Indie Game of The Week: Starbound

I had stuff I was supposed to do this weekend. For some reason, knowing this fact full well, I decided to install Starbound. A full day later, I realized I was still playing. I also realized I hadn't eaten.

Let me back up a moment. Starbound is what I expect you'd get if you took Terraria, increased the amount of content by a factor of ten and made it into a science fiction game with an infinite number of procedurally-generated worlds. Though it's still technically in beta, this hybrid sandbox/space exploration title/platformer is still meaty enough that I thought it worth reviewing - and recommending - this week. 

In Starbound, you play as one of six distinct races - humans, the ape-like Apex, the winged Avians, the mechanical Glitch, the aquatic Hylotl; or the carnivorous plant-people, the Floran. This choice exists mostly for flavor - though your species has a minor impact on the tech available to you at the game's outset, the main impact involves aesthetics and narrative. Even then, they share a lot in common. 

In every case, your character is an outcast from their society. If you're an Apex, you've fled the 1984-esque regime of Big Ape. As a Glitch, you've gained a level of sentience and curiosity considered abnormal for your kind, while an Avian adventurer rejects the predominant religion of their people and is intent on carving their own path through the galaxy.

Each race also has its own distinct flavor, culture, and building style, which you'll discover as you wander endlessly through the galaxy and come across pre-constructed settlements. The Hylotl, for example, have a society and style reminiscent of feudal Japan, while the Glitch build everything with medieval European flair. It's a nice touch, which adds a real sense of depth to an already-deep game.

At its core, Starbound is a game about exploration. After beaming down to the surface of a world, you'll hunt monsters for rare drops and materials. You'll mine for ore, digging deep underground and doing battle with whatever horrors lie down there. You'll discover - and explore vast, alien dungeons ranging from abandoned laboratories to expansive sewers. You'll craft powerful armor, devastating weapons, and awesome gadgets. You'll build grand temples, structures, entire cities, simply because you can. And eventually, when you get bored of all that, you'll do battle with a whole array of formidable bosses, ranging from a UFO to an angry robot to a fire-breathing, undead dragon. 

Granted, the game has its problems at the moment (but like I've said, that's probably tied to the fact that it's still in beta). I noticed a great deal of screen tearing regardless of where I played it, and in some instances the difficulty curve feels a bit more like a difficulty cliff. That said, developer Chucklefish is working very hard to release regular content updates. Currently, they're looking to add customizable spaceships, wiring and logic gates, quests, teleportation, new bosses, new mobs, new biomes, new equipment, more story missions, new dungeons, space combat, better monster generation, improved controls and keybinding, armor abilities, mercenaries, revamped animations, new bosses, more NPCs, better AI, a smoother difficulty curve...

You get the idea. This game's getting very big, very fast, and Chucklefish is doing a fantastic job listening to fan feedback on the beta. I'm incredibly excited to see where they take this, and you should be too. 

Even though Starbound is still very much incomplete, it's already got more to it than most already-released titles. Pick it up on Steam for $14.99 (or buy it for a friend as a Christmas gift). You won't regret the purchase. 

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