Star Hunter

by Chris Kenworthy

2009

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An absolute marathon of an empty game, August 23, 2022

Star Hunter begins with "You wake up, ready to make yourself incredibly rich in the forgotten ruins of the Tartuest sector." Sounds like fun. Unfortunately, it is not a particularly fun game. So many rooms. Large locations that are mostly empty and devoid of any story content.

There are only a few cases where the exciting feeling of plundering abandoned alien worlds does emerge, briefly. The author has the right idea, but the implementation is lacking. The walkthrough will make your head spin. If you are going to attempt this game, I recommend that you use it.

Gameplay
You have a small personal spaceship called Atlantis, just large enough for you and the treasures you uncover. A central gameplay mechanic is the management of navigation tapes and transit bubble chips for travelling. Navigation tapes allow your ship to travel to other planets whereas chips enable you to beam down (Spoiler - click to show) (bring your gizmo with you to avoid an unwinnable state) to the surface.

The game has a Robot Bazaar where you trade items with androids. This sounds like a cool concept except that these are the stingiest androids you will ever find. They want chunks of your inventory for most items, and it is extremely difficult to know which items you will need later down the road. Many of the items on sale are red herrings. Things that look like they would be helpful only end up being a waste of precious tradeable items.

There is a pattern of going to a planet to find valuables and returning to the Bazaar to trade those valuables for other items and then going to another planet to repeat the process. After a while it became tedious. If you are not using the walkthrough I recommend saving whenever trading your items.

When it comes to scavenging objects are often found in the most random of locations such as a (Spoiler - click to show) milkshake in the middle of a transit alcove at the Bazaar. They have little context for their placement. I can understand finding a (Spoiler - click to show) discarded spoon in a campsite but a navigation tape conveniently on the ground or a chip in a deep mine shaft? It seems too random and happens throughout the game.

One last note on gameplay: When the player tries to dig deeper and go off the beaten path the game totally leaves them to fend for themself. For example, the (Spoiler - click to show) purple barrier in the bazaar that is said to be off limits but there is a Saxon disc being sold by the black android. So of course, I tried buy it hoping to find something interesting. This is what happened:

Saxon's transit alcove
You are standing in a bare and cramped chamber. Were you expecting something more exciting after all the trouble to get inside?

(yes, yes I was)

I should have known better that the game would not offer anything.
Naturally, this also meant that I was in an unwinnable state since I had to sell most of my stuff to get the disc.

Setting
Some places are more engaging than others. Lack of a detail-heavy narrative can give the player an opportunity to just explore and experiment with their environment. Unfortunately, there is usually little to interact with. These are just my thoughts on each of the locations in case you want to compare your impressions with them. This whole area is one big spoiler so I will just put it all under a spoiler tag. Besides the Android Bazaar there are six other locations.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Survey site: An abandoned archeological site and the first location in the game. Mildly interesting and carries as strong “scavenger vibe.” What ticks me off is that the player must purchase the hatched tape to return to this location. But this is where the game begins how did the protagonist manage to travel to I without having the hatched tape in the first place?

Statue: This was a cool idea but extremely sparse. You wander through a giant statue of a warrior. Sadly, you cannot even examine the city ruins that are visible from the top of the statue or explore any of the details in the abandoned train station under the trap door.

Observatory: This is an abandoned house with an observatory. The rooms tend to have more scenery even if they player is unable to interact with it. The nice thing is that the valuables are easy to find, and at least it shares the same tape (striped) as the Robot Bazaar. All you need is the OBSR chip to get to the surface.

Mine: I do think the game captures the feeling of being deep underground, especially the surprise that the bottom of the shaft is not the true bottom. Here, you look for things that have hardly seen the light of day. This one is also touchy. MAKE SURE YOU SAVE BEFORE YOU EXPLORE THE MINES! There is an absolute trap. The mine shaft platform has a lever for going up and a lever for going down. When you first arrive, it is so easy to pull one of the levers thinking that you are in the platform area that moves. Suddenly the thing will start descending with both levers on it and before you realize it you are in an unwinnable state (you cannot “undo” twice in a row). Same principle goes if you are standing at the bottom of the shaft.

