Indie games are really increasing in popularity these days. They’re often simple to play and fun in small doses, without the need for sifting through hours of side-missions and collectables that are often unnecessarily packed in to the bigger games. Light of Altair is one of those indie games, combining fun and simple gameplay with an interesting story that will hold your attention for a good few hours. In simple terms, Light of Altair is a futuristic space exploration / colonising strategy game, much along the lines of Galactic Civilizations with a healthy dose of Spore-like terraforming … kind of.
Visually the game is very basic. There’s not a huge amount to rave about, but when it comes to low-budget games, you never really expect it to look stunning. The space backdrop is rather beautiful, but the planets themselves are less than stunning. But, the visuals won’t give you a headache, and that’s all that matters. Nowadays, people seem to measure a game’s credibility by how it looks. I think it’s important with the blockbusters, you would expect games from developers like Rockstar or EA to be stunning because of the obscene amount of money that they pump in to them. But when it comes to the independent developers, or those with a lower budget, it’s all about the experience. I mean, people still play Pac Man, Space Invaders and Tetris, and these are all games based on various coloured blocks or circles, jolting across a 2D fixed map. Look at Minecraft for instance, it has a cult following and it’s a game world made up of varying sized pixels. So, along that line of thought, Light of Altair may not be one of the prettiest games you’ll ever play, but it sure is one of the most in-depth indie titles you’ll find to date.
The colonization aspect of this game really reminds me of my Spore days. Not the part where you create the creepy little creatures and run around a pre-historic alien world, growing various limbs and learning how to use weapons. It reminds me of the space exploration stage, once your creepy little creature had mastered interstellar travel. Finding, adapting and colonising the worlds looks very similar to that of the Spore game mechanics. You have the ability to rotate the world that you are colonizing, looking for the best places to plant a colony and exploit the planet’s natural resources. To do so, you have to build and research a variety of different buildings to help expand your space empire … your spacepire? This takes a number of weeks, (sometimes even years), so thankfully you can speed up time whilst your little civilizations flourish in the depths of space.
The best aspect of this game is the story and the missions that come with it. Unlike some similar titles, Light of Altair doesn’t have a sandbox or multiplayer mode, and thus relies heavily on the missions it dishes you out. Thankfully, these missions are well thought out and are incredibly engaging. They follow a fantastic narrative, but at the same time give the player the feeling that they are exploring a vast and untamed galaxy. The title is based on the premise that the people of Earth, (after a massive world war and the realisation that mother Earth couldn’t take much more of our roughhousing), had finally banded together in love and harmony and shot out in to space in exploration of pastures new. But, as we always inevitably do, in the search for resources and places to live in the vastness of space, humanity was once again at each other’s throats. It’s a story of overcoming the odds on the road to prosperity, but then fighting over that prosperity once everyone realised that they didn’t fancy sharing.
The missions start of pretty simplistically. You begin by colonising a planet and learning the key controls that you’ll need to expand your colonies and your galactic empire as a whole. You use various different buildings to grow the colony on a planet as well as mine it for various different resources. These resources are then sold and converted into money which is then used to upgrade buildings, further explore space, colonise new planets and expand your armada of spaceships. At the beginning, this game is based on the economics of galactic colonisation, and the space battles take a little while to begin. When they do start, however, the game gets increasingly difficult.
The battles, as well as attacking and defending colonised planets, are both the best and worst aspects of this game. They form the most interesting parts of the title, but at the same time become the most frustrating. The graphics for the space ships are relatively samey, which isn’t an issue if I’m perfectly honest, though a little variation wouldn’t have gone amiss. You are able to customise your army depending on the types of weapons that you want to use (laser or conventional missiles). This becomes important later on in the game because the different factions that you’ll be facing off against will use different weapons in battle. It is a case of remembering what weapons these factions use and then tailoring your army to best prepare for the battle. For the experienced RTS player, this probably wouldn’t be an issue. For me, however, I found it annoying that I couldn’t have preset armies or squads that could handle the different enemies when it came to attacking or defending. Instead, you have to use the same fleet for each encounter, chopping and changing it before battle. To be honest, the whole game interface as a whole is a bit clunky and it’s not just a problem with the combat. It isn’t the easiest to master, but it’s well worth getting past that first hour of frustration whilst you work it all out. It really doesn’t take that long, and once you’ve cracked it, you’ll see that it was well worth the time.
As I said before, the missions are fun and very engaging in the most part. It takes a little while to get into the game, but once you’ve passed the first few tutorial missions, it really starts to open up. Understandably, the developers worked with a low budget, and it is clear that they opted for quality rather than quantity. It would have been nice for it to contain some type of sandbox mode, but it isn’t necessarily a necessity. Some might argue that quantity improves a game, and I feel that this is true in some respects, especially for the bigger developers. But when it comes to the little guys, it’s important that they deliver a good product over a vast game-world. SaintXi focused on the missions to help drive the gameplay and keep it focused on the fantastic back story. This could well have been lost in a sandbox title and rather than throwing hours upon hours of endless space travel at the player, they instead deliver a fantastically concentrated game experience that will keep you engaged from beginning to end.
Developer – SaintXi
Publisher – SaintXi
Genre – RTS
Players – Single player