[size=150]Star Hunter - By Chris Kenworthy[/size]
Explore amazing ruins. Seek out mysterious treasures. Risk all you own in trade at the Android Bazaar - to find the priceless lying Bear of Deneb.
(Score and review contained within expandable spoiler):
I forgot to write this prior to playing. I suppose it sounded like a game that’s right up my alley, in terms of epic space opera and 80’s-style cheesy b-movie sci-fi.
A lengthy, generic collection and trading quest set to a sci-fi backdrop, with numerous ways to make the game unknowingly unwinnable. It requires some insight that only the author himself has – or the walkthrough – to successfully reach the end.
Played: 10/7/2009 and 10/8/2009 for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Score: 4 (Bad)
Star Hunter puts the generic fantasy object collection quest in a sci-fi setting, but its only distinguishing factor is how much effort the author has put into making sure that solving it unassisted is a feat of impossibility. Difficult is one thing. This is another.
Varied are the actions a player can take which put the game into an unwinnable state. It’s hard to know which instances are bugs (early in the game, for instance, the ship got stuck in hyperspace), and which are intentional (such as when the walkthrough – but not the game itself – warns that it’s possible to be stuck if you send the mine lift down without you). My first inclination was to use the walkthrough to un-stick myself, and I found that I’d made a bad trade at the Android Bazaar, which left me without the right chip or tape I’d need to reach the next world’s beam-down point. The game does absolutely nothing to prevent this, or even discourage it. Worse, nothing happens, leaving only the most pessimistic of players to deduce that they’ve probably exhausted whatever options might be available to make further progress possible.
The walkthrough shows that it’s possible to get more information from the various androids about the various items up for sale, but this wasn’t obvious to me until then, and it’s completely optional. I would expect the typical player to get stuck early on (even if not encountering any of the game-altering bugs, such as when the black android’s bowl of goodies completely vanished from the game), and the atypical player to give up far before completing the game. It’s very ambitious for an IFComp entry, where even a restart and a strictly-by-the-walkthrough play attempt will take thirty to forty five minutes.
Potential is there, sure. But at its heart, the game is little more than a collection quest. Find treasure to trade for different (I hesitate to say “better”) treasure, to reach new places, to find new thingies, to trade up again, and so forth. Exploration could be its own reward in a setup like this, but the locations aren’t very interactive (often existing with no purpose other than to provide extended geography, or to be home for an object that can be picked up), and generally without very vivid descriptions.
The underlying flaw here is that the player can find so many things (and red herrings seem to abound), and it’s not clear at all what might be important later, or what might be okay to trade. I found that putting everything I have on the table and then attempting to buy something from an android is a quick way to cheat the process (the android will pick what he wants as payment, if anything), but this leads to confusion and is a good way to lose an item that’s needed for purchasing something more important from a different android. And yes – that seems to leave you stuck, with no way to advance, yet still being allowed to roam around as though the possibility of figuring out what to do next was still an option.
One good thing about Star Hunter is that it’s a reminder of all the things not to do in a work of interactive fiction. Many of these things, I’ve learned the hard way, yet it’s still good to reinforce it from time to time. When a series of actions must be repeated over and over (as is the case with setting a new course and beaming down to a new location in this game), I’m going to slap my own hand if I even think about forcing the player to repeat that same series without some kind of short-cut (or even a re-design to put Transport and Navigation in the same room).
Another is that it does have bits of well-done humor here and there. I remember smiling at a few parts, which served to raise it a notch above Totally Generic.
Star Hunter is a tough game to score. I considered numbers in the 3 to 5 range, and at two hours (still busily keying in commands from the walkthrough at that point) rated it a “5.” That’s frozen as my vote, but on further consideration, I took off a point for the review score. The ending in no way justifies the work involved in playing the game itself, and so much here is just not implemented (such as, spoiler alert, being able to sit in the chair to find the big thing under the cushion that’s only identified if you search the chair). A “4” according to Game Informer is “while some things may work as planned, the majority of this title either malfunctions to varying degrees or it is so dull that the game falls short as a whole.” That’s an apt summary of Star Hunter.
The game needed beta testers, but I’m not convinced it had any. This is a tricky thing, though, because there isn’t a whole lot of impact a beta tester could have had on a game like this. It could be more polished, and possibly without some of the game-killing bugs, but it would still be a too-long collection quest requiring that players have precognition or infinite patience to play. Many, many revisions would be required to morph Star Hunter into a more player-friendly, playable experience. As it stands, I can’t recommend it outside the context of the IFComp.[/spoiler]