Project Starship is a kind of bullet-hell shoot ‘em up with arcade leanings and random mechanics. Now, it’s been too long since I played a good shooter, and with the promise of almost infinite replayability due to the random nature of the levels that you face, I was feeling pretty good about this. I strapped on my spacesuit and dived on in.
First off, the presentation is very retro indeed, with stirring music and pleasingly pixelated visuals. Choosing your character, for instance, normally a place for the devs to show off their artistic style, instead comes across with models looking like they are made of LEGO. Choosing either Garret or Gwen doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the way that the game plays out either, although I have to confess I preferred to play as Garret, as Gwen’s bullets just seem to fill too much of the screen, making avoiding enemy fire that little bit more tricky than it needs to be. And with a game of this sort, as I’m sure you know, anything that makes your life harder is best avoided, as the enemies are going to make things tricky enough as it is.
After choosing your character, it’s then time to choose the difficulty. The illustrations for each difficulty are quite amusing, with Easy mode seeing Garret wearing a monocle drinking a cup of tea, and Gwen gathering armfuls of lollipops. It’s not quite that easy, but it’s close, whilst Hard is certainly at the other end of the scale – all gritted teeth and white-knuckled grip on the controller. It was however here where I found either Project Starship’s big selling point or its biggest shortcoming, depending on how you see games. Now, there is no reason whatsoever to ever play this game across the Hard setting. Let me explain. In a trend started by Ratalaika Games, all the achievements for Project Starship can be unlocked on Easy mode within about 20 minutes. And no matter what anyone says about Gamerscore, once the last achievement has pinged the urge to keep trying does evaporate a bit. That is a shame too, as the gameplay has a lot to offer.
Graphically it’s very much business as usual for a shooting game: you are a small spaceship at the bottom of the screen, the enemies come from the top, and many, many, many bullets are then sprayed around the screen, both by you and your foes. By the time you reach the first boss, you could be a tooled merchant of death, with three turrets circling your ship, bringing laser-flavoured death to all and sundry. Or, depending on the random nature of the levels and the power-ups that appear, you could reach the boss on your last shred of life, with a gun firing hopes and dreams, with about the same chance of survival as a snowflake in a blast furnace. So, vertically-scrolling shooting aplenty to go at, and everything moves along at a fair old lick with no hint of slowdown – this is very pleasing to not only behold, but to play through.
The different enemies, the variety of layouts, and the self-titled “Mad Events” that see you face anything from reversed controls to massive psychedelic explosions all over the screen are a highlight. As are the frequent boss fights. The bosses are bonkers, with weird attack patterns like throwing bones at you, firing giant floaty orbs of doom, and more, and as you never know what’s going to appear it’s always tense when you see the warning symbol appear on the screen.
Project Starship plays well, looks good and is constantly changing, meaning no two games are the same. But the music is also worthy of a special mention, as it is completely awesome, fitting the action perfectly. More than once I died because I was grooving around the living room to the tunes. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is!
Recommending this game should be easy, yet, as I mentioned above, it depends on what kind of gamer you are. If all you want is easy Gamerscore and a quick completion, this is right up your alley. 20 minutes play in return for 1000G is easy math in my book, and so achievement hunters can fill many boots. I can’t help feeling that this does the game a disservice though, as it’s better than just some quick throwaway completion. It deserves more, frankly, and while I like achievements as much as the next man, it’s not the be all and end all. Project Starship on Xbox One is just a whole lot of fun to play, and it helps that it’s unassuming; that’s what is best about it. It doesn’t try to shout from the rooftops about how it’s the best shooter out there – for it isn’t, but that’s not the point. For good, clean, old-fashioned fun you could do a lot worse than take Project Starship for a blast.