“Aurora is an ambient indie RTS game that simplifies the