As far as MMOs go, StarBreak is one of my most unique games on the market. It’s independently developed by Crunchy Games and is a mashup of bullet-hell platformer, roguelike, and MMORPG. The story is a little vague, but the general idea is that your home planet was invaded by a nasty horde of aliens and it’s up to you to clear them out. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to charge headfirst into an alien massacre with 50 other soldiers, StarBreak is as close as you'll get.
Staying alive is definitely a challenge and most likely you’ll be racking up a pile of corpses before you get too far. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as progression is only achieved by dying or completing an area for the first time. Whenever a character dies, the player will receive experience based on how well they performed, similar to Realm of the Mad God, which is used to unlock higher tiers and new classes.
In StarBreak, players controls units called ‘Shells.’ There are currently four shells in the game: Wildfire, Duskwing, Ironclad and Fabricator. Wildfire is the default shell and one of the best balanced classes. It utilizes long-ranged weapons, shotguns, grenades, and has mediocre mobility and health. The Wildfire shell isn’t going to excel at any specific job, but it’s somewhat useful in almost every scenario.
The next shell players will unlock is the Duskwing (at level 3). Unfortunately, the Duskwing is probably the most difficult shell to use and will result in a lot of deaths until it’s mastered. While Wildfire can usually sit a safe distance from enemies, Duskwing is required to get up close and personal. Its main attacks are melee, but it does have access to a ranged secondary weapon with limited ammo. Duskwing excels in the air with spins and dash attacks, but timing is crucial due to the fragile nature of this shell.
At level 5, players gain access to the Ironclad, which is a slow but sturdy tank class. The Ironclad has a massive shield that it can use to protect allies and generally attacks at melee range with a gigantic hammer. However, it’s also a large, slow shell that can have a difficult time avoiding attacks. Finally, the Fabricator is unlocked at level 7 and acts as a support class. While also a ranged class like the Wildfire, the Fabricator can construct drones, platforms and barriers that are very helpful in a bind.
StarBreak is a game with a harsh learning curve that could easily drive away new players before they even figure out how to play the game properly. This isn’t simply because of the permadeath feature but more due to the game not explaining anything after the incredibly basic tutorial. It took me multiple deaths before I realized how to properly use my specials with each class. There are also a lot of unfair ways for players to die, such as getting hit with projectiles coming from off the screen or falling into an inescapable pit.
With that being said, the overall platforming and shooting mechanics in StarBreak are quite solid. Each zone feels unique, individual boss requires a specific strategy, and the procedural generation is done well enough to keep things interesting.
However, there are also issues with progression. In order to increase your shell’s stats you have to kill them off, which eventually stops being fun. It’s one thing to die because you didn’t play well, but being forced to kill off your character to progress is another. Furthermore, there’s no real indication as to what are the best types of weapons or stats for each shell. In a game where you drop loot upon death, it’s difficult to effectively test different strategies.
I really appreciate what Crunchy Games attempted to do here. There is literally no other game on the market even close to it with the exception of Realm of the Mad God. However, the studio may have been slightly too ambitious by mixing so many different genres and creating an extremely niche game.
The unfortunate truth is that StarBreak is a dying game, and that’s mostly due to a lack of developer support. There hasn’t been an update or developer blog since 2016, and it’s unlikely that any new content will come out. There is also very little information on the game’s Wiki, and there are only a handful of guides found for the game anywhere.
Despite this, there are still a decent amount of active players in the game. Everyone plays on the same server and there’s only one lobby, so it’s not uncommon to see a few dozen players online at all times. Additionally, there are almost always players running everything from low level dungeons to Elite stages. The fact that it’s an incredibly low resource game, and can run in a browser, means that there will still probably be new players trying it out for quite a while, but it’s unlikely to hold veterans much longer because new content isn’t being released.
The 2D pixel art style of StarBreak is done decently enough but everything tends to blend together during missions. With massive waves of aliens, tons of projectiles, and dozens of players, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on or appreciate any of the visuals.
There are also some technical problems with the game. There are resolution bugs and it doesn’t support 144hz or vertical sync. Field of view also scales with resolution, which means players with better monitors will have a distinct advantage.
That being said, the background music is well done with unique tracks for each level, and the sounds of killing aliens with lasers is quite satisfying.
For a free-to-play game, there is almost no pay-to-win aspect in StarBreak. The only things you can buy in-game are additional item lockers and the ability to store shells while you have another equipped. This does allow players who spend money to have more backup equipment, but it doesn’t have a direct effect on how powerful they are. Unfortunately, the lack of proper monetization is probably why the game isn’t doing so well at the moment.
StarBreak is a game that I really want to enjoy, but it’s impossible to look past its glaring flaws. If it was still being actively developed, I could easily recommend it for anyone who enjoys platformers or permadeath MMOs, but it’s impossible to know how long the game will even stay operational. However, it is completely free and can be played through the game’s website, or Steam, so very little is lost by simply giving it a try.
Unique gameplay design
Mix of fun and challenging gameplay
No developer support
Lack of assistance for new players