You might not have picked up on the recent buzz surrounding Starcom, but it's a game that's been hotly-anticipated from Wx3 Labs within the developer community throughout the last couple months (and finally hitting Kongregate today). I was particularly stoked for Starcom's public launch ever since I played the pre-release last month. Having played tons of space shooters in the past, I wasn't expecting anything too different from the norm. But once I started playing, I didn't stop until two hours had gone by and I had finished the game from start to end. And I absolutely loved (almost) every minute of it.
Starcom is a top-down space shooter and strategy game, with subtle RPG elements like a well-paced story progression and "missions." Don't let the "top-down" label fool you though; this game takes the genre way past what you might expect. You're stationed aboard a Galactic Command Starbase (space station), playing the role of a space fighter pilot with a starting mission of fending off alien attacks. Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to control movement, use the mouse to aim and fire your primary weapon. Eventually you will arm yourself with missiles that can be fired by first locking on then pressing [space].
The first few missions serve as a tutorial, training you to use your ship so you can eventually zip around the galaxy with ease, fragging all those alien hostiles after your blood. After you've completed the first couple missions, you're thrown into the heart of the game. Sometimes you will be sent out for the obligatory run-and-gun mission, but about half of all the missions in Starcom feature some really fun and diverse tasks beyond the norm. Some involve stealth, some require speed, while others almost seem like suicide-missions. But they all progress well, and the story is actually above-par for a game like this.
And it doesn't even stop there; you'll find toys like the insanely-cool "Jump Drive" module that allows you to "hit warp speed" and basically teleport across large distances. All the little artifacts that you pick up can be traded in at your Starbase for new gear, and there's a ton of them. In fact, you'll eventually have to buy a "retrofit package" so you can pack more gear and weapons into your ship. Your commanders at the Starbase will periodically award you with money and gear, but always be on the look-out for items you can pick up that are floating in the debris of the alien ships you destroy.
An auto-save feature allows you to save every time you leave the starbase, which is advised since if you ever lose your ship under heavy warfare, it's game over.
Analysis: The unfolding story in Starcom is actually one of the best I've seen in an action-shooter game like this. Most of the time I don't even bother trying to immerse myself in the stories with these genres, because they either suck or are non-existent. Starcom really shines in this sense, revealing story elements at just the right moments, while incorporating it all into the gameplay progression.
But the story is just the tip of the iceberg. The main reasons why this game rocked so hard were the top-notch gameplay and polished graphics (the slew of upgrades and ship configurations didn't hurt, either). From the very first minute of gameplay, you can tell there's something special under the hood of this game. I know nothing about coding, but whatever methods the developer used to make this game produced a rock solid movement and physics engine. It's more precise-feeling than probably any top-down or arena shooter that I have ever played.
The control mechanics are well-implemented, and the physics, graphics and sound effects all work really well together, blending a bit of retro style with modern Flash tech. Your shields and power system are well-balanced, and the game progression is just perfect.
On the downside, it may be difficult for some to find your bearings and keep track of which wormhole goes where, although if you do get lost, you'll probably find your way back in just a minute or two. Making your way back to starbase to recharge or to save your progress can be a little tedious as well. Some people might not like how precise the aiming system is, but that's more of a preference thing. I actually liked the kinetically-realistic shooting system as opposed to the more "cartoonish" shooters.
And the game ends way too soon. It took me about two hours to beat, and I was having so much fun that it just wasn't enough. I wanted more. Lots more. I'm hoping the developer decides to release a few expansions or sequels, because this is way too good of a game to never see again, in some form or another.