June 26, 2015 11:00 AM | John Bridgman
Space offers some great opportunities for tactics and strategy. Between planning out manoeuvres across great distances or needing to make decisions of where to defend most and where to let things slide, you can find yourself facing a lot of challenging and engaging decisions. On top of that of course, space allows for exciting visuals and aesthetics and a wealth of speculative future technology to show off. LW Games is leveraging this in their recently released Centauri Sector, a tactical action game set in space.
There's a lot to like with Centauri Sector. The game starts you on a map of the star system you're operating in and protecting from pirate patrols. You patrol around with your ship and later a fleet, traveling within a set radius every turn. You intercept pirates, defend transports, and undergo assignments to gain experience and prestige. Experience is used to develop new skills and unlock more ships for your fleet, while prestige is used as currency to purchase upgraded weapons and modules for your ship. Pirates will go after transports and planets from all over the system, and you quickly will discover you can't be everywhere as once, so you need to decide where to focus on in your patrols to keep things from getting out of hand.
When you encounter pirates, you're taken to a top-down shooting section to fight them off. If you have a fleet you can bring up a tactical map to assign your escorts to attack specific ships in the pirate fleet. It's really good for isolating bigger targets, and makes your escorts much more effective in combat. As for your own ship, you have to manage your power between your weapons, your engine, and your shields. It adds a level of depth that elevates the action to more than just steering your ship around and shooting. The only somewhat peculiar part is that there's not much sense of speed or movement as you increase the power to your ship's engines and that's kind of disappointing and disorienting.
There's actually another gameplay style in Centauri Sector. Sometimes planets will require ground combat, and that brings up a tower-defense style minigame. It breaks up the monotony and it's not too complicated. You can place turrets or create additional resource points around your base as you defend it, and you can repair the turrets in real-time. It keeps the segments from being frustrating and I genuinely enjoyed them.
Aesthetically the game has some nicely designed ships, and you can see your guns tracking as you move your mouse pointer. Interestingly this tracking is mechanically relevant as you need to wait for your guns to move as you aim. The system map is somewhat sparse but it's still effective enough to convey all the information you need. Action segments are also sparse, especially in the space shooting parts, since the backgrounds are mostly empty save for a planetoid or too. While this is certainly accurate, it makes the backgrounds a little less interesting than they could be. However, the aesthetics are enhanced with some really fun, high energy music that plays during the action.
The game offers a significant challenge, and if you lose your ship early on, you may find yourself stuck and unable to fight off the pirate patrols. This may put off some players, but it is rewarding to be able to go back and defeat a patrol you weren't able to handle before. It's a good idea to keep some prestige in reserve to replace any upgrades you lose when you die, or else the game risks becoming too difficult to overcome for some players.
Centauri Sector offers a lot of nice depth in a seemingly simple package, though it can be a bit complex at times. The different styles of play keep things from getting too stale, and progression feels relevant and impactful. If you like challenging action in space, and don't mind managing upgrades and skills, this is probably going to be right up your alley. Also, folks who like tactical space games could do alright giving this a try, though it may be a little light for their tastes.