StarDrive is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) space strategy game inspired by such franchises as Galactic Civilization and Masters of Orion. The simple goal is to be the dominant lifeform in the universe while competing for resources like inhabitable planets, food, military technology, and more.
When first starting a game in StarDrive users must select a galaxy size, the abundance of solar systems, number of opponents, pacing, and difficulty. StarDrive offers eight different species for players to choose from to be their avatar in their adventure for galactic conquest. You can pick from familiar races such as humans to interesting creatues such as the ferocious bears called Kulrathi and even a cthulhu inspired race known as the Ralyeh. From there, players get to customize their race by choosing a flag and color and are even presented with the option of completely renaming your selected species to put your own twist into the games experience. For further customization you can assign eight points to different physical, sociological, and historical traits that give bonuses with different advantages and disadvantages such as additional damage, reduced production rates, increasing population sizes on planets, and much more.
After selecting your race and attributes, StarDrive plops you right into the thick of things. You start with a space station in orbit around your homeworld, a colonist ship, a scout, and a warship. Commands are easily given by simply right clicking on units to bring up icons to give basic commands. You can tell ships to explore the galaxy, to go on defensive routes around your empire, and more depending on the ship.
The ultimate goal though, is to colonize and grow your empire. You can send out colonist ships to populate worlds and use them for agriculture, mining, and growing technology. Structures can be built on the surface such as starports and military barracks for soldiers. Taxes can also be levied on your colonies, trade routes can be established, and even more actions that lead to a simple economy that forms the basic foundation for StarDrive. If managing all these minute details is not your cup of tea, you can have all of these resources regulated and managed entirely for you by the AI.
Delving further, StarDrive also packs a plethora of options in the form of its tech tree. As simple menu of options allow you to delegate how you want to advance empire. You can invest points into six trees: colonization, energy, socio-logistics, physics, space weapons, and starship construction. You can invest into things such as ramping up agriculture growth by gaining small amounts of food gradually, empire wide population bonuses, or even adding new features to your starships.
Starship construction is by far the most unique calling card of the entire game. You can take several different ship frames and add components to them to build your very own vessels to command in your fleet. You can select from a decent sized pool of ship hulls that have a grid layout on them that you can drag parts onto to create your ship. Armor, weapons, cockpits, colonization modules, cargo holds, and weapons can all be added to create your own individualistic unit. Placement of things such as weapons and armor can make a difference in combat between winning and losing.
Where the game faults, is on how everything comes together. On paper, the game has a little bit of everything that should make the definitive meltingpot 4X space strategy game. What StarDrive ends up being, is something very less than that. The races, though unique with interesting backgrounds, really have no character in game. They all meet you, mistrust you, and generally try and destroy you. It takes a lot away from the concept of meeting personalities and having to deal with different dispositions to create variety. The racial skills you even build into your character at the beginning of the game to inject your own flavor into the experience become inconsequential as your tech trees begin to advance.
Colonization of the universe also becomes a bit of a drag quickly. I ran into many planets that had the same description with their main difference only being in name and location. Populating planets becomes repetitive and without a lot of building choices for the planets surface, most colonized planets look almost identical by the end of a game. Ground combat also made me frustrated at times as well. A great concept to include soldiers on planets surfaces and as a way to add depth to the experience, it generally feels kind of tact on to me and takes away from the focus on space action. Ship creation, while unique, also has the caveat of requiring every space on the design grid to be used. When making larger and larger ships, it requires you to pack in a ton of extra equipment to make a complete and competent cruiser. Impatient players will likely find this tedious and become frustrated from this process, but the more dedicated and hardcore fans will appreciate the system for its rewards in game.
Lastly, and most frustrating, ending games generally comes down to straight up galactic war. Diplomacy is brushed aside and you must wipe out all enemies to win. By all enemies, I mean every last structure and unit available that leads into a wild goose chase across the stars. Even in a medium sized game, trying to find the smallest of leftover colonies to eradicate to fully secure my victory was irritating.
StarDrive is not a bad game, but it’s not entirely a good one either. It just feels very average as a whole piece. Considering the development process and how the game was essentially developed by one man, it is impressive as a project. As a game retailing for $29.99 though, I’d have to warn you that the experience here is something that feels a little incomplete for your cash.
StarDrive was reviewed on the PC platform, with a review code provided by the developer. For more information on how Indie Game Insider conducts reviews, check out our review policies.