Twin-stick shooters have dominated much of the indie games market on consoles for much of this generation. Requiring fast-twitch reflexes, unblinking concentration and a hefty dose of dumb luck (or so it seems), they’re the perfect adrenaline-fuelled way to blow away a free hour. Astralia, the latest title from indie team Astroboid, seeks to turn this on its head by offering a more cerebral experience whilst maintaining the rush of its clear influencers.
As we have already reviewed the console version, those of you seeking to keep those thumbs twitching on a set of analogue sticks should look there for their fill of space-combat action and adventure. The average PC gamer can’t be expected to have a gamepad to hand, so I’ll be focusing on the keyboard and mouse-based controls throughout this review. It’s here that my initial worries were largely put to rest. A rapid shooter would struggle to translate well onto the platform but, thanks to its more sedate yet still exciting gameplay, I never felt as if the controls were holding me back.
Moving and shooting is all handled by the mouse – you move the pointer away from your tiny craft to speed up and turn and hold down the left button to shoot. This is mostly automated, allowing you to pick a target and manoeuvre around them whilst unleashing a firestorm in their direction at all times. In addition to your standard, unlimited but weedy cannon, you have access to bombs, missiles lasers and a team of up to eight automated drones to do your dirty work for you. This allows you to focus on the strategy of an encounter, deciding when to switch weapons to counter different foes and carefully avoiding their shots. There’s no collision detection (smartly avoided by pointing out that, in space, you can fly over and under enemies with ease…) but positioning is still key. Managing resources (used up when you repair damage to your ship on the fly or switch to more expensive weaponry) also requires care and attention so, while the action may initially seem slower, the need to multitask ensures the pressure is always on.
It’s switching up your tactics that I felt was really let down by the controls. Weapon and ship features are mapped to the keyboard and the whole system is somewhat clunky, requiring a glance down every now and then to make sure you’re selecting the right options. With no directional pad or face buttons to conveniently fall back on, ergonomics stifles an otherwise excellent control scheme.
Visually, Astralia is simple but has enough character to make the surprisingly extensive campaign seem fresh with every new mission. The screen can fill up with enemies but, as with titles such as Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD, it’s easy to pick out each enemy unit and the display never gets too messy. The UI is clean and easy to follow but can get lost against particularly vivid backdrops.
The game starts off with a few relatively basic missions but the learning curve soon ramps up, albeit at a comfortable rate. You’ll find yourself sweating over many of the later missions but it never leads to unbeatable frustration. As soon as you’re comfortable switching your tech and developing strategies in the heat of a chaotic battle, you’ll forget that this is an indie title with a low price that belies its surprising depth and high level of innovation. What starts as an entertaining distraction soon becomes an engrossing title easily capable of competing with its bigger budget cousins.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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