Star Horizon Review: A stellar space rail-shooter

TIME :2022-07-03

Space shooters seem to be a dying (dead?) breed these days. I have fond memories of Tie Fighter, Privateer, Decent, and others. I'm aware of the complaints against them, chief among them is that they're bland and monotonous to look at when the setting is in outer space, which may have lead to the genre's decline. Star Horizon manages to address that, and moreover is simply a fun game to play.  

The back story of the game is fairly straightforward. There is a civil war occurring between the Federation and the Rebels. At the outset of the game, players assume the role of a Federation pilot named John, who pilots a fighter that is controlled by an AI system. The AI determines the flight pattern for the fighter (basically explaining the on-rails experience), while John is free to fire weapons and dodge projectiles or obstacles. As players progress through the game, there are several opportunities for the player to impact where the story goes. For example, players are given an opportunity to stay loyal to the Federation, or defect over to the Rebels. The dialogue is a bit stilted, even corny at times ("Talk to the hand 'cuz the face ain't listenin'" was uttered by John at numerous points), and the characters come across a bit flat, but given that the story feels secondary to the action, I didn't find that to be a significant detraction from the overall gaming experience especially since the action greatly outweighed the narrative. On the other hand, the soundtrack does a good job adding to the feel of the game, using mix of electric and Electronica.

The setting for Star Horizon is (obviously) outer space. The developer did a great job with finding ways to liven up the background so players have more than just white stars on a black canvas to look at. The obligatory stars, planets, and nebulae make appearances, but there ware frequently other objects that the battles are fought around (giant crystal formations, asteroids, etc) or fought with (capital ships, space stations, and the like). Frequently, the AI steers the fighters into near-miss and close call situations, where players will need to dodge something to avoid a collision, while fighting enemies that are flying towards and shooting at you, or shooting at you from off screen as they fly past you from behind. So players end up dog fighting around and through said asteroids, or flying up alongside the afore mentioned Capital Ships while dodging fire from its turrets. All these objects both look good and tend to be varied in purpose and appearance, as well as add depth to the action. Again, these were executed very well, and are the shining point for this game. The mission parameters are also enjoyably varied, ranging from killing a set number of enemies, to protecting cargo, to taking down huge space vessels that are armed to the teeth.

In Star Horizon, players earn cash throughout their missions, without a single IAP offered anywhere in the game (thankfully). The cash comes in fairly decent quantities (with replay available for levels already completed, if players need more), and I had maxed out all the available upgrades well before the end of the game. The upgrades available are for more HP and shielding (buy upgrading the vessel itself), as well as upgrading each of the stock weapons. Players have access to lasers, burst-fire rockets, and a heavy duty torpedo, right from the the outset of the game. There's no limit on ammunition, players simply need to wait for the cool down period to expire for the ordnance, or continuously fire away with the lasers. There are no save files, but checkpoints are reached at various points in every level, allowing players to restart from the checkpoint or restart the entire level. The game has ten levels total, and utilizes Google Play Games integration for its achievements and leader boards.

The only real caveat I need to mention is the performance. When played on my 2012 nexus 7, there were times when I experienced stuttering, even with the game's graphics set to minimum. I fault my tablet for this, as opposed to the game, as reviews in Google Play (filtered to just my device) were great. In addition to this, I had another writer at the site test it out in his 2012 Nexus 7 and it played just fine. All that being said, be warned nonetheless if your hardware is older. The game plays much better on even 2013 hardware. Its currently available on Google Play for for $3.99. This game looks great, plays great, and is enjoyable all the way through.

Star Horizon (Playboard) | Star Horizon (Play Store)