Star Citizen Preview: An Ambitious Space Sandbox

Space is a daunting but tantalizing frontier for gaming. Perhaps you have played the spacefaring MMO EVE before, and were fascinated by its grand scale space battles and all varieties of ships/weapons etc. Or you’ve loved exploring a large sandbox universe, like Freelancer or Spore. Maybe you just like to build your own spaceships and enjoy the breathtaking view of final frontiers, like Kerbal Space Program. But often these games develop singular elements. Now imagine a game has all those fascinating elements, plus a top grade Sci-fi FPS experience like Star Wars: Battlefront. Sound too good to be true? Star Citizen is the game to deliver all of those elements, or at least that’s its potential and promise.

Genre: MMO
Developed by: Cloud Imperium Games
Published by: Cloud Imperium Games
Release date: Unannounced, 2017/2018
Age rating: Pending
Platforms: PC

Star Citizen Features

  • The next generation of space flight: They fly in accordance with a detailed Newtonian physics engine. The game offers a full rigid body simulation of all spacecraft.
  • A living breathing universe: Chart your own course and enjoy the thrill of exploration! Star Citizen offers an ever-expanding galaxy that players will navigate and build.
  • Community powered: 100% crowdfunded, the game is shaped by the needs and wants of the players.

Story & Setting

Star Citizen will allow players to explore a universe with hundreds of locations including planets, systems and space ports. Each has a well designed area where your character can walk around, trade or fight with other players. You can also invite friends to your well-crafted ships and fight a blood-boiling battle together, or simply trade goods between systems and explore the uncharted territory. You can board an enemy ship in FPS style combat, or play space cowboy in ancient alien ruins. There’s a lot of freedom to be had and it is comprised as 2 games in one. Star Citizen is the the massively online exploration experience and Squadron 42 is a single player campaign experience that can be experienced as cooperative multiplayer.

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Both Star Citizen and Squadron 42 are set in a 30th-century Milky Way and revolve around the fictional United Empire of Earth. Citizenship in the empire must be earned through actions like military service. It is possible that gaining citizenship through your deeds will result in benefits like lower tax rates and other perks.

In the game you will travel across the vast expanse of space in a cargo hauler with 1 or 2 others manning the turrets, land on an alien world to engage in some smuggling work where you may be ambushed by outlaws and be forced to fight your way from the ground back into space. This all will take place in one seamless experience letting the game shift between genres and perspectives fluidly.

There will be hundreds of systems to visit ranging from dense cities to large alien worlds, and each will be developed procedurally. The goal is to create a living, breathing universe that is always fresh and always unique and always inviting players to explore on and on.

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Gameplay

Players will be able to shift from their cargo hauling jobs to one of the raiding outlaws whenever they choose. No matter what they choose they will be interacting with a diverse and dynamic population. All of  Star Citizen’s NPC population have full day/night cycles due to the game’s proprietary AI Subsumption technology. This combines with the dynamic universe building to potentially deliver a remarkably diverse experience that is constantly changing. Further rounding out this structure will be a severe player driven economy complete with organizations to network and align with.

The universe itself is populated with all manner of cosmic phenomena to investigate. When you find a world you want to explore in more detail, you land and disembark to explore the landscape or cities within it in first person. The hundred star systems that release at launch will each have multiple landing zones within them. In other words, there’s going to be a ton to do. There will be multiple careers to explore, from fighter pilot, pirate, merchant and salvager and everything you do will have a bearing on the economy whether you are blockading a planet, engaging in supply lines or in conflict.

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Of course, no space exploration game is complete without spaceships and the game features a massive variety of them. Beyond that variety of types, players will be able to make significant customization changes to suit their play styles, allowing them to change their ship’s appearance, weapons, components and more.

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There are roughly six types of ships by their usage with many variants contained within. Some are good for racing and dogfighting, some for trading and exploration, some can bring your child-hood dream of a grand-scale space battle to reality. Each ship has their unique strengths and weaknesses, so players will have to read the detailed information of each ship to find which one suits them best. When you become more experienced, you can upgrade your old ship to certain variants, or even trade it for new ones. The flight mechanics are based on real physics, adding a realism that should satisfy Sci-Fi purists. There are multitudes of flight maneuvers you can engage in and you compensate for everything, including internal g-force. The icing on the cake is you can take your friends along for the ride as they can mount turrets and provide support.

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The game was a crowdfunding mega success, so far raising over 145 million dollars from backers. Four years after the crowdfunding started, Star Citizen has now has a few components to offer supporters who want to play today while the game continues its development.

