DEAD STAR Review
There’s been a surge of genre-blending in games as of late. MOBAs in particular, as that genre becomes more popular, are being incorporated into more established formulas, often with mixed results. One dev seems to have gotten it right, however, in the form of Armature Studio’s DEAD STAR, the latest foray in bringing MOBAs to the masses. The twin-stick shooter with a strategic flair is a formula that is rarely attempted, but is proven here to be quite the winner.
DEAD STAR’s main mode, Conquest, divides players into teams of five or ten spacecrafts tasked with obliterating the other team’s space station. But while MOBAs strictly promote pushing down lanes towards the enemy base for victory (which can certainly be done here), DEAD STAR also allows teams to play more defensively, if they so choose. Between each HQ is a no man’s land of smaller outposts guarded by NPC escorts, turrets, and minefields, which can be captured and put to work for either team. Outposts can be used as forward spawn points, but more importantly generate points towards who controls a massive satellite cannon that can obliterate HQs in one shot. Whoever reaches the necessary control points first will auto-win with a nice doom laser cinematic. Depending on the flow of the match, teams can either choose to focus on turtling and building up the defenses of their own outposts in order to gain control of the cannon, or rush the enemy HQ to blow it up manually.
Additionally, DEAD STAR features a meta-campaign mode called Escape Run, where a small squadron must escort a massive capital ship to a safe zone over the course of several matches. Ship systems and crew can be upgraded over the voyage, making the vessel more potent as the campaign progresses. The twist here is that the capital ship’s route takes it through Conquest matches in progress, appearing as a separate hex mid-match that both sides are encouraged to attack for additional experience and resources. The resulting three way brawl provides the ship defenders with a steep challenge in defense, while also serving as a distraction that conniving pilots can use to tip the scales of the ongoing Conquest struggle. While the tickets to unlock a capital ship are incredibly rare, anyone can face the imposing battleships as a random encounter in regular game modes.
Maps in DEAD STAR are randomly generated, with hex-based layouts voted upon by players waiting in the queue. The composition of the hexes is entirely left to chance, meaning you’ll rarely fly the same void twice. Environmental hazards like comet storms and EMP clouds, as well as NPC pirates, can come and go, disrupting naval engagements while occasionally providing opportunities towards enterprising pilots. Nebulas provide different effects depending on their composition, ranging from healing clouds to impenetrable mists that ships can hide within. Outposts also vary in function depending on which of the game’s three lore factions they are built by, with some focusing on shielding, others on massive guns, and still others on defense craft, meaning that every map will require a different approach to capturing its control points.
No, you can’t fly the capital ship, but you can play as the slightly smaller planetoid below
Perhaps DEAD STAR’s greatest aspect is its selection of vessels. Ships are divided into three classes: zippy scout fighters that excel in dogfights, mid-sized raiders with expanded cargo holds, and lumbering frigates with massive shields and cannons. Choosing which ship you’ll pilot is more than a preference; it’s an entire mindset towards gameplay. Scouts are excellent at harassing other players and capturing points, but are rather ineffective at seizing reinforced positions, meaning that while bad for objective-taking, they’re ideal for PVP duelists. Heavy frigates, on the other hand, are slow as sin and struggle to land hits on faster opponents, but are the only vessels capable of demolishing upgraded outposts. Raiders are too jack-of-all-trades to thrive in combat, but are excellent at repairing their teammates and gathering resources for upgrading outposts, making them the choice for players who’d prefer not to fight at all. Each ship is cleverly designed to be ineffective at combatting duplicate vessels, encouraging diversity in ship choice within teams so that all bases are covered. This system encourages experimentation, as the ship roster is diverse enough to allow for multiple styles of play, making it difficult to pin a single genre on DEAD STAR.
A peace treaty has actually been signed, this is merely a space rave
Though the comparison might seem far-fetched at first, DEAD STAR is already set to be the new ROCKET LEAGUE. Both are cross-platform titles with unheard of concepts and a focus on teamwork, and if this pedigree of innovation becomes a trend in gaming, I’m all for it. While other games shoehorn foreign mechanics into action real-time strategy, DEAD STAR stands out from its peers in that it understands what a MOBA needs to be good and works with the formula rather than against it, while still crafting an insanely replayable and unique experience. Though the market is literally teeming with high profile titles right now, this gem is one that nobody should miss.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on PC