One of the defining characteristics of an adventure game is its narrative. As a type of entertainment composed of undemanding gameplay mechanics, the adventure genre relies on the strength of its characters and the development of its plot to keep players entranced. How unfortunate, then, that Star Story: The Horizon Escape features such shoddy and substandard writing.
A not-quite point-and-click adventure game, The Horizon Escape puts you in the shoes of a grubby “space archaeologist” who gets stranded on the eponymous planet Horizon after a not fully fledged out series of circumstances. Featuring very little of space and even less so of archaeology, the title instead inflates it’s play time with a repetitive series of badly written unfunny dialogue trees and uninspired turn-based fights, and just stumbles over itself to get the plot moving.
Playing as an old text RPG more than a modern adventure game, every single choice made in here is via a text tree. Those decisions are virtually meaningless, offering very little reward and consisting mostly of small inventorial rewards; 95% of the plot happens automatically, with no input or choice from the player. Given the game only lasts around five hours, the complete lack of player agency is inexcusable.
But the sameness of the title is not its worse aspect; that unworthy distinguishment unfortunately goes to Star Story’s awful writing. Unclear, uninspired, and unrefined, The Horizon Escape’s script and prose are at its best mediocre, and at its worse unintelligible. What little plot there is is purposefully shallow and unrewarding, undermining the title’s own existence; after all, an adventure game without a narrative is essentially useless.
When you are not clicking a dialogue tree, you’ll be stuck in one of the game’s many, many fights. Featuring a variety of single use items and limited ammo weapons, the title tries to keep the fight interesting and simple by adding things like shields and armour, but it ultimately falls short -- the constant scarcity of items creates a worrisome feeling that undermines the casual nature of the game. Abominably, the whole gameplay feels so unconnected that it gets hard to keep track of what resources you have and what you need, especially as there is no predictable way to acquire anything.
Technically, however, the title is better than the average indie. Graphics and character animations are eloquent and interesting, lending a visual charm that the game ultimately lacks in spirit. Curiously, the two main characters are the worst of the bunch: the AI computer looks disconcerting and the main character looks shabby and filthy, but the rest of character designs are all varied and slightly charmful. Similarly, the music is unexpectedly good, featuring a woodwind composition while in Horizon that caught me completely by surprise. Out of my time with the game, the music was definitely the one aspect I enjoyed the most.
In the end, Star Story: The Horizon Escape is a hard game to recommend. The store page bills it as a casual alternative, but its shoddy setup and unengaging gameplay renders it an unappealing alternative. It’s writing -- both creatively and structurally -- is deeply ordinary, well below the standards any game should have. However, the game is considerably polished for an Early Access title, and a complete rewrite of its second-rate narrative and script could lead to a significantly better game. If you can stomach its core flaws, Star Story: The Horizon Escape might be worth keeping an eye on.