Star Citizen diary, part 1: So, is it actually fun?

Forget the hype, delays, and controversy surrounding the crowdfunded behemoth. What's it like to play?

Star Citizen! It's been the subject of so much speculation, analysis, and controversy since becoming the biggest crowdfunding success of all time, and many unanswered questions continue to surround the highly-anticipated space sim. Is it too ambitious? Will it ever be finished? Is a crowdfunded project of this size a problem? Is the game's development in trouble?

With this diary, though, I'm going to try answer a more important question: what color cap defines me as a Star Citizen?

Wait, that's not the question. The question is: "Yeah, but, like... is Star Citizen any fun to play right now?" To date, despite the reams of stories and features written about Star Citizen, not a single person has actually played it. [Editor's note: this is not true.] It's high time someone did, and unfortunately for you, that person—that Citizen of Star—is me.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I stuck with the standard issue yellow cap.)

I'm going in cold. No video tutorials, no prep work, no real idea what you can and can't do in the current playable version (2.5) of Star Citizen. I just want to jump in and see how things go. I'm a Star Citizen, not a Star Expert, and I hate video tutorials because they always start with "Hey, guys, it's your boy..."

I begin by browsing the hat selection at Area 18, a sort of player hub and shopping mall. Area 18 is a sprawling metropolitan space that, frankly, doesn't currently contain a lot. You can buy guns, clothes, and spacesuits, and watch as other players in yellow caps who look exactly like you run around looking at other players who look exactly like them. There are some nice views, and the promise of more to come, but a quick visit felt like plenty and I can't say it was much fun. It's got space but not outer space, and outer space is what I want.

Onto the real thing, then. I spawn in a small "hab" on a space station orbiting a planet named Crusader. I get out of bed, then immediately get back into bed, sort of by accident: a "Use" prompt appears on my screen, so earnestly attempting to be a compliant citizen, I use it. This makes me climb back into bed, where I become stuck. I can't get up. I can't move. I can't do anything. It's a decent recreation of Sleep Paralysis Citizen, but not quite the awe-inspiring beginning to a trillion dollar space opera I was hoping for.

I've just begun playing and already I'm forced to look for help in the place all newbies dread: global chat.

"How do I get out of bed?" I ask. I wait for the joke reply, which comes immediately. "Set an alarm clock," someone says. Someone else suggests "Press right-Alt + Backspace."

"That feels like a trick," I type, thinking it's perhaps the Star Citizen equivalent of Alt-F4. Turns out, it's how you suicide, since becoming stuck in bed is a known glitch, and when it happens there's no way to get out of bed without ending your life. Either way, nothing happens when I try it. I return to the main menu, then respawn. And immediately get back into bed.

I don't really want to be in bed, okay? I want to be in space doing space things. But in the interest of being a responsible citizen reporter, I just want to see if the glitch reoccurs. It doesn't, though I recommend staying in first-person mode while you're in your hab. I don't recommend trying to watch yourself get out of bed while in freelook, or you might wind up dizzy and staring up at your own groin.

Leaving the drama of my bed behind, I start preparing to actually go into space. Getting my ship, and finding my ship, and climbing into my ship proves to be a bit of a chore, but eventually I figure out I need visit a terminal to have one of my ships of brought to a landing pad, then go through an airlock and find the correct pad.

Again, in the interest of being a good citizen reporter, I attempt to go through the airlock without a spacesuit just to see what happens. What happens is, you die. This has been a public service announcement that no one needed. You're welcome.

Once outside, I then need to reach the ship, which is occasionally challenging for a Star Citizen who hasn't quite got his space legs yet.

Even entering the ship is a little adventure. It can be hard to tell where the entrance hatch is: sometimes you clamber right into the cockpit, but on larger ships you have to hunt around underneath for the entrance, climb inside, open a door, shuffle down a corridor, open another door, and finally get into the pilot's seat and swivel around to face the controls. I like this: it makes the ships all feel different.

I also enjoy all the legwork involved in getting ready to take off. Having to actually undergo the process of getting your ship out of long-term parking gives you the sense that, yeah, you are a citizen. Spawning in the cockpit and being able to blast off instantly would detract from that. I'm definitely digging the space station.

As I prepare to launch, it becomes clear rather quickly that this isn't an arcade game where WASD does everything you need. That's great, but it's also just a bit intimidating for a newcomer. After several visits to the keybinding scheme in the menu, which is so filled with commands it has its own little magnifying tool just so you can read them, I find a jpg of the controls and put it on my second monitor.

