Polaris Sector Review – Cumbrous & Clunky Fun

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Polaris Sector
SoftWarWare/Slitherine

I appreciate games pretty much wherever they come from. That is to say, I applaud the amount of work and dedication that foreign game developers put into their projects. That doesn’t always mean I want to play them, however. At present, the vast majority of video games mainly come from either the United States, Europe, or Asia, with a handful of exceptions here and there.

Asian counties tend to make a lot of MOBAs and RPG-type games, many of which have characters that sport big, oversized heads, which is a turn off for me. I’m just not into the exaggerated anime look. US games run the entire gambit but on average are more to scale, while European game developers tend to favor RTSs, RPGs, shooters (first person & third person), and more recently, space-based games. There also seems to be quite a difference (at least to me) between games produced in Eastern European countries and those made in Western (and Northern) Europe.

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Games from Western Europe seem to be much more in line with games made in the US, probably due to them being both more similar in nature to us as well as having a closer proximity. Meanwhile, many games that I’ve played that come out of Eastern Europe seem a lot different to me. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing, or if it has more to do with differing sensibilities, but to be quite frank, Eastern European games seem cruder and harder to decipher (with a few notable exceptions such as Ukraine’s Metro 2033), and I don’t mean that as in being more complex. Take a look at the clunkiness of the Arma series for instance (made by Bohemia Interactive in the Czech Republic), it has long been criticized for its incredibly wonky interface and control scheme, and I’ve experienced it firsthand accompanied with a few rage-quits.

Now that Eastern European developers are branching out into space more, with regards to their games, things are becoming even more interesting. Just recently, Russia’s one-man development team (sort of like a one-man army), SoftWarWare, has thrown caution to the wind and developed a space 4X game called Polaris Sector.

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In the gaming industry, timing is everything. Many an indie developer have tried releasing their little gem that they’ve been pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into, only to find out that the release date they chose was too close in proximity to larger, big-budgeted releases. Polaris Sector definitely falls into that category, coming to us at a time when Master of Orion, the brilliant Stellaris, and Endless Space II in the mix—not exactly slouches in the space 4X realm. Polaris Sector does manage to bring some originality to the table, but is it enough to save it from being washed away by the tides of obscurity?

Like Stellaris, Polaris Sector is big, really big (although not as big as the former). You can play in galaxies with up to almost a thousand planets. Setting up games is easy, and there are lots of options at hand that allow you to customize your gaming galaxy how you see fit. You can choose such things as which other races you’d like to play with, and how many, to victory conditions, and the like.

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When it comes to races, there are a lot to choose from, but they all seemed rather generic to me, almost like watered down versions of MOO or Galactic Empires standards. While this may be fine for newcomers to the space 4X genre, for more seasoned gamers such as myself, standard boilerplate templates such as the usual sentient cat people race and the like, just aren’t that interesting at this point. Fortunately, you can modify your race’s values after you pick them, so there is a little bit of room for creativity.

Exploring the neighboring sectors around your starting system is next on the list. While games such as Stellaris give you a huge amount of variance between the different sorts of planets (and planetoids) that you encounter, here, you tend to come across a much narrower slice of possible planet types. I counted about five or six kinds of planets in total, a far cry from the vast diversity offered in other 4X titles. Coming across the same planets over and over can begin to feel a bit tiresome. The interface is also sort of clunky, but I’ve come to expect that from games from Eastern Europe so that’s no big thing.

Polaris Sector’s biggest drawback, at least in my opinion, is that it doesn’t have any multiplayer, which is really a shame. I would have loved to have seen what I could do against real human intelligence as opposed to the more predictable, chess-like moves of today’s limited AI.

4

There are a few facets of Polaris Sector that really shine, however. Let’s start with its fantastic ship building system, which has a huge amount of depth. You can build many types of ships, from nimble fighters to gigantic capital ships, and customizing them to suit your needs is a blast. You can equip them with various types of engines, sensors, a vast array of weapons systems, armor, shields—you name it. Coming up with ship designs on the fly in order to combat a specific enemy threat that you’ve been having a problem with, and then gaining the upper hand in subsequent battles, gives you such great feelings of accomplishment.

The core combat system is also good, overall. While in earlier battles you may have conflicts between smaller fleets that are easier to manage, once you get into the later game stages and engage in large fleet battles, things can get a little confusing. Thankfully, Polaris Sector features an automated system that lets you sit back like a space admiral and watch how the battles play out, taking control of a few ships here and there in order to finagle things a bit.

Polaris Sector also has some pretty clean looking visuals. Mind you, they are nothing to write home about, but for a one-man developer they are well done and do the job well enough. The game’s sounds are spectacular, and really draw you in to the action while the epic score soars overhead. This is a game that proves that you don’t have to have super-duper prettified graphics in order to have an enjoyable and engaging gaming experience.

5

While the inherent wonkiness of Polaris Sector may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found it to be a gestaltic experience that works when looking at it as a whole. Some people will be turned off by its rough-around-the-edges sensibilities, but those who delve a little deeper may find a capable and fun space 4X title that you can really sink your teeth into.

SCORE: 71%

Polaris Sector sport some graphics that are pretty decent. However, in order to play it with a decent framerate at higher resolutions, you’re going to need a powerful gaming PC or gaming laptop, such as:

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