StarPagga is an entertaining 3D shooter with a few rough edges

Posted: August 1, 2009 in Shooter

I’ve always had a fascination with shooters because they require such a mix of strategy, tactical planning and in some cases brute force and dexterity. Arguably, one of the best 3D space shooters is Galaxy on Fire which offers a tremendous amount of gameplay and depth for the platform. But for many, it can a little more involved than we’d like which is where StarPagga comes in. Aside from the in-game play area limitations, the game is visually impressive space shooter that offers the right balance of intensity and challenge presented through a pick-up-and-play approach. And, more importantly, this doesn’t take away from the gameplay, and instead may appeal more to the masses than Galaxy on Fire.

Even before you get to the visuals, the first thing that hits you is the epic soundtrack which conveys just right amount of urgency and doom to fit the storyline. You play a member of the Azure Squadron whose mission is to defend outposts and also take out enemy installations, and the best part is that all of it involves space dogfights within 12 different missions. The casual nature is apparent because the missions are unlocked so you can select and play missions at your own pace. StarPagga also has a community section where players can create profiles and also play others online. This is also where the online scoreboard and achievement system are housed. The achievements are focused primarily on completion of specific levels, but they also include multiplayer wins. While I was unable to test the online play, I was able to run the game through LAN multiplayer which is very enjoyable. Obviously this relies on the speed of a network, but I can see the potential of online play.

There are two control options: touch and accelerometer. The touch option provides a circular pad for steering and weapons-specific buttons for shooting. The accelerometer provides a calibration and sensitivity setting with weapons-specific buttons. Both work well, but my personal preference is the accelerometer, which tend feel more natural for a space shooter game of this type.

While Galaxy on Fire is more involved and requires money to be earned in order to upgrade ships and equipment, StarPagga is more about the actual “shoot’em up”, and less involved with the rudimentary options. You can still configure up to 4 ships with an array of different weapons and name each ship accordingly. Weapons include pulse lazers, beam lazers, fusion torpodoes, and anti-matter missiles as well as several enhancements including shield generators, cloaking device, and thrusters. A computer option is included that increases the quickness in which a ship locks on to enemy vessels.

The missions are presented in a variety of environments from intergalactic space to vision-impairing nebulas. Visually, while the game is done by an indie shop, the visuals are more than adequate, although some objects do appear polygonish (e.g. asteroids). But for the most part, the 3D animation and graphics will satisfy most.

StarPagga has two game modes: Campaign and Challenges. Two tutorial missions are also included that review basics of the game. Challenges involves 3 Practice scenarios with a vary degrees of difficulty within a timed setting. The objective is to destroy as many enemy ships within an allotted time. Survival is an untimed mode where you destroy as many ships as possible before being destroyed. It’s actually pretty intense when you’re looking for a quick game. The devs may want to consider adding additional scenarios or environments to add some variety.

Campaign takes you through the 12 missions and a star appears for missions completed. The mission selection screen can look a bit like an organizational chart and may even appear out of order the first time you view it. Each mission has an intro screen indicating the location and the mission details. In some missions, the objective involves defending a station while others require taking out an enemy station. During the game, additional dialogue is provided by your mission commander at the top of the screen. The dialogue scrolls through a little too quickly so hopefully this gets tweaked in an update. In addition, the picture used to identify the mission commander can seem out of place with the rest of the game, but know that it doesn’t impact the gameplay.

When whizzing through space, the controls are smooth and intuitively set up. The HUD is nicely set up and reduces the clutter on the screen. In the upper left corner is your shield health gauge which is integrated into the pause button. The weapons and on screen control buttons are located at the bottom of the screen, and a throttle is located down the right side of the screen. A mini-radar is positioned in the upper right corner, and a health bar is located in the bottom center of the screen representing the health of the space station that is under attack or being defended.

During gameplay, a reticule is located in the middle of the screen and auto lock-on mechanism is activated once an enemy ship is in range. One of things that I like about StarPagga is the fact that shooting and destroying requires a certain amount of accuracy. You won’t destroy an enemy ship by haphazardly firing in the general area. Each enemy ship has a mini health bar so you’ll be able to see how much damage has been inflicted. In many cases, the visuals are good enough that you can visibly see damage in the form of smoke, and the explosions certainly help with the feel of the game. It can be difficult to destroy an enemy by a single lazer shot and usually requires multiple shots.

The ship also has a proximity alert that sounds when an enemy has locked on, or you’re about to collide with another object. It’s a welcome addition and adds another layer of challenge knowing that ships, the station or even asteroids among other objects can destroy your ship. Keep in mind that if your ship hits an object, the mission is automatically over, and trust me those asteroids are hard to spot especially if there is a bright star or heavy mist blocking your vision or radar. Movement is smooth, but each mission is set in a limited cubic area in space meaning you will bump into a grid wall that automatically returns your ship back into the game field. This is probably my biggest issue with the game, and while this is doesn’t impact gameplay, it’s also not ideal since it can take away from the immersive experience. Perhaps the devs may want to consider a wraparound background to create the illusion of a larger game area.

The gameplay itself is more entertaining that you’d expect as you dodge and attack, and the foreign objects do play a part in your flight strategy. Wingmen are also in play and while they do a reasonable job on occasionally destroying an enemy ship here and there, I wouldn’t rely on them. The game is all about accuracy, and even when heading for a shield regenerator, if you hit the side instead of going through it, the mission will end. While I know additional missions are planned for future updates, I’d like to see more locked mission that require meeting certain requirements or achievements which would add to the replay value.

StarPagga is a solid 3D shooter that offers a good dose of variety and gameplay. The limited in-game play area while not an issue can be for others. The content and depth are there, and if the play area can be addressed, this has the makings of a great game.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommend for shooter enthusiasts and those who enjoy the thrill without having to deal with too many extras; in-game play area can be an issue for some, but doesn’t impact gameplay; game content and entertainment value are obvious)

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