Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy – PC Game Review
Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy. PC game review. Publishers: Matrix Games and Slitherine, Ltd. Developed by Black Lab Games. Download price: $19.99; Boxed and download: $29.99
Passed Inspection: Good replay value; true 3D gameplay; superior user interface, low cost.
Failed Basic: No multi-player; no ship modification option; no scenario editor.
Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy is a WEGO turn-based, tactical, 3D, space-combat game that is engaging, involving, and just downright laser-blasting, missile-firing fun. In the game the player commands a task force of human spaceships against an alien threat called the Nautilids or against human renegades named the Remnant.
Star Hammer also has elements of a role-playing game (RPG) as the player assigns available crew members to roles on the bridge of their flagship, trying to get the best mix of attributes to improve fleet performance. Further, as the player advances through the campaigns these crew members gain skills and experience, as do the ships’ captains and crews that are under their command.
The game’s graphics are clean, clear and nice-looking without being flashy. Friendly ship types are easily discernable, as are the various enemies. The variety of Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) such as laser and stun-beams, show up as bright reds and blues, missiles detonations are a glorious yellow. Damaged ships trail white vapor. Destroyed ships burn and display secondary explosions as well. When the Nautilids die they spew a green ichor.
The User Interface (UI) is slick, functional and uncluttered. Arranged at the bottom of the screen are the ships’ controls. The player may select the ship by left-clicking on the ship in the main battle map, or by left-clicking on the ship’s name in the selection bar on the bottom of the screen below the controls. In a nice feature the ships are automatically assigned hotkeys as well. The player can, in another truly neat feature, change the energy distribution of the ship’s power between weapons, shields and engines. Add lots of power to the engines to increase speed and maneuverability. In heavy combat put more energy into shields and weapons, to increase defensive and offensive capabilities. The player may also re-adjust the shield power of their ships. So, for example, if a ship’s front shield is weakened by enemy action, the player may add strength to it by weakening the other shields of that vessel.
The player can have their ships target a specific enemy or let the ships themselves decide which targets to attack in autofire mode. Ships may be repaired during combat, but this prevents them from using their weapons. Missiles are available, but are in limited supply. All of these options can be selected with a couple of left-clicks on the buttons of the UI.
The player has different camera options such as free camera, top down and strategic map view. (I found free camera the most useful). The player can also choose to see the weapons arcs and travel arcs of the ships, or not. This lets the main battle space show as much, or as little information as the player wants.
The player can choose from six different kinds of ships for their task force: Raiders, Corvettes, Frigates, Destroyers, Battlecruisers and Dreadnoughts, all of which have different capabilities and features. For example, some ships have anti-missile countermeasures, others fire broadsides of DEWs and can deploy flights of laser-armed drones. Other ships only have front and rear firing arcs, but carry homing missiles. Also, ships can maneuver in all three dimensions during any given turn, making the game a true 3D experience.
The primary enemy are the Nautilids. They are referred to as “squids” in the game, but look more like giant, homicidal black and blue shrimps, than cephalopods. The Nautilids spray acid, use disruption fields, bio-missiles and proximity mines, as well other weapons. There are ten classes of Nautilids from the fast and maneuverable krills to the massive and powerful monarchs. The human enemy, the Remnant, is limited to small, raider-type ships.
Star Hammer has three levels of difficulty; Easy, Normal, and Hard. There is a 60-scenario branching campaign called the Second Contact War. However, depending on a number of factors, such as battle loses and aggressiveness, the player will likely have to go through the game at least twice to play all the campaign scenarios. Star Hammer also has a skirmish (sandbox) mode that lets the player create customized battles. There are three types of skirmishes: “Mission Simulation” which lets a player refight a completed scenario from the campaign with a customized battlegroup. There is also “Battle Training,” which allows the player to design a battle between a human fleet and a customized Nautilid pod. Last is the “Surprise Me” mode, in which both sides are randomly generated. The skirmish option adds a great deal to the replay value of the game.
Star Hammer includes a good manual for reference. The game manual is especially helpful regarding the role-playing elements of the game. Star Hammer also has a short and helpful tutorial scenario to aid the player in learning the game system
At Normal and Hard difficulty levels the AI is challenging enough to give the player a good fight. At the Easy setting, the AI is a bit on the passive side and not much of a test. But still, a player should play a few battles at the Easy level to get familiar with the game.
Sadly, the game has three serious shortfalls. First, it does not have a scenario editor, although the “Mission Simulation” from the skirmish mode does (kinda sorta) act like one. Second, there is no multi-player option, which would have really kicked the competition up a notch or two. Lastly, Star Hammer lacks a ship design and modification feature. This to my mind its most serious lack. Hopefully, later versions of Star Hammer will let the player do some ship designing.
The Bottom Line
Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy is a very good game. It is fun, and involving to play and well worth the $19.99 price tag. The game can only be made better by adding a ship design module, a true scenario editor and a multi-player function.
Armchair General Rating: 89%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History, European History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.