Review: Star Horizon (Switch)

An imperfect on-rails space shooter.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 07/14/2020 04:16 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Decent on-rails mechanics; helpful upgrade system; a few wicked fun moments
Poison Mushroom for...
Some script glitches; poor voice acting; slipshod plot

If you grew up in the SNES era, chances are you played Star Fox. Nintendo’s on-rails space shooter charmed with its twitch-reflex action, varied enemies, and quirky sense of humor. On-rails space shooters are a rare breed nowadays, but that didn’t stop Poland-based developer Orbital Knight from trying to channel its inner Fox McCloud. The result has plenty of promise …  but also some game-breaking problems.

Star Horizon is a multiplatform game that includes smartphones and PC. It released in May of 2020 for Switch for $9.99.

The premise is the typical who-is-the-real-enemy trope. You start out as a hibernating pilot for something called the Federation, which is at war with a group called the Rebels. However, things go south and you find yourself in a situation where you have to decide who to trust. The graphics and music aren’t anything particularly special, but they’re good enough.

The game bills itself as an opportunity to “experience a mature story of a man and his AI spiced up with absurd and dark humour,” but about the only part of the synopsis that holds up is the absurd part. It’s absolute cornball, even by space opera standards, with awkward dialogue, D-list voice acting, inexplicable plot progression, a final act that literally comes out of nowhere, and little in the way of character development. This is one of those games where the plot is just a trick for the gameplay, which would be fine if it didn’t try so hard and fail so miserably. As a small consolation, you can skip some of the cutscenes, although for reasons that aren’t clear you have to sit through the closing plot at the end of each level no matter what.

Star Horizon tries to shake things up with a choice system, where you can choose one path or another at various points in the game. You’re told that this can affect what follows, but I found the choices had little effect on the plot progression other than some dialogue immediately afterward that proves irrelevant five minutes later. Mass Effect this is not, which takes away some of the potential replay value. This is especially evident in the ending, which is the same no matter what you choose earlier.

The meat of the game, the space combat, almost works, and in fact there are some really cool conventions at play here. The core experience is about moving around the screen, shooting everything in sight, while avoiding enemies and occasionally accomplishing an objective that usually entails either blowing up more stuff or keeping bad guys from blowing up stuff. The player gets three weapons to work with — a main blaster, swarm-style homing missiles, and a high-damage torpedo — and the latter two get cooldown timers that enable some nifty tactical gameplay. At its best, Star Horizon has you flying around the screen, evading bad guys while waiting for those cooldown timers to let you unleash a cluster of swarm missiles or fire that big bad torpedo on a high-defense enemy. Those are peak moments.

I like how the developer took extra steps to make things more accessible, too. Games like this are often impossibly hard, but Orbital Knight made a few tweaks to allow players of varying abilities to get their fix. If you like hard, the game has a hard difficulty mode and the ability to stick with the stock weapons. On the other hand, if you like easier, you can use the easy difficulty level. Moreover, the game lets you grind for more cash by replaying previous levels, so if you need an upgrade (your weapons and armor are all upgradeable) you can go back, replay an easier mission, and return to the harder one.

Gameplay is mostly competent, with adequate button placement, responsive movement, and an on-rails screen that usually isn’t stupid. Occasionally, though, the point of view wonders what the pilot is thinking. In addition, the game’s dodge mechanic, implemented with the R-trigger, doesn’t seem to do much and sometimes actively hurts you, especially if it sends you colliding into an object.

The game has several scripting glitches. One of those glitches happens if you choose to follow your orders in the first level, directing you to destroy various objects that never appear, which results in an inevitable game over. You can evade this glitch by choosing the other plot path, but one more awaits, a hit-or-miss bug in level six that sometimes keeps certain turrets from spawning. At launch, there was a glitch in the eighth level that made the game impassible, but the developer has since patched that glitch; the others, however, remain.

Overall, while Star Horizon isn’t high art, it’s an otherwise interesting little mindless space shooter that gives you enough things to do to be worth a couple hours of diversion.

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