Free games are awesome. Even if the game sucks, at least it was free, right? All that was lost was time, and hopefully the game sucked fast.
But when a free game turns out to be pretty freakin’ sweet, that feeling is hard to beat. And for the great price of zero dollars, you too can check out Sunrider: First Arrival and be surprised – pleasantly. For a freebie in beta this game packs more of a space opera wallop than most titles around.
Sunrider is a hybrid visual novel and space sim. The player sits in the role of Captain Kayto, newly appointed to the starship Sunrider along with old friend and first mate Ava. As can be expected, Kayto’s new captaincy almost immediately goes awry when a conquering body called PACT (People’s Alliance for Common Treatment) warps in a fleet of battleships and proceeds to wipe out the local defenders.
Kayto and Ava barely escape with a skeleton crew and the Sunrider intact, and thus begins the player’s sojourn across the star ocean. Gameplay is split between story mode which is presented in traditional visual novel style with a few cutscenes and battle mode which plays out in a turn-based style on a tactical grid.
Sunrider: First Arrival is a strange beast to be sure, but its atmosphere as a space opera is incredible. Right from the very beginning the intricately detailed visuals make for excellent eye candy, and the top-notch soundtrack sets the mood perfectly as events unfold against the expanse of the universe.
The story unfolds as one would expect in a similar manner to Fire Emblem: Awakening or Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Rewards. Text and slightly animated character sprites over very detailed backgrounds tell the tale of Kayto and the Sunrider’s foray into space as a guerilla ship fighting against the PACT.
Once the story reaches certain points, the player is free to go to various locations on the Sunrider and interact with the notable crew NPC’s. After certain members join, money earned in combat can be used to purchase weapons, armor, and stat upgrades for the Sunrider and its fleet of Ryders AKA space mechs.
Everything about Sunrider: First Arrival exemplifies the spirit of the space sim. The only source of income a lone ship on the run has is the salvage and rewards it earns from defeating enemies in combat. Every combat also deducts the cost of repairs from the rewards, forcing players to be as economical as possible in order to reap the maximum benefit.
Similar to games like Mass Effect, Sunrider also features a galaxy map for selecting destinations. Showing off its attention to detail, each destination has a small blurb concerning the history, status, and current events of the location. Every detail is geared toward helping the player immerse themselves in the role of captain of a spaceship, and it works.
The combat portion of the game is straightforward yet intricate. The player controls the Sunrider and its Ryders which grow in number as the game progresses. Each unit has a number of attacks and abilities which have varying ranges, damage output, and accuracy. Movement and attacking draw from the unit’s energy pool, and command points earned in combat for special orders can turn the tide in a tough fight. Overall, the game has a deep tactical feel to it that belies its simplistic appearance.
Unfortunately, the game is only in its beta phase. Whether it will cease being free when the final version is released, right now Sunrider: First Arrival is already an incredible game. If you’ve been looking for a space sim complete with a detailed universe and story, dynamic characters, and a great combat system to boot this is an easy and free choice.