A week or so after playing Xbox indie game Straco, it’s still difficult to accurately describe what the game is, or if it does a good job of entertaining. It meanders between the genres of tower defense and straight up twin-stick shooting action. Problem is, you just wish it would stick to one or the other, as it struggles to combine the two in a cohesive manner. It also struggles to explain any of this in coherent fashion due to the explosion of text in the tutorials (yes, there are more than one).
And it’s a shame to start the review off in such a negative way, because the execution works well and offers some level of fun gameplay. The tower defense section is your standard fare, but it’s executed solidly. Problem is, it can all get a little overwhelming when combined with the action shooting sections. If you compare it to something like FTLgame’s Faster Than Light, which blends tactical play with the general housekeeping of your ship, Straco simply doesn’t hold up as well when merging its two separate elements together.
The heads-up display (HUD) in Straco is an explosion of information that would have benefited from being trimmed down. Perhaps it’s just a personal preference, but the cluttered screen during gameplay is just an eyesore. And between the HUD and the chaos of the general gameplay, you have no idea where to look half the time.
Graphically Straco doesn’t stand out, but ironically that is what makes it different from other similar games. Many games on the XBLA Indie Marketplace try to go way above their level, which means either the gameplay suffers or the artwork looks out of place. Here, the sprites are clean and functional and the background is a patchwork of colours that represent sea, ground, forest and so on. The only shame is that the environment has no effect on your movement or abilities, whether you’re on foot or in the giant mechanical machine. This renders the change of colours more or less useless, but at least it’s better than a 100×100 grid of grey.
It’s understandable that games created by small teams, one or two people will multitask between programming, art, and audio. But that doesn’t excuse how poor and misplaced the soundtrack for this game is. It honestly might have been better to avoid using music altogether and take the Desert Strike route – especially with the helicopter sections.
Straco is by no means a bad game, but it just suffers from trying to spin too many plates at once. The minefield that is the tutorials and controls will turn off many players before they even get halfway through the first mission. And with Straco planned as the first of a series of episodic games, it will be difficult to see each episode garnering any new players. Straco has potential, it just needs major fine-tuning to realise any of that potential.
This game was reviewed using a copy provided by the developer for that purpose.
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