Star Citizen has so much hope riding on it, can it possibly meet such expectations?
We love a cold, hard automated warning voice here at Château Altchar. We live for a terse collision caution or a faintly sarcastic overheat alert. And this is fortunate, because we've spent a pleasurable week listening to some rather harsh critics of our flying skills as we enjoy Star Citizen's alpha build.
There was a time, not so long ago, when humanity looked forward to three epic space games - Elite: Dangerous, No Man's Sky and Star Citizen. Pre-launch devotees of each would passionately argue the merits of the respective titles across Reddit boards and the like.
Elite: Dangerous started strongly, and has kept up the pace, with the latest expansion coming last month. No Man's Sky deserves an entire mournful essay all by itself, but let's just say never was so much owed to so many by so few, and not delivered.
And so to Star Citizen. In its current state, playing is like being broadcast excerpts of a wonderful novel or film, only to have them interrupted by a rude blast of static. Some parts look great, some parts play pretty well, but you know there's a whole lot more not there yet and just out of reach. If you are aware of what is planned, combined with what you can see so far, you are left with the potential of greatness. Potential you can see here.
Make no mistake, this is already a game like few others. From the publisher-free, crowd funded development model to the relative openness with which suggestions from the vibrant community are met by the developers, Star Citizen feels like a fountain of purity compared with other games. But virtue alone does not a great game make.
If it fully delivers on space pvp, FPS pvp, exploration, trading, sandboxy questing, the Squadron 42 single player campaign and all the other elements, it will have no rivals.
One particular concern we do have is over flight controls. Developers have two conflicting aims - to make a game with broad appeal, but one that satisfies the purists. And purists want the most immersive flight experience they can get. We've seen a lot of people saying they have been flying in Star Citizen using two joysticks, as this offers the greatest level of control. Two joysticks immediately puts a game out of the realm of many casual gamers, who would prefer to use keyboard and mouse. I've also seen others say "that's ok, if you don't want to PvP in space, you don't need that level of control" - that doesn't wash with us. No one wants to get owned because they aren't sitting at a HOTAS set-up. And the majority of people will want to try some PvP, even if the game offers other routes to player satisfaction.
We're in danger of falling down the speculation rabbit hole here. The yet-to-be released Version 2.6 promises reduced flight speed and some different behaviour, so we shall see how that shapes up.
Mention of 2.6 creates its own stir though. Due "soon", much gossip is running on when that "soon" is - and whether it will even come before version 3.0, which Star Citizen creator and mind-at-large Chris Roberts has said opens up the entire Stanton system for players to explore.
All current doubts about Star Citizen are just a slight shadow over the joy that the game could eventually provide players with. In part, for certain, they are a product of the way Star Citizen has been funded and developed. Everyone interested feels they have a stake in it - and as such they are entitled to an opinion. A very different situation to even a recent release such as Civilization VI - and Civ fans give way to few in their fanaticism.
As a marker of how seriously Star Citizen is being taken, it's worth noting that Eve Online, still the heavyweight champion of space-based games, must be anticipating some gravitational pull from the new gas giant on the block. At the start of this week, its publisher CCP announced a free-to-play trial, allowing interested pilots to sample a base package of Eve's features. And that is some kind of praise, for sure.