to wildly overshoot targets.  Back in the main missions, my ship handled like it was flying through treacle.  I had neither the patience nor the inclination to adjust settings between each mission and bonus stage, so I learned to live with it, so that was annoying. 

Next, the VTOL controls require an unnaturally steady hand to be useful.  I had to barely touch the thrust or make constant corrections in order to properly hover, making attacking in this mode basically impossible.  Also, if I ascended too quickly, it’s too easy to overcorrect and smack down to the planet surface, destroying my ship instantly — unless it didn’t? Sometimes the ground will let the ship bounce, and other times my craft would crack like porcelain on a granite table.   

Starfighter Renegade also sometimes froze after losing a life, especially if I got impatient and pressed a button before it was ready to allow me to launch again. 

The final straw was level 14, which I never completed. This section takes place in deep space, facing off against a frankly astonishing number of enemy craft capable of impossible turns and dodges.  My weapons could lock onto enemies, but theirs could as well, and the AI is much better at it than I am.  They also concentrate fire as if operating as a hive-mind, meaning there’s almost no way to stick-and-move fast enough to do significant damage to anything. I tried level 14 for hours, and even went s far as to restart the entire campaign, thinking there might have been something I’d missed in earlier levels… but no. 

Level 14 is my Everest, and I’ve lost the will to reach the summit. 

It’s cliché to say “I want to love Starfighter Renegade, but…” so I won’t, but the fact is that the frustration mounted too quickly and too completely for me to remember the joys of simply flying around and splashing space-bogeys in the opening levels.  Maybe those with better reflexes and more patience will get something out of it — or at the very least, get past level 14 — but the rest of us should probably avoid this one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by MadeOfDinosaurs.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game has not been rated by the ESRB. This game features a spaceship destroying alien craft with realistic explosions, and some craft breaking into component molecules.  It is implied that there are creatures piloting the craft, but they are not seen.  The game describes the antagonists as dispersing a virus/bacteria to conquer worlds.  Ground features such as trees can be inadvertently destroyed by errant shots. In my view, this game is appropriate for all ages. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. All dialogue is displayed as written text.  All audio cues have a simultaneous visual cue.  No audio cues are needed for gameplay. The game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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