Can you feel that? That is the feeling of awesome reverberating through countless gamers in their late twenties and thirties. Twenty-two years ago, Chris Roberts created a series of space simulator games called Wing Commander. They were awesome, and later iterations were loaded with hammy live-action cut-scenes starring people like Mark Hamill. There were also giant space lions called Kilrathi, so really, it was utterly fantastic and every sci-fi junkie’s go-to game.
Then Roberts went on to make games like Privateer and Freelancer; even though he left the latter project , he continued to consult on it until it released. After that, Roberts disappeared for years and went to work on movies like The Lord of the Rings instead.
Star Citizen marks Chris Roberts’s return to the gaming industry, as well as the revival of a sorely neglected niche genre in gaming: the space simulator. It’s an online game with a single-player offshoot called Squadron 42. It’s also a PC exclusive running on a heavily modified CryEngine 3, and in Roberts’s own words: “If I was making Wing Commander today, Star Citizen is what I would do.”
The game is still a very long way away; it has a tentative release date of “late 2014”. That’s understandable because it’s ambitious as hell. Roberts and team have their sights set on a space opera with a Roman Empire vibe. Basically, the human space empire is crumbling and there are loads of barbaric aliens trying to increase the rate of that decay. It’s classic “fall of the Roman Empire” kind of stuff, only set in space with spaceships and rocket pods instead of triremes and ballistae.
Because Star Citizen is an online game, there’ll be an expansive, ever-evolving universe with multiple game-play avenues for you to explore. You’ll also have to earn your citizenship and to do that you could opt for a variety of jobs. You could join the military to get your Wing Commander gameplay fix; or you could become a merchant to ferry goods across the solar system (as in Freelancer). The game will also feature user-defined elements similar to those found in another (albeit rather different) online space game EVE Online. An example of this might be you discovering a new jump point (the game’s explanation for FTL travel), which you could then name and charge other players to use.
Right now, Star Citizen and its single-player offshoot Squadron 42 are being funded by Roberts and private investors, but there is a plan to begin crowdsourcing extra capital. That won’t be done through Kickstarter, but rather through a private means on RobertsSpaceIndustries.com. On that website you’ll be able to pre-order your own spaceship, so the crowd-funding kind of sticks to the game’s voice.
You can check out some of Star Citizen‘s awesome concept art over on Kotaku.