Pulsar: Lost Colony Review Dump

The following is a lightly edited chat dump of my thoughts on ~7 hours of playing Pulsar: Lost Colony the night before:

I did a lot of Engineering and Sciencing at first, jumping into fill whatever the last open role was in most people’s games. Then saw someone start up a game with only 1/5. Had tweaked my HOTAS setup, so jumped in as Pilot. That run went for like 4 hours.

It’s very STO-like, but the better parts? You still have quests to pick up and turn in that amount to basically ‘go here, kill the guys, take the loot and return the special item(s), you keep the rest’. Some systems have planets in them you can scan and beam down to for away team missions (though the FPS combat feels both just as clunky and somehow less clunky as STO’s; no special abilities, just point and shoot, but you have the option of going down as-is but with a jetpack, or when the situation warrants, climbing into an ExoSuit that protects you from harsh elements).

That whole ExoSuit mechanic is again, implemented a little clumsily (you have to run to Life Support to pick one up, which can be on the other end of your ship from the teleporter pad… but it makes sense if your ship’s life support itself has been shot out and you’re asphyxiating)… but the fact that you really need someone on the Science console to initiate a scan of the planet and then read the report to figure out whether it’s safe to breathe or not is <3

Engineering is, of course, a hotbed in firefights. Everyone’s demanding more power, and you can give it to them, at a cost of raising the core temperature. Then it’s a balancing game of ‘do I use this extra coolant tank we have and turn on the pumps, draining a finite resource we have to resupply at stations?’ vs. ‘does the pilot *really* need that much thruster power? Can I pull back from weapons or shields or overall core output to stop this thing from melting down?’

Plus at any time, if you take a good solid hit to the hull, shit starts exploding and whole systems catch on fire, meaning you have to run from your station, pull out your fire extinguisher, put out the fire first and then repair whatever blew up. The whole FTL-style ‘target their engines!’ from your foe will literally set your Engineering bay on fire. In first person.  I think uh… Guns of Icarus Online is like that, too. Same idea.

There’s Bridge stations for everyone that let you do 90% of what you need to, but Weapons has his own bay for hopping into turrets (that anyone can use) or the Main Gun (that only he or someone who puts a talent into it can use and holy balls they’re usually amazing, complete with ridiculous knockback when firing). Engineering may have to run to the back of the ship in emergencies. There’s also nice big wall-mounted levers for disabling your shields (ostensibly for when you’re in a repair dock and it’s required for them to work), ejecting a critical core, all that fun stuff.

I haven’t seen it happen, but we practiced the process – if you get hit with an EMP weapon that knocks out main power, someone has to go reboot the system. Pull lever, go to computer, ‘Boot Ship OS’, wait, pull next lever, ‘Prime Warp Core’, wait, pull last lever. It’s silly but try doing that while getting shot at and 4 other people are screaming in the voice chat. XD  Plus you can teleport over to the computer-controlled ship to board them, get into a firefight with the AI crew and then someone slip off and go pull their power lever.

We literally did a run where me (pilot) and the main gunner stayed behind for a boss fight – the other 3 did a boarding party run on the enemy, ran into their engineering bay, dropped their shields and killed their crew (everyone respawns on a ~15-30 second timer, including AI), but it gave us just enough time to blast through their newly exposed hull. <3

It’s not on sale sadly because it’s still Early Access and there’s bugs here and there, but it was fun enough for us to keep plowing through regardless.

You blow ships up, fly in to collect the scrap (and sometimes get bits of their ship like their shield generator/core/etc. intact!), go sell it and upgrade your own. Science has got like… viruses and booster programs. Can try to hack into enemy ships remotely and disable their thrusters for ~30 seconds – think the Science powers from STO but without an instant success – it takes upwards of a minute or so to get in on a bad fight. Plus emergency shield boosting powers, and the ability to toggle between Modulated (-X% energy weapon damage, -X% emissions/detectability) and Static (-X% physical weapon damage, +X% emissions/detectability) shields that can really make the difference in a fight. They can scan planets for lifeforms, atmosphere and such, and scan ships to get a full readout of their internal components like shields/weapons/etc.

But yeah, damn, there’s nothing like warping into a system to find out you’re *inside* a giant, crystal-laden rock and have to fly your way out. Or the fun one I had late last night: Warping into a system with a freaking *black hole* sucking everything towards it. That was probably the most screaming: ‘Engineering, charge the warp drive! Science, use your Instant Warp Charge program! Pilot, *get us out of here*!’ while there’s still a drone taking pot shots at us.