  • A hangar which you can view and explore ships you purchased
  • An Arena Commander mode which you can fight or race against other players in your space ship
  • A limited MMO-style universe (called Persistent Universe) with several missions and a handful of places to explore with some space ports, landing zones on planets and more
  • Star Marine, a fast-paced battleground where players put the FPS gameplay through its paces, testing the seamless third and first person unified animations, zero-G combat, and a variety of high-tech weapons.

By merit of its released components, the graphics of Star Citizen are quite good, especially ships. When you drive your self-modified ships in its MMO-style universe, it’s easy to forgive the long development of this game. But when you try to explore the space ports or planets, the lack of proper story-driven missions, equipment and NPCs, and fleshed out economy remind you that this game still needs a lot to add. However the potential for something special is there.

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If you can ignore some of the early development bugs then the Arena Commander is the most playable part of Star Citizen so far, where you can pilot your ships against other players using lasers, missiles or other futuristic weapons in “Capture the Core” games, or you can participate in speed racing in an asteroid belt. The atmosphere here is great and gameplay is enjoyable enough to whet your appetite for the future.

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The Halo-like solo FPS mode named Squadron 42 was initially set to release on late 2015, but it’s been delayed a few times. Squadron 42 is a story-based single-player campaign set in the Star Citizen fictional universe described by the developers as a “spiritual successor to Wing Commander”. It is being developed by Foundry 42 UK. What can be experienced now is the aforementioned Star Marine, which lets players test out the FPS module and gives us a preview of the kinds of seamless genre and perspective gameplay we can expect the full release to shift in and out of.

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The most serious issue this game currently has in its present state is all those components feel disconnected, there is no racing, no ship boarding FPS or grand scale space battle in Persistent Universe, and there is no role playing or story in Arena Commander. The skeleton of Star Citizen is there, but a vast universe with multiple races filled with trades and battles still feels a bit away.

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Overall, even if half of Star Citizen’s promised content becomes playable it will be one of the most impressive games out there. The game is huge and has massive potential with it’s promised features, but it still has a long way to success. Right now, it’s a blueprint with several playable fragments, promising but very incomplete. If all those features are delivered and successfully executed, Star Citizen will potentially draw in millions of players for years and redefine the Sci-Fi genre and change the conversation on what a game can be and offer players when it comes to freedom and choice.


Visit the Star Citizen Wiki

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Editor at Fextralife. I look for the substantial in gaming and I try to connect video games to the emotions and stories they elicit. I love all things culture and history and have an odd fondness for the planet Jupiter. I think my dogs are pretty awesome too.

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3 comments on “Star Citizen Preview: An Ambitious Space Sandbox”

  1. Avatar Lich180 says:

    This is basically a game made of demos at this point, with almost no promise of ever being released on time. It’s a great concept, and a great example of feature creep.

    If it does, finally, release, it has amazing potential.

  2. Avatar TSMP says:

    Whew, the amount of ambition here is staggering. And also, kind of concerning. They’re trying to make several games’ worth of content in one game, and if they skimp in any one area it’ll affect the end value of all the other parts. It isn’t just a "space game", it’s a space flight simulator game, space marine combat game, planet exploration, and even wants to have a world economy. If the spaceships are bad (designwise, combat, or piloting), it affects travel to other planets, pvp, and by extension the space marine parts. If space marine combat is bad, it affects ship-to-ship PvP (specifically boarding), and may affect planetary exploration. If the planets are boring and samey, there’ll be no real incentive to explore more than just one or two, which affects the inter-world economies, travel between planets, and to a degree anything involving ship use. If the economy is poorly designed, It affects all of the above but namely travel to and exploration of planets if there’s little to gain from scouring one or trading with the inhabitants.

    That said, if they can make all the individual pieces work well together, we’d finally be looking at the One True Space Game. It’ll be fucking hard, though. I almost wonder if they’d be better off making five separate games at first, then later combining them into a single game when they have everything working correctly.

  3. Avatar Languard says:

    I have two hats that I wear when talking about Star Citizen.

    My fan boy hat, in which I’m jumping up and down in gleeful anticipation…

    And my cynical game dev hat, in which I look at the feature list, raise an eyebrow, and say "Oh reeeeeeallllly? I’ll believe it when I see it."

    l really, really hope this game comes out in a decent shap. In theory we might get Squadron 42 this year, though with no release date yet it’s not looking good. FWI, I have bought into the game, so I can do reviews on it if there’s interest from the admins/community. It’d give me a reason to dust off my Saitek at least :)


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