STAFF REVIEW of Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy (Xbox One)

Saturday, September 10, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy Box art Continuing the growing trend of previously released PC games being ported onto the Xbox One and sold for a premium price seems to have no end in sight. Recently Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy came to release on Xbox One over a year after it was released on PC. Priced at a whopping $24.95, the developer, Slitherine, is determined to have you paying almost half of full retail price for this turn based space strategy game. Now the only question is, should you? Let's find out.

Before I go forward, I have to severely stress that you should take some time and go through the tutorial, and even though it doesn't do a great job teaching you because of trying to map everything in the PC UI to a console controller with limited inputs, it will be a godsend to you down the road. I would also recommend playing early missions over again so you can get the feel for the game itself. Since the game will not let you go back to earlier missions, what I did was quit out before I had won the mission so that way I would get another chance to help overcome this incredibly steep learning curve. Anyways, now that the public service announcement is made, back to the game.

I have to make a note first hand that this game is way deeper than any casual gamer may first assume. You're given a 3D plane as your mission sandbox with each adventure. From there, the lackluster story has you performing menial tasks and very light combat so you can start to get a feel for the "WeGo" battle mechanics that are in place. It's more than your traditional RTS, and in fact, it's quite innovative and does a phenomenal job in helping to overcome the fact that the story is better left unsaid, because as you play through it, there isn't much in terms of meaningful development to keep the gamers hooked. But there is very in depth combat. Let me give you an example. At the beginning of the missions you map out your ships that you're going to bring with you which include everything from smaller corvette style ships, to mammoth battleships.

The preliminary ships that you get to manage in the beginning are your little raider ships which accompany a corvette. While the raider class ships focus on utilizing maneuverability and front firing lasers, the corvette manages to incorporate long range targeting missiles, that when impacted, will cause damage to any surrounding ships, so watch out. Then as you progress you will naturally unlock bigger ships such as frigates which are equipped with a stun beam on the front to disorient oncoming enemies, but a lifesaving disruptor that will detonate any enemy missile that gets within range so that it doesn't impact your fleet. Remember, LIFE SAVING.

Lastly you'll work your way to the heavy hitters, the battleship and dreadnought. I'm talking the titanic ships that not only pack the largest and most incredibly devastating firepower, but can also transport small fleets of ships that can be used as a secondary weapon or defensive system. Each ship not only carries with it a certain value for reinforcements, but also has its own independent weapons system, shield management system, navigation system, and more. Once you have your fleet assembled and kitted out, it's time to head into battle. As your fleet arrives your combat mission begins, and it's up to you to fulfill the mission objectives which usually involve you killing every enemy in this 3D sandbox. Now you'll thrust yourself deep into the real job of this game; system management. This is where the bulk of your game activity comes from.

You'll start your missions by plotting your ship's navigation routes. You'll see a wide arc in front of your ship which indicates where your ship can travel. Now instead of just left, right, and forward, you have control within an almost pure 180-degree field, and on top of all that, you have the ability to traverse up or down different planes within the 3D space. So now you have selected where your fleet will move within your turn, you can go to your weapon systems on each individual starship and configure how you want them to fire; either through a more randomized auto fire (which you can customize the nature of this action), or a more powerful concentrated fire (be careful though because some ships can't hit an enemy that flies behind them). Now with your flight plan made and your weapon systems are selected, its time to press the Y button which brings up the menu and you select GO to commence your turn. You'll watch your ships fly towards your targets as they in turn fly towards you. That's when the battle begins and your management tasks grow even deeper.

Another aspect you can also control is how you manage your ship's energy. Do you throw more into your weapons and draw that extra needed power from the engines so your ship doesn't travel as far per turn but hits harder? Or do you pour more power into shields and take the energy from your weapon systems or engines? Speaking of shields, you'll also have to manage your numerous sides of shields as well. Instead of just one all-encompassing shield that you have to manage, you have front, rear, and side shields to manage, and should your left shield drop to 0, then your ship is naturally weak on that side. to remedy this, you'll either have to repair it by launching a repair bot that will fix your ship at the cost of immobilizing it for a turn or two, or you can divert individual power from other shielded areas to resupply power to your now demolished shield. Now this is a small example of the sheer depth that you have to manage every turn and with every ship. Once you've navigated your way through your 3D sandbox and killed all your targets, you'll get a mission complete and rewarded based off your performance. Then it's onto the next sad chapter in the mediocre story.

One of the many things that was improved and tweaked for the console release are the graphics, and thank the good lord that they were because this game has some beauty in it. While there are other games that provide better interstellar graphics and environments, Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy does a great job in delivering some very beautiful celestial visuals. The soundtrack to this game though was a bit watered down for my taste. While it's good in the fact that my ears weren't bleeding, it wasn't memorable in any way. That's surprising to me because you would think that a game set in space would provide some form of atmospheric harmonics that help set the mood and the tone, but I didn't see that to be the case here.

Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy has a very, very deep learning curve, a gargantuan management system that has to be attended to in great detail with every turn, and a story that doesn't deliver an experience that makes you feel connected. I thought long and hard whether or not it justified its cost to gamers, and came to the conclusion that it didn't simply because of its high price point. I wish its price was set at $14.99, because that would be the perfect value for the content within. While the system and mechanics that are implemented are innovative, you get the feeling like there is so much packed into the game that your controller is about to burst and your console rupture trying to figure it out.

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.8 / 10


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