Meanwhile everything is sliding into the hole and the thrusters are all wonky. The pilot has to actually line up the jump, pointing the nose at the right system, call it out over chat, and then Engineer mashes the ‘Jump’ button.

Anyhow, Yogscast guys did a bit of it (though Duncan didn’t make a playlist I can see): https://www.youtube.com/user/Yogscastlalna/search?query=pulsar
It really is like a 3D first-person co-op FTL, coupled with Artemis with all the station screens and a bit of STO with the hybrid space combat + away missions + quests.

You could probably play it a bit like Privateer too, buying things at one station and selling at another. It’s still a little buggy – if you Alt-Tab out and back in the sound goes all screechy until you restart it. HOTAS support is limited at best (I can map my throttle to 0% = nothing and 100% = 100% forward, or 50% = nothing, 100% = 50% forward and 0% = 50% reverse, but nothing with the full range – however, I have maneouvering thrusters that can handle translation and reverse anyway). The balance can be a little off – more than once we jumped into a system to get utterly *annihilated* by something that looked at first glance no different than anything else we fought.

Oh, there’s also a sector of space that starts ‘Infected’ and spreads slowly as you play. Think The Flood from Halo. Nasty nasty but the idea is to eventually get yourself powerful enough to start fighting them off, I think.

Aside from a couple games I tried to join where they just kicked me instantly (presumably waiting for friends or being trollish) and some… interesting game/ship names I didn’t bother clicking, overall because it’s such a nerdy, co-op game, we all just clicked pretty quick playing random multiplayer with each other. Nothing like the horrible expletive screaming children (or man-children) playing FPS-flavour-of-the-month on Xbox or something.
…though there were a lot of expletives on the voice chat when stuff went bad. XD

That said, I think I’ve seen maybe… 4 different enemy ship types so far: Small Security Drone, Security Drone, U.S.S. Big-Enemy-Ship-With-A-Random-Name, and Civilian Ships. There’s I think 5 different player ships you can start with, that start with different factions. Small fighter-types up to the big honking ’18-wheeler-in-space’ we were flying.

Planets can be copy/pasted quite a bit, it seems, too, but the sector map is *huge*. Something like 2000+ systems.

It’s a Unity game and the graphics are a little early-2000s but I think it’s fine. Not going to win any awards but the idea is to be to-the-point and run on a wide range of computers; I think the requirements are quite low. It’s definitely a work-in- progress and they have ambitious plans, but really, I prefer this approach I think over what the Star Citizen guys are doing. Not that what they have is bad – far from it, Star Citizen dogfighting is awesome, and the graphical quality is top-notch… but it’s going to take like a decade to ‘finish’ at the rate they’re going, while this is already playable.

The space combat overall is very much more Star Trek than Wing Commander – even the most nimble ships I think are still basically giant cruisers, so it’s a lot of angling and rotating yourself to get the most/best turrets lined up with the enemy for exchanging broadsides.

But there’s something to be said for having to actually run around the interior of your ship to do things – if the Captain or any officer so chooses, they can run to the Weapons bay and man one of the auxiliary turrets to help out. Maybe Science runs off and Engineering does double-duty running back and forth across the bridge to try and take care of both stations. The entire crew gets XP from missions that on level up lets you put talent points in. Generics like ‘I have more health on away team missions’ and special ones like ‘As a pilot, I know how to make the ship turn slightly faster’.

Oh, and you *can* fill unused team spots with bots but I never tried it. After doing a bunch of controls tests with my HOTAS I just jumped into other people’s games.

Captain plots the course on the star chart. Whatever the next targeted system is lit up with a diamond reticule for the pilot. Captain also handles communications with other ships/stations, has control of the purse (though can set a portion of it for other crew to spend for themselves on i.e. better hand-held gear), handles buying & installing ship upgrades / selling cargo, arranging everyone’s inventory (‘that Repair Gun +3 the pilot just picked up should go to the Engineer *drag*’) and then some cosmetic stuff like setting the general alert level and a static generic order that sits at the top of the screen for everyone (‘Offensive Attack!’ ‘Stay close to the Captain’ ‘Relax’ etc.)

*Usually* whoever’s hosting ends up being the Captain but not always – you pick your role when you spawn/connect in and there’s no way to change it unless you quit and rejoin, currently. Host can save the game on their system but that’s it.

All this though, and I do laugh because one of the very first missions for the biggest faction’s station is: ‘Get me a sandwich‘. For 5,000 credits.