STAFF REVIEW of RiftStar Raiders (Xbox One)

Saturday, April 14, 2018.
by Royce Dean

RiftStar Raiders Box art Let’s face it, life is crazy. You’ve got your home life and responsibilities flying at you from one side and you’ve got your job stresses flying at you from another. But of course there is more. Every driver on the road except for you is a complete moron, children are a continual fountain of sickness and poop, bills are endless and money isn’t. And, to top it all off, that dude upstairs still won’t turn his goddamn music down despite your very polite request for him to do so. Somebody is getting flaming diapers on their doorstep.

To deal with the rat race, we’ve all developed our little vices to help pass the time. These activities take our minds off of the things we don’t like. Unfortunately for some of us, as life gets busier and busier it gets harder and harder to sit down with a good old fashioned story. You remember them don’t you? The big expansive worlds filled with interesting characters and compelling plots that would keep you up late into the night because you “just need one more point in your blacksmithing profession to make the mega dragon armor so you can take on the Demon King”. Ah yes... a simpler time.

It’s lucky for us that the people that make our games are also in the same life-y conundrum that we are. They understand that we can only take so much Bejeweled before we become somebody on the six o’clock news that’s been arrested for lining up people wearing the same colored shirt hoping that they’ll explode. They give us games that we can play in teeny tiny amounts and still be satisfied. Thanks game companies, you keep me off the news!

Riftstar Raiders is one such game that can be played in brief spurts. This isn’t to say it’s the type of game you can play for three minutes and then put down. This isn’t a phone game. But, there is very little time commitment should you choose to play periodically. Riftstar Raiders is a level based top-down shooter that puts you in command of an upgradable starship. Each of these levels takes about 10-15 minutes depending on how well you know it, so as a first time play through give yourself the latter amount of time.

Fans of old arcade games dating back to Asteroids, or more recently Raiden, will love this little number, although it lacks the over the top “fireworks” weaponry that Raiden has. Upon booting up the game you’ll be given the option to check out a tutorial level if you’re unfamiliar with the genre or simply want to acclimatize to the controls. Veterans, or the overconfident, can skip this if they’d like, but the physics take a little time to get used to, so I’d recommend you swallow your pride put on the training wings for a little.

The main bulk of the game is broken up into missions, or “events” as the game likes to refer to them. There are a good handful of missions to play, at least a dozen of them, and they all have plenty of replay value. As you play through the missions, the longevity of Riftstar Raiders begins to shine through. These missions are hard, and finding each of the hidden secrets within them is even harder. There are no timers, but there are a limited number of lives, inconveniently placed obstacles, and constant assaults from enemy ships, all which keep you trying to master the craft of space-combat. The missions also tell the story of the game, but I’ll be honest here, I was more focused on the pew-pew. Multiplayer mode is available if you want to play with friends, and if you’re looking to adjust the challenge you can change the number of lives you have during a missions in the options menu.

The more time you spend playing, the more likely you’ll have stumbled across the game's mission rewards, of which there are four for each mission. Rewards are varied, but offer up customization options for your ship or straight up in-game currency. Finding rewards is as simple as exploring your surroundings by looking for destructible walls or interactive mechanical parts that you can tug on with your tractor beam.

When you’ve got a bunch of new toys to deck your ship out with, you do it from the “Loadout” option in the main menu. From there you can change your ships body type, weapons, shield style, boosters, and even your ship's emblem. Each of these customization options will change the way your ship handles in the cold-dark, so play around a little to figure out what works for you.

The most visually satisfying thing to change is your ships body type. Your default look is a basic “fighter jet” type, but more and less bulky ship types are available. There are also a variety of boosters which include a speed increasing “turbo” style and a short distance “hop”, all of which are used to get you out of a jam or through obstacles. Different boosters are better at achieving different outcomes, so picking the right booster for the job gets easier with time and experience. There are also three basic shield types; a bubble around your whole ship, a wide forward facing shield and an exo-shell which hugs your ship like a wet bodysuit. You can choose to use the default version an of these shields, but you can also build a custom shield using the one of the three types as a base, and then choosing it’s traits through a talent tree. Unlocking some of these traits will cost you in-game currency, while other perks are found while doing missions. Boosters and weapons can be customized in the same way.

The weapons that you pick will have the most effect on how you tackle enemy fighters. The default weapons are the Linear Coil Gun, which fires a line of munitions in rapid succession at decent range and is great for distance combat, and the Claw, which is a short distance shotgun style weapon that fans bullets in a short arc. The other options you have out of the gate include the Boltslinger, which fires a singular powerful missile, and the Hyper-V Lancer, which is a mid-range laser beam that you can change the trajectory of while it’s firing.

Switching gears here (metaphorically), the most impressive thing about the way that Riftstar Raiders looks is its backdrops. Sure, you play as a star fighter in the vacuum of space, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t focused more on what was happening behind me some of the time. Huge sprawling imagery of colorful nebulas and war-torn worlds sell the vastness of the galaxies you’re doing the missions in. Each is different enough that it really sells you on the fantasy of being in an entirely different region of space. The rest of the game looks good too, albeit the smaller enemy ships can sometime blend in with their surroundings making them harder to fight. Riftstar Raiders has a dark and mechanical tone to it, as it should, given you’re flying through scrap yards and space bases a vast majority of the time.

Riftstar Raiders is a fairly solid entry into a usually forgotten genre in our modern world of gaming. It offers up solid, if not a little loose feeling, gameplay with tons of replay value and an adjustable level of challenge for gamers of all types. Its greatest victory is in the gear crafting system. Never before has an arcade style starship shooter felt this involved and this personal. Each ship that you make is truly you own as if you were the one sitting in that cockpit making those decisions. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have cool spaceships to call our own and explore the galaxy with on our busy schedules, assuming the traffic around Neptune behaves itself. Until then we’ll just have to keep letting games do the exploring for us.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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