Centauri Sector is the debut game release from indie developer LW Games. It’s a sci-fi space combat game with most of the action taking place as a top down 2D shooter, but there a few unique twists that set this game apart from others. This has the potential to be a great game, but in its current state it also has the potential to be quite frustrating.
Centauri Sector takes place in the far future where humanity has expanded into space and engaged in galactic civil war. One faction, fearing annihilation, flees to the far end of space to settle in the Centauri sector. After decades of peace, unknown pirates appear in the Centauri sector, disrupting trade and attacking planets. Your job is to defeat the pirate threat and save the day.
Every turn, or in-game day, the player can move his or her fleet a certain distance around the sector. As friendly fleets come under attack from pirates, the player can move to that area to engage, provided the player arrives within a certain number of turns. Players who aren’t careful about positioning themselves either in the center of the sector or near vulnerable transports will find they can’t always make it to the battle in time.
Space battles are the heart of the game, and they are the classic top down two-dimensional shooters. The player’s flag ship can be moved using the W-A-S-D keys, and the mouse moves and fires the main turret. I found the turret movement and tracking speed to be a little slow, and because many of the pirate ships are fast and agile, I found it a little frustrating to be constantly leading shots.
An interesting facet of the space combat is that players must pay attention from which side they are taking damage. Each ship has four shields (fore, aft, port, and starboard,) and each shield is depleted independently of the others. Once any area on the ship has no shields left, hits to that part of the ship will quickly damage the armor and hull, leading to a destroyed ship.
Also interesting is the game’s use of a capacitor system. Each ship type has a different base capacitor, though this can be raised through skills and modules, and each weapon has a different capacitor usage value. Every time a weapon is fired the capacitor is drained a little, and if it empties completely, the ship’s weapons systems are disabled while the capacitor recharges. This system helps to ensure the appropriate weapon types go on the proper ships, and it also makes it so players must actually aim their shots. Continually firing the weapons will result in a drained capacitor.
During a battle, the player can choose to reroute power to the various systems on the ship. If the player needs to get to the action quickly, the engines can be boosted at the expense of weapon damage and shield power. Weapons and shields can also each be given priority, and there are several options available for how high one system is boosted. This adds a tactical element to the game, and combat can be quite interesting depending on how the player chooses to route the ship’s power.
At the end of each battle, the player receives two rewards: XP and prestige. XP allows the player to gain ranks, and at each rank the player can choose one of three skills to learn that will help in space combat. Higher ranks also allow the player to buy more escort ships in the fleet (for a whopping maximum of two escorts), which can be given tactical orders during battle, but not controlled directly. Prestige can be spent at any planet to buy better weapons, escort ships, a bigger flag ship, or enhancement modules.
There are only four ships: ceptor, corvette, frigate, and destroyer. The ceptor is extremely fast and agile, but its shields are like paper. The destroyer has plenty of protection, a large capacitor, and multiple gun ports and module slots. The destroyer is also so ridiculously slow it can’t always be involved in the battle as it tries to catch up to the other ships.
Centauri Sector would be a decent game if it was just the space combat, but to change things up a little, pirates will also launch ground attacks that open up a new type of gameplay. The ground defense missions are part tower defense, part real-time strategy. The player builds various types of turrets around the base and tries to keep them repaired as the enemy forces continually assail the base in several waves. Players will need to properly place turrets, but they will also have minefields and airstrikes available during some missions. I liked the base defense missions as a break from the space battles kept things fresh and interesting.
Every time a mission (ground or space) is failed, or a friendly ship is destroyed by pirates, the morale of the system degrades, but completing missions, particularly important ones, will raise it back up. If morale ever reaches 0, the game is over. As the game goes on, the missions get harder with more and stronger pirates and more demanding ground defense missions. Hopefully, the player will eventually complete all of the base defense missions and gain enough XP to gain the highest rank.
I wish I could end the review here and give Centauri Sector a great rating, but the game lacks basic save and load functions. This makes the game exceptionally frustrating. While the game can be saved to end your gaming session, it is for resuming after quitting, and it can’t be loaded once into the game. If you do lose a space battle, you lose your ship, all of its equipment, and all of your escort ships. You then respawn with the same type of flag ship you had, but with just the basic weapon on it. Because the pirates scale in difficulty as the game goes on, it is nearly impossible to come back from losing your fleet, weapons, and modules. Unless you happen to have a large stash of prestige when you lose a mission, a lost mission generally means you’ve lost the entire game and need to restart. Restarting means going through the basic early missions and grinding out battles with the frustrating starter weapon. It also means a lot of time lost to get back to where you were.
Because the game scales in difficulty, the missions at the end of the game are pretty tough, and a single mistake can sometimes result in disaster. I found it very irritating to play the game for 185 turns, make a mistake, lose everything, and then have to restart the game to grind out those 180+ turns again. A save and load function could easily fix this, and I can’t figure out why LW Games didn’t put this into the game.
Players should also be aware that some aspects of the game take some time to get used to. The backgrounds in the space battles don’t move as the ship moves, which can be confusing at first as you can’t always tell if your ship is moving. The player’s ship doesn’t always spawn in the middle of the radar map, though other friendly ships can, causing more confusion. Weapons in the store don’t have great descriptions for what they actually do, and nothing in the store tells you if a weapon will fit a turret slot, gun slot, or both. These aren’t huge issues, but players should be prepared for a few games where they adjust to the rough edges. Once acclimated to these nuances, players shouldn’t really be bothered by them.
Overall, Centauri Sector has a really nice concept. There are many layers to the tactical depth of the space battle game play, and the addition of the ground defense missions makes the game a little more fun to play through. Not being able to load a saved game is pretty unforgivable, though, as the game itself is pretty unforgiving. For players who enjoy a tactical space shooter, this game is fairly spot on, especially if you enjoy the added challenge of a hardcore campaign where a single mistake can mean having to start all over again.