On rails shooters have become a relic of the past lately. Back in the 90s, they used to be all the rage; light-gun shooters seemed to be the most popular, but space shooters also gained popularity after the creation of Star Fox. After the Gamecube era, however, they disappeared for no reason and have been largely left forgotten. Star Horizon is an indie attempt at trying to rekindle that nostalgic flame.
2020: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Set in the future (presumably), the game puts you in the cockpit of a Federation fighter called John M**********r – at least that is what I chose to call him, as the game decided to using a profanity censoring bleep to hide it John is caught in a war between the Federation and the Rebels, with the Federation being on the verge of winning; however, an accident causes the mothership to explode and results in your AI putting you into temporary hibernation. Waking up in an unknown location, you need to find out what’s happening and to see if you can put an end to the war.
On paper, the story is more or less fine considering the genre, but in reality it’s told pretty badly. There are some twists and turns along the way, but the pacing rarely flows well and many story beats appear out of nowhere. This is only exacerbated by some truly dreadful dialogue (complete with equally awful voice acting); an early conversation has the protagonist claiming that he “slept like a yoghurt” – what the hell does that even mean? Thankfully, the game manages to earn at least some brownie points by offering story choices throughout the game. Whilst most don’t offer a massive change in the experience, there are some that will alter what happens, resulting in changed objectives, or even extra boss fights!
DO A BARREL ROLL
The game plays as you would expect for the most part: you control the ship along a fixed path, and destroy enemies by placing them within your [rather large] reticle, and firing upon them using your basic lasers, homing missiles, or torpedoes. The latter being extremely strong, but need time to recharge. Whilst the lasers will be your workhorse weapon, the homing missiles will probably prove to be the most useful as they pack a hell of a punch and can home in on up to five different enemies. All of which are upgradeable by using the currency obtained by killing enemies and completing levels.
There are ten levels in total and they offer quite a reasonable degree a variety with their objectives, although you won’t encounter anything groundbreaking; taking out enemies, protecting allies, destroying turrets, etc, make up the bulk of the gameplay experience. It may not provide anything revolutionary, but it still proves be quite enjoyable nonetheless – at least, if it wasn’t for the game’s major flaw.
FOR FOX SAKE
Whilst I enjoyed my time with Star Horizon, there is definitely an elephant in the room to address: the difficulty. There are points in the game where the difficulty spikes through the roof. The likely first and major spike occurs around the halfway mark, with a level entitled ‘Chameleon’. In this mission you have to protect your allies from being attacked, with the mission failing if you let too many containers explode. Sounds easy? It isn’t. The enemy are relentless and you don’t have much time to shoot them down. Your only option is to have upgraded homing missiles, and if you haven’t been upgrading only them, you will be forced to replay earlier missions to grind out the necessary currency to purchase. Even if you play this level on easy mode, you will unlikely be able to pass it without the necessary upgrades. It makes it seem like an obvious roadblock placed there for the sake of padding.
Later levels too will also prove to be very challenging without additional laser and shield upgrades, since enemies hit hard and fast – with many frequently flying in from behind and getting off many cheap shots at you before they are even in view. If you haven’t been upgrading your shield fully, they can unfairly take out your shield in no time with you not being able to do anything about it. The upgrade system is a neat idea in principle, but the game’s unfair difficulty forces you to grind out past levels just so you can continue making progress. You don’t have to do that much grinding, but it really affects both the pacing and enjoyment of the game. A simple tweak in the difficulty or the game’s economy could have easily rectified this. Personally I would even recommend playing the game on easy from the start: the game will still offer a decent challenge, but the difficulty spikes will be far less obnoxious than on the higher levels.
Whilst not everyone may be able to look past its flaws, Star Horizon may very well provide that on rails space shooter fix for aficionados of the genre – provided that they set it to an easier difficulty. It goes on sale for only a couple of euros, so if you are even remotely interested in the game, it’s probably worth a shot. You may end up discovering an enjoyable space romp for a budget price. Star Horizon may not be the next Star Fox, but it’ll do for now.