Backers of Star Citizen, the extremely ambitious crowdfunded project headed by Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame, have been waiting for this day for over a year. Star Marine, the game’s FPS module, has finally been released alongside a major update to all of the game’s features with the Alpha 2.6 patch, adding new flight-ready ships, locations, numerous bug fixes and tweaks.
The biggest feature of the update is the addition of Star Marine, as mentioned above. To those unfamiliar with Star Citizen’s model, the final release of the game, called the “Persistent Universe,” will integrate all features and systems into a single seamless MMO experience. Leading up to release, however, the developers have cut up the game into modules, each focusing on a main aspect of the game, and are releasing these modules one at a time, allowing backers to test out the features.
Star Marine is the FPS module of the game. It was first announced back in mid 2015, however after being hit with an indefinite delay, no-one knew when it would actually arrive. That said, it’s not like this is the first time players can try out the shooting mechanics of the game, as personal weapons were already implemented in the game’s current Alpha open-world section, which is limited to a single star system.
The FPS module launched with two modes and two maps. The game modes are pretty run of the mill, one being FFA while the other is team deathmatch, and the maps themselves are set either inside a space station, or in a zero-G environment.
Star Citizen’s dogfighting module, Arena Commander, has also been updated with three new multicrew ships and a swarm game-mode. A whole lot of balance changes have also been implemented, likely changing the metagame once again. The current mini-Persistent Universe has also seen a number of additions, including 8 ships which are now flight ready, including the Drake Caterpillar, now the largest flyable ship in the game. The cargo-hauler is among the game’s oldest ships in terms of availability, and now backers who bought it, possibly even years ago, are given their first chance to take the hulking beast for a spin around the system.
New locations, weapons, missile variants, salvage locations and UI improvements were also added to the game with the 2.6 update alongside the main features and several bugfixes. Most noticeable of the latter is the significant increase in optimization and stability. Since Star Citizen is running on a highly modified version of the CryEngine, it’s been notoriously tough on hardware, with even the strongest gaming PCs breaking a sweat. Achieving 60 FPS at 4K on max settings was nigh impossible for the average player. While the last statement is still true, the game will make your PC feel less inadequate than it did before. Framerate drops and crashes are less frequent, and stronger PCs will finally be able to run the game on the higher settings without serious issues. The netcode also got some upgrades, so random disconnects won’t be as frequent either.
The other major bit of news regarding Star Citizen is the integration of Amazon’s Lumberyard engine into the game. To clear things up a bit, Star Citizen didn’t undergo a complete engine change – that would be absurd. Star Citizen has used a highly modified version of Crytek’s CryEngine from day one, and Lumberyard is also a highly modified version of CryEngine. Amazon has been using the latter for some time now, improving certain underlying systems which incidentally play a critical role in Star Citizen. Cloud Imperium Games’ cooperation with Amazon has allowed them to integrate various features of Lumberyard into Star Citizen, leading to a smorgasbord of under-the-hood improvements – an example of which are the netcode updates mentioned above.
With the long-overdue release of Star Marine, the addition of all these new ships and the multitude of stability improvements across the board, Star Citizen is definitely closing 2016 on a high-note, in spite of the roller coaster-like nature of the past year.