Coming from Agharta Studio in France, Stardust Odyssey is a pleasant surprise for Playstation 4 owners – and not just because it’s a PSVR exclusive for now.
Although we’ve had glimpses of playing an epic sci-fi game in VR before (End Space and the free but short Battlefront experience come to mind), I’m still waiting for a great Wing Commander-like game where I travel the universe and engage with a fantastic storyline. While Stardust Odyssey doesn’t tick all of the boxes I’d have for such a title, it certainly comes close and is fun to play.
The story in Stardust Odyssey is about a bad guy called The Alchemist, and your role as a space operative in preventing him from seizing power. Because this is an indie production you’re not getting the story fed to you through live action cutscenes featuring Luke Skywalker, but rather through audio snippets. It’s not as impactful as it could have been, but it’s reassuring that the team at Agharta prioritized the game’s core mechanics instead, which are more action than narrative-oriented.
Your job sounds less heroic than you might think, because you’re essentially a deep space pirate who steals goods off other ships you encounter. You’ll find these as they’re en route doing trades, but you might encounter an empty ship from time to time as well. Along these trade routes, security bots are patrolling to make your life more difficult, so there’s a stealth element to the game as well. You can either hide behind a larger ship as you move out of the way of one of these patrols, or engage with them in combat.
Everything is controlled from inside the cockpit of your spacecraft, which is where you’ll discover the game’s unique visual style. Not going for a Star Wars/Star Trek kind of look, Stardust Odyssey feels more like the lesser known animated movie Treasure Planet. With a blend of science fiction and fantasy, it certainly is a nice game to look at – and the sharp visuals are among some of the best we’ve seen from a small indie studio doing PSVR. The inside of your ship already looks quite alien/exotic, but the outside view is far from the dark recesses of space that we usually see in games as well. Everything’s almost always shrouded in colorful hues, which can make one part of the game look like you’re under water while another scene feels much warmer through an effective use of red.
As you progress through the story, you also get your hands on gold and “ether” – these help you upgrade your ship and give you access to new abilities, but are also necessary to gain access to later parts of the story campaign. Because of this, you’ll also need to do a little backtracking as you explore earlier levels to extract more gold (and especially ether) from it. This can feel like unnecessary padding to make the game’s story stretch out for longer, but due to your upgrades these renewed visits are often swiftly dealt with.
Controlling the action in Stardust Odyssey is very immersive and intuitive, though the controls also make for a challenge – especially mid-combat. Your hands (holding a Move controller) are represented by (pirate!) hooks in the game, which translates to the fact that you can’t use your fingers and are thus limited in what you can do. In practice, this works very well, since all you can do is navigate the ship’s controls using your hooks. There’s a novel movement mechanic as well, which allows you to easily change your speed and direction – though things can get hectic when you have to engage in combat. Here, everything you’ve learnt get thrown together and the action can start to feel overwhelming. And although you can steer clear of plenty of combat by sneaking by patrols, there are also boss fights from which there is no escape. As intuitive as the controls are, the alien-fantasy cockpit in front of isn’t – so these are the scenes where practice makes perfect.
The game supports two player multiplayer as well, but we haven’t had a chance to try that mode out yet. In it, you and a friend each control one of the pilot seats in your spacecraft, so it should be a fun way to traverse the story together that way – warning each other about nearby patrols you’re spotting or devising tactics together.
Stardust Odyssey is certainly a well thought-out and executed new VR title that does a lot of stuff right. There’s a novel and original game world to navigate, lovely visuals and enjoyable gameplay. I don’t think it’s a game I’ll go back to again in a few months now that I’ve already played many of its levels multiple times already, but I had fun doing so and came away impressed.