Stardust Vanguards Review – Couch Carnage (PS4)
In an industry that’s unsubtly shifting to an always-connected, internet-required medium, it’s nice to see some (brave) developers stubbornly refusing to become dependant on their ethernet cables when making something multiplayer. Even more surprising is that they’ve made this an entirely internet-free affair. Stardust Vanguards, aside from having a fetching title, consists of giant mechs and starships battling it out with up to four players jumping into the mix. It’s a golden pairing that, while promising some tasty explosions, does position itself in a somewhat saturated corner of the market. Does Stardust Vanguards do enough to stand its ground in these heavily infested waters?
Ye Olde Faithful
Stardust Vanguards supplies you with a handful of match types to get rowdy in. Your typical Deathmatch “be the last one alive” scenario takes center stage while a more cooperative horde mode against waves of enemy ships brings back the team spirit. Intuitively, there’s the addition of a more informal game mode with a sporty element to it with players aiming to pummel a glowing orb into the opponents net – Rocket League, eat your heart out. Unfortunately, much of the content is locked and can only be unlocked through play, a clever method of leeching a few games out of players, but also a rubbish way of putting the brakes on a fun night in. They’re not necessarily anything new and original, but they are the building blocks of what made local gaming such a phenomenon in the first place. They’re a pleasant mix of tension and blood sport competition to the more a relaxed oddity of a match of soccer, each leading your evening of gaming down very different paths.
Throughout all the game modes, developers Zanari Interactive LLC has kept combat blissfully consistent. Each player is armed with a firearm and a lightsaber, *ahem* sword; the gun has limited ammo while the sword (being a sword) does not. Crazily enough, both the sword and gun are wondrous insta-kill tools of destruction, the limited gun ammo means close quarters combat is more likely adding to the challenge. A mech charging at you is a sure way to panic and furiously button mash, praying for your shield to activate. The shield can be activated for a few seconds, avoiding instant disassembly while those with nimble fingers can slice oncoming bullets out of the way, Matrix-style. A nifty dash mechanic is available too, allowing a swift getaway from particularly close encounters with detonation. A smart balance of all of the above are key, the instant-death situation works fantastically to give weight to every decision and gives way to some real tactical play.
Call in Back-Up
As if worrying about a particularly skillful foe wasn’t enough, during play you earn energy (known as Reinforcement Points, or RP) from downing enemies. This energy allows you to call in ally starships to help blow away the competition. The more energy you charge up, the bigger the ship that comes to your aid. This adds another degree of challenge and rewards skillful players adequately. On top of that, the more random occurrence of pirate attacks works to level the playing field. These guys crop up, seemingly at random, and attack anyone and everyone in sight. They’re a great addition to the mix and mean even the most skilled of players can be knocked from the top stop easily.
Stardust Vanguards can descend into anarchy pretty quickly and that’s great. Things can go from simple to carnage at the press of a few buttons and you’ve really got to stay on your toes. The issue is, it’s only really all that the first few times it happens. The enjoyment to be gleaned from the handful of game modes wears disappointedly thins a few games in and that’s down to a number of things. The maps themselves offer little in terms of variety, rehashing space settings as best they can. Mech customization is also thin on the ground and things like a variety of weapons or swords would have worked wonders on giving purpose to further play.
This is namely the case with the Deathmatch mode, but the cooperative mode can also fall prey to repetition quickly enough. Horde modes are great fun, especially in a local multiplayer situation, but they can only be so much fun when there are just three varieties of ships to fend off against. Even Space Invaders has more variety than that. The sporty mode, aptly titled Spaceball, probably offers the most longevity; it has a whiff of the kind of fun Grifball and other adaptations garnered but this is brutally difficult. Actually navigating the ball is next to impossible and renders things more down to luck than skill, removing this renders the effort futile sooner than you’d like and your teammate will endlessly blame their loss on poor mechanics.
The majority of Stardust Vanguards requires at least one buddy to be sitting next to you. Groan if you will but that’s unbelievably refreshing in this day and age, but it’s not without its issues. Unlocking things become a tiresome chore and only works to impede your ability to access the full enjoyment of couch multiplayer. It also means that Stardust Vanguards will largely gather dust, pardon the pun, when your friends leave you to your own devices. The horde mode, Survival, can be played solo, but reaches the point of impossible without the reinforcement of a pal.
A handful of matches with Stardust Vanguards is actually heaps of fun and will certainly be shortlisted among the usual titles picked for game nights. The hectic sci-fi vibe is brilliant and the soundtrack is a thumping thing of beauty. Sadly, things can grind to a halt after a few games and the things that got you going several rounds earlier aren’t doing anything for you now. It’s a specific game for a specific time and place, made even more specific thanks to its purely local set up which acts as both a blessing and a curse, in almost equal measure. It’s hard to pinpoint why it suffers with fatigue quite so badly but, irrespective, it’s fully worth having in your library, albeit just for that one night in with your friends you’ll all remember for a long time to come.
Stardust Vangaurds review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.