Thursday, June 9, 2016

PC Review #147: House of the Dying Sun

Title: House of the Dying Sun
Developer: Marauder Interactive
Platforms: PC
Price: $19.99
For a long time, years in fact, this game went by another name: Enemy Starfighter. A simpler name, without the "epic sci-fi opera" style of its current title, but perhaps a more apt description. House of the Dying Sun is all about destroying your enemies from the sleek low-poly cockpit of your Interceptor starfighter, a lean adrenaline rush of arcade-y space combat and fleet tactics
House of the Dying Sun's lean style is practically a breath of fresh air compared to the sprawling sims and strategy games often found in the space genre. A few lines of text tell you that your emperor is dead, the murderous traitors that usurped him rule now, and you are a loyal warrior exacting swift and brutal vengeance upon them and their people. That's all the narrative and motivation needed to drop you into combat scenarios, from assassinating lords in the blinding glow of an adjacent sun or destroying supply caches within a claustrophobic asteroid field.

From the mission map, you choose which of the game's 14 scenarios to tackle, each one divided between three difficulties that add more enemies and smarter AI tactics to outfight and outplan. Each mission features bonus objectives, and most reward you with new weapons or additional fighters and frigates to your personal fleet. The missions are never that long, and always imbued with the tension as you fear the inevitable announcement and countdown of the traitor flagship, a massively powerful brute of a  vessel that can wipe out your entire fleet. The looming threat of the flagship adds to the sense that you're a small loyalist rebellion against the much more powerful forces that overthrew your emperor.
No map to travel, no trading or hangars to buy a better fleet, no smaller jobs to build up your reputation. House of the Dying Sun understands that its strongest aspect is its combat, and streamlines the space shooter formula to make sure you're back into the interstellar dogfights as fast as possible.. And what wonderful combat that is. Warping into your chosen scenario, you can order your fleet from a tactical view, telling fighters to attack or defend, moving frigates around the map, while also being able to jump into the cockpit of any fighters you have. Once behind the flashy console cockpit, fleet-wide tactics take a backseat to the action, as you unleash homing missile and torpedoes, kinetic autocannons and flechette spreadshot. Holding a button lets you shift drift forward, maintaining velocity while rotating around, allowing for deft maneuvers and precise strafing runs.

But while House of the Dying Sun's combat nails the tight controls and dogfighting action, it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying without its stellar sound design. Personally, I argue the audio makes the game. The muted rumble and thuds of your weapons. The rasp of your oxygen mask. The tinny chatter of your wingmen, The mechanical whir when you reload or switch weapons. The sound design draws you into the combat, gives every action an immersive and atmospheric reaction. You feel powerful, you feel like a master pilot behind the cockpit among fellow warriors.
House of the Dying Sun is currently on Early Access; however, the main campaign and core features are finished and polished. An mode against escalating waves of enemies is planned for future updates. You can purchase the game on Steam and directly from the developer's site.


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