There’s something strangely enticing about being a space raider, roaming through the galaxy, grabbing anything you find and taking orders from no one. If the thought of such a lifestyle is music to your ears then pay attention, because Climax Studios have brought us a co-op shoot ‘em up set in space called RiftStar Raiders. Will it be the next gaming venture for you and your buddies to be able to have some fun with, causing havoc amongst the galaxy’s other inhabitants, or is the space bandit life not all it’s cracked up to be?
RiftStar Raiders sees the player arrive at the Pirates Junkyard, dazed and confused after warping in, wondering what’s going on. The truth is, not a lot as the story is very sparse apart from the knowledge that there are various factions warring against each other and you will happily raid anyone with something worth taking. In fact, the first character you receive a transmission from is an infamous Raider named Betty, who just so happens to know of a secret vault that you could break in to. Betty also takes the time to go through the basics of the gameplay.
The first event of the game is a purely solo experience as you learn the basics of manoeuvring the ship, firing off the two in-built weapons, boosting out of danger and using the grappling beam to grab all sorts – but mainly the goodie-filled loot caches. In many ways, it should be considered a top-down twin-stick shooter and by using both the sticks regularly, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t one. The left stick moves and turns the ship whilst the other works as the aim, with the weapons of choice then firing at the press of the appropriate trigger. Unfortunately, it just feels unnatural and counter intuitive as the aim really hinders the movement, leaving you in the lurch during the frantic moments; maybe having the right stick firing at the enemies and a button to switch weapons would’ve been better.
Anyway, aside from the tutorial style event, the other nine events are available in both solo and cooperative play. You and up to three pals can take to the skies, blasting anyone who dares stand in your way. The general play consists of fulfilling objectives such as destroying substations, protecting Federation ships and even locating valuable artefacts. It’s all standard stuff really, but they do keep things ticking over nicely. There are an overwhelming amount of enemies to kill along the way too, all of which have the potential to drop loot in the form of Starbux currency, perks and health and shield pickups.
Variation within the enemies faced is of a decent standard, with a collective hive mind of alien looking ships known a WarSwarm being the standout for their visual presence and attacking arsenal. Elsewhere there’ll be Fed ships, turrets, mine dispatching machines and ships belonging to other space pirates. I never grew bored of blasting the onrushing baddies, but I did get confused a lot as they altered their depth on the battlefield occasionally; meaning I could see them, but couldn’t actually fire at them or do damage.
The Starbux garnered is used to upgrade your weaponry, shields and boost drive in the Loadout section, but it can be rather pricey to acquire these upgrades. A healthy amount of Starbux is awarded for completion of an event though and it’s only really an issue when you’re unable to overcome the difficult nature of a specific event. At that point you’ll be failing missions and adding bare minimum currency to your bank, unable to afford the much needed extra damage for the rapid firing Linear Coilgun or a faster shield replenish rate. Getting caught in this vicious circle leads to a period of grinding, which is the last thing you want to start off the experience.
It’s almost as if the developers are trying to ensure the player gets frustrated, especially when you’re trying to purchase the next step in a Loadout skill tree. Perks are required at certain stages and given how these drop randomly, and you may not make it out of a level alive with one, it’s yet another progression blockage. Even more annoying is the extra Starbux needed to be shed out if you want to try a different build, should the current one not be working for your style. At least there are a fair few choices in weaponry and upgrades – with missiles firing and shotgun style guns on offer also – to try new things if currency isn’t an issue.
Make no mistake about it, RiftStar Raiders is tough, but the sheer frantic pace when it all kicks off is exhilarating and blasting that last ship homing in, allowing a rare breather to recover, feels great. The co-op element works well as it encourages proper teamwork to grapple objects in tandem, watch each others’ backs and to be prepared to save the day with a revive. You’ll be calling out for people to leave the health pickups for the severely wounded and whipping in there fast to swipe the Starbux from under the nose of a pal. Unlike the solo way of playing though, you only get one life and that’s that, so if everyone dies or you run out of time, that’s the end of it. There are no checkpoints in co-op either and it’s a real shame because where I’d usually praise levels that can last up to half an hour at a time, I hate getting so close to the end and then having to restart the entire level again.
I have to question the reasoning behind a few other aspects too. Like the inability to pause the game, even in solo mode, as it just carries on without you and leads to a quick death. Speaking of deaths, I had a few where my main weapon has overheated and I’m left trying to fend off the masses with my back up laser beam type weapon. There’s no warning whatsoever that the gun is overheating, which seems an oversight. My last point is in regards the co-op, in the way it’ll only let you invite a friend; matchmaking isn’t even an option, so you’re left as a lone raider if friends who like space shooters are in short supply.
Visually, the backdrops to each event are pretty to look at and there are enough changes to the overall aesthetics to prevent staleness – one level is full of green shade, where another is just dark and grim, but in a way that suits. The design of your ship offers a bit of colour change too as you can unlock new skins for the hull. In the sound department, there’s a Borderlands vibe to the backing tracks which really fits well with that nature of what you’re doing. The ships sound cool also when they’re moving and boosting, so it certainly isn’t lacking on that front.
RiftStar Raiders proves to be an enjoyable shoot em’ up, ramping up the pace at every possible turn and relentlessly attacking you. The frantic nature isn’t a problem, however the controls make life difficult for anyone who loves a good twin-stick shooter and the difficulty on top of that just causes a grind. In isolation, the sheer size of each level is welcome with open arms, but not without checkpoints, or the ability to pause play for a moment. The enemy variety keeps things interesting though, as do the healthy amount of customisation options available (to the rich folk).
There are definitely better co-op games out there, and there are better space shooters for sure, but RiftStar Raiders can still be a fun game. That is even more true if you can grab it at a discounted price, and coerce some friends in to the fight.