Six New Year’s Day celebrations have come and gone since Chris Roberts’ Cloud Imperium Games opened the doors on Star Citizen’s record-breaking Kickstarter, and there’s still nothing like an actual release date in sight.
There are flashes in there, for sure – SC looks beautiful in stills, and I’ll occasionally stumble across a YouTube video that prompts me to update the client and hop back into that orbital station with its terrible little studio-apartment spawn areas and happy-face Ramen vending machines.
To see this scrupulously detailed artwork, you’re going to have to wait, and then you’re going to have to wait some more. Waiting for SC to figure itself out reminds me strongly of another Chris Roberts game, 1994’s Wing Commander III, which also took multiple minutes on a reasonably up-to-date rig to load missions. And there are a couple more borrowed elements in common with the Wing Commander series, which is a nice way to say that there’s a gross Imperial fuckweight of Wing Commander stuff in there.
The whole thing basically IS Wing Commander Privateer, only in a nominally different universe without the whole Kilrathi war thing going on. It’s a persistent, highly detailed game world that’s designed to serve as an open sandbox for player-driven adventures and activities – you can make money through trade, piracy, bounty hunting, and so on, with a first-person shooting component woven directly into the gameplay for still more immersion. Board enemy spaceships, murder their crews, steal their stuff, go nuts. (Or, you know, do something a little nicer.)
A really, really detailed sci-fi universe that players can feel like they live in is the holy grail to a certain stripe of nerd, and it’s a great concept. The problem is that it’s being done by Chris Roberts, who’s hardly the most original or deep-thinking science fiction creator. SC has the same square-jawed, comic-book vision of adventurous military sci-fi, wedded awkwardly to more granular and intricate gameplay systems, which strikes me as a mismatch.
Thanks to the hyper-detailed physics underlying the flight dynamics, flying spaceships in SC feels a lot like driving a car with an extra set of wheels that move it up and down. Is it a more accurate representation of what real spaceflight might be like? Possibly. Is it more fun, engaging and intuitive than less realistic space sims? It is not.
That won’t bother SC’s fanboys, and oh, God in heaven, are there ever fanboys for this “game.” Some have spent tens of thousands of U.S. dollars on imaginary spaceships, which, through some kind of capitalistic alchemy, translates into Chris Roberts buying tens of thousands of U.S. dollars worth of publicity, since these people WILL NOT HEAR a negative word about Star Citizen.
Look, they cry, look at how awesome this gameplay video of SC’s single-player component, Squadron 42 is:
It’s even got Mark Hamill Himself, they will say, secure in the knowledge that the mere presence of the nerd godhead means that the project will be blessed with awesomeness.
If you were a company facing a lot of loud criticism for taking in a ton of money to make a video game that isn’t remotely done yet, you would think that someone along the way might have said “is Mark Hamill really what we want to be spending our money on?” And yet, here we are. Whether there’s an actual one-to-one relationship between elongated development cycles and spending the dough to bring in Mark Hammill Himself is immaterial, in that it is taking forever to make this game already, and the optics are terrible. (It’s also got, I kid you not, Gillian Anderson, the guy who played Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones, and Gary Fucking Oldman.)
Full disclosure – I was sufficiently taken with the whole idea to kick in about $160 of my own money for the promise of spaceships to come, a couple of years ago. I have had a lot of time since to feel like I’ve been had. Obviously, I could wind up being very wrong about this, and if I am, great. I’d be delighted. That sample gameplay for Squadron 42 looks pretty goddamned fantastic.