Cube maze: This is one is probably the worst in quality. You arrive outside a giant cubic structure in an alien grassy field, which had cool atmosphere. But when you step into the structure all you find is an endless maze of dark rooms. Without the walkthrough it is impossible to know how many items you need to find. When the player searches the maze, their will likely find a chip and white cube* without much hassle, and then leave (like I did). But there is another precious item, a crystal cat shoe, that is hidden deep in the maze on the third floor. This gets the player worrying if there is anything else that they missed (the walkthrough says no), making the gameplay frustrating. The two redeeming qualities is that one, it is easy to exit the structure (stumbling around usually does it), and two, you only need to visit this location once. *The white cube is interesting but none of the androids seem to know what it is. Perhaps it is a red herring?

Garden world: This was the nicest location with its flowers (smell is implemented for the flowers) and streams. But I have a complaint about the gate. The key to unlock it is found on the planet with the observatory. What is the likelihood that the rusty key happens to unlock the gate in a mystical garden world? The fact that the key was found in an overgrown garden serves as a subtle hint, but it is still hard to believe logistically. You must be careful too. To buy the tower disc you give the black android nearly all your transit chips. If you do this without having found the key in the observatory you end up in an unwinnable state because you can no longer go back to retrieve it. Right when you are almost at the end of the game!


Story
Apparently, the whole point of the game is to find the “fabled lying bear of Deneb.” But the game never mentions it aside from a short sentence (and in the IFDB blurb) if you ask for help. There is no story about the bear or why it is so legendary. It is only after you (Spoiler - click to show) find the bear that the game has anything to say about it. The only indicator of its location is if you ask the blue android about the rainbowed tape. The android will explain that it leads to “Deneb Eta.” But there are no legends or bits of information that fuel the protagonist’s drive to find it. Having some story background would be immensely helpful in focusing the player’s objectives. It makes things less meaningful. There is simply no story tying everything together.

The game ends with (Spoiler - click to show) finding the bear in the tower on the garden planet. But after all that effort put in to find the bear the player is rewarded with a flimsy ending. It reads, "After a moment's consideration, you take the lying bear, which is worth the fortune that you were looking for, and the unfamiliar transporter chip. Will it take you somewhere that you can make the sale??" Game finished. It left me thinking “that’s it?!” We never learn what is so significant about the bear, only that the protagonist is tempted to sell it. The only part I liked was (Spoiler - click to show) that the bear comes with a NEXT chip which hints at a future adventure.

Characters
It was not until after I played the game that I realized that it is almost NPC-less. The only other characters are the androids at the Bazaar. The protagonist has no defining details aside from the fact that they are called “Sir” by the androids and the Atlantis onboard computer.

There is an inkling of a story with the protagonist but the game reveals little. If you examine the (Spoiler - click to show) rusty pipe from the mine the game says, "Something about the pipe tugs at your memory." The description of the cap from the tower in the garden world is "Something about the hat seems very familiar, and you remember wearing it.." A similar thing occurs if you examine the white candy on the statue planet. I actually thought that there was something to be discovered but sadly interacting with the objects did nothing.

Final thoughts
This is a long game. Really long. But I am rating this game with two stars because I did enjoy bits and pieces of it, however small. I think the game would have greatly benefitted from a smaller map with more detail rather than using vast and weakly-implemented locations. On top of that the forgiveness rating is cruel. There are so many ways to make the game unwinnable. This game has all the potential of being an exciting treasure hunt game with a sci-fi setting but instead the gameplay is confusing and leaves the player anxiously wondering if they traded the wrong item or made the game unwinnable.

Was this game ever tested? I found no tester credits. That said, it is not a particularly buggy game. If you enjoy excessively long and technical treasure hunt games this might be an interesting piece to try. I do believe some people might like this game. But if anything, play it with the walkthrough.