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PC Preview - 'Star Heritage 1: The Black Cobra'

by Dan Barrow on Jan. 16, 2006 @ 4:54 a.m. PST

Star Heritage is an adventure game in which you play the role of Earth’s secret agent, helping human coalition in the struggle with alien invaders. As fate would have it, you have found yourself on an unknown planet, not registered in any space catalogue, a long way away from any space trade lines. Your main goal is to leave the planet and continue the struggle for Mankind’s freedom.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: 1C Company
Developer: Step Creative Group
Release Date: TBA

Star Heritage is a modern remake of an older text-based adventure game by the Step Creative Group, a Russian developer of some note. The game has been released in Russia and surrounding countries for quite some time and has recently been slated for availability in the United States. Although our preview build still had Russian voice acting and many menus still in Russian, it was subtitled in English, so it gave me a good idea of the story and background. Luckily, I don’t mind subtitled movies, so Star Heritage wasn’t much of a stretch; the English was a bit broken, however, so hopefully, Step CG will be able to secure a solid translation before release.

In Star Heritage, we play as a human secret agent, fighting in the Resistance against the oppressive Artangs. Far from charted space, we find ourselves stranded on an uncharted alien planet, alone and unarmed. After being shot out of orbit by the Artangs, the player must navigate a dangerous and often hostile planet. We must find our way to safety, dodging aggressive aliens and the Artangs who are hunting us. In the course of our wanderings, we discover a planet with a mysterious war-torn past, and have “the most treasured mysteries of the Universe” revealed to us. Sounds like a tall order for one game, but from what I read, Step Creative Group has done a pretty good job of establishing an engaging experience that tells a good story.

This game was a bit of a new type of adventure game for me. Though it does follow a few of the conventions for the genre, it also deviates significantly from your standard fare. The game is still broken into a series of screens in classic Myst style, with some animations, but it wanders from the path in its focus. Instead of a series of puzzles that challenge the player and progress the story, Star Heritage forgoes puzzles in favor of exploration and “survival.” There were some puzzle elements, with inventory management and combining of items to create solutions to obstacles, but that was the extent of the typical “puzzle progression” that I experienced in the early code.

The exploration aspects were one of the most interesting parts of the game. Exploration is nothing new in adventure titles, but Star Heritage makes it one of the core mechanics; the interface provides a combination mapping tool and movement interface as you go from area to area. Step CG has also created a world with a variety of gorgeously rendered environments, ranging from swamps and mountainous regions to war-torn beaches and modern cityscapes. Some of them are merely transition spaces, and some hold story elements and clickable items with relevant information accompanied by (Russian) narration, but no matter what the importance of the screen, each is crafted with a real eye for detail, and is presented in amazing clarity. In addition, the game takes the time of day into account, and will show a different scene (early morning, daytime, sunset, deep night) for each area. It makes it worth visiting each area several times at different parts of the each day, just to see how the moonlight bounces of a structure or the sunset lights up the forest.

Time of day, and the accompanying rest for the player, is a critical part of Star Heritage. The game includes aspects of a survival game, including Stamina and Health, both of which decrease over time as the player moves from area to area. It takes time to travel to each scene, and the player is forced to take their health into account and rest accordingly. A particularly enjoyable twist came in the form of environmental dangers and the vulnerability of the player when they are resting. Take a nap in the wrong place, and you can end up a meal for some carnivorous plant, or captured by the Artangs and thrown in a very dank prison. I quickly learned which areas were safe for rest and which were not, and planned my travel accordingly.

The last surprising element of the title, and one that I did not enjoy as much, was the combat system. It is not a usual mechanic in an adventure game, but Step CG has built in a rudimentary combat system that forces you to battle through various creatures and NPCs that you come across in your wandering. The system is very straightforward, with only an attack move and a defense move available, but there are weapons that can be found and used, and while not particularly engaging or even interesting, the combat system is easy to learn and use, and the enemies can be beaten with some practice.

The combat system was the one part of Star Heritage that I did not enjoy, and only partly because it was a bit buggy and managed to freeze the game on several occasions. Mostly, the combat sequences got in the way of the game’s flow. The interface, while simple, leads to repetitive clicking at timed intervals, and many of the enemies were a bit too difficult. I can see how, in the context of the title, that Step CG would want to include it – within the story, some of the combat makes sense. In the context of the other game mechanics, however, the combat does not fit as well as the others.

Fortunately, the occasional freezing during combat was the biggest technical issue, although the game was not without a few minor bugs. Hopefully, Step CG will have a chance to iron out the problems present in the preview build before the full international release. The load times between scenes and when saving and loading were a bit longer than one would expect, and it did crash to the desktop once or twice. However, the issues did not seem insurmountable, and with a bit of polish, the game should be well prepared for the U.S.

Overall, Star Heritage is well positioned to be a solid entry into the adventure genre. The environments are beautifully crafted, the ambient sound is well done and the music is appropriate. For me, the tone of the game is what sets it apart from the other adventure games I’ve played. The survival aspects, the lone-man-in-enemy-territory feeling that pervades the game, the alien landscapes and the feeling of being hunted, all add up to an enjoyable gaming experience. Also, Step CG would do well to hire a good translator for moving the game to English and other languages. The Russian voice acting was fair, and I don’t mind reading subtitles, but the English in the subtitles was spotty at best. If they can overcome these issues before release, Star Heritage will be a game I eagerly anticipate.

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