Even with instructions, operating the ship is enjoyably complex. Many keys have multiple uses and different ways to activate them, such as:

  • tap
  • hold
  • tap and hold
  • double tap
  • double tap and hold
  • alt + tap
  • alt + hold
  • alt + tap + hold
  • double hold + tap alt
  • dap
  • double dap
  • have a friend hold while you tap
  • tap so much you're hammering, because nothing is working
  • realize you're looking at a control scheme from the previous update and the keybindings have all changed and that's why nothing is working

On my first try, my ship simply blows up

I do manage to eventually launch my ship and fly around the space station a bit, enjoying the view and getting used to the controls. Figuring I should begin the same way I began playing Elite: Dangerous, I decide to simply practice taking off and landing, again and again, until I've got it down pat (or down tap, I suppose). A couple little things go wrong, and they all involve violent explosions and instant death.

On my first try, my ship simply blows up. In fact, I hadn't even begun to try. I didn't crash, I didn't press a button. I was simply hovering motionless over the station. I know in Elite: Dangerous you could get nuked for dicking around inside the space station with your ship for too long, but there was no warning or anything. Just: kaboom.

The reason my next ship explodes is more obvious: it's because I pressed the key I thought engaged the auto-lander, but rather than landing, the throttle jumped and I slammed right into the landing platform and blew up.

As the saying goes, any landing you can float away from utterly deceased, forever tumbling into the infinite void of space, is a good one. Since my citizenship has so far consisted of an hour spent trying to get out of bed, repeatedly exploding on the launch pad, and shopping for hats without actually buying a hat, I decide to skip landings for the moment and try to complete an actual mission. I get into yet another ship, figure out how to engage the quantum drive, and fly to a random icon on my HUD where I'm immediately attacked by the thing that space is always full of: pirates.

Note to space games: I don't like that AI characters can just start talking to you while you're flying around, especially space pirates. As soon as one shows up, they start speaking directly into your cockpit. How do they have my phone number? Shouldn't I at least have the chance to screen the call before answering? I don't need to listen to AI space pirates because I already know what they're gonna say. "Eaaaasy pickings," or something wry like that. "Well, well, look who wandered into the wrong asteroid field." That kinda crap. I don't need to hear that, and I don't think they shouldn't be able to just start speaking directly into my space phone.

Still, I get to fight pirates! Real spaceship stuff! I do pretty well despite not really knowing what I'm doing. I'm also pleased to see one pirate, fleeing my wimpy lasers, fly his ship at top speed directly toward an asteroid, donk into it, and go spinning off. Ha ha, loser! That's like something I would do!

In fact, it's exactly like something I would do, because I do it a moment later. I donk right off the same asteroid. I also donk into that pirate, and later, donk into another pirate. I do manage to blow up the pirates, though, both fun and satisfying, and I even almost complete my assignment, which is to locate a mysterious signal and find out what it is. I get very close to the origin of the signal, but during the pirate fight one of the wings of my ship was destroyed and since I predictably wind up donking into the source of the signal, my ship winds up exploding again.

I'm beginning to feel like I need a lot more practice flying before I take on any more pirate-based missions, so I decide to switch gears and see how Star Citizen fares as an FPS. I want to visit Security Post Kareah, which I saw referred to as "The FPS Station," which sounds like a good spot to shoot some guns. I aim my fourth ship at Kareah, spool up my quantum drive, and... I miss it. Somehow, I fly right by Kareah. I'm just headed deeper and deeper into space and I can't seem to shut off the quantum drive to turn around. Then, there's a boom and everything goes black.

Then everything goes not-black. I'm back in my tiny hab, slumping to the floor. The game apparently decided to teleport me back to my room so just I could watch myself die twitching on the floor. Thanks, game! Very considerate of you.

Lying inert and helpless in my tiny space cubicle is how I began playing Star Citizen, so I think that's how I'll stop. For today, anyway. Tune in next week, because I'm determined to become a better pilot, shoot some guns, and complete at least one mission. And I'm thinking about maybe buying a blue hat, too.

Despite my lack of expertise, and several glitches, I am having fun with Star Citizen so far. And it's quite a nice-looking game. Every time my ship exploded and I suffocated in space, it was very, very pretty. Just watch out for the pirates, the asteroids, and the beds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The first PC game Chris owned was Choplifter in 1982, and since then our staff writer has played at least three other games. He has a love/hate relationship with Early Access survival games and an odd fascination with the lives of NPCs.

Topics

We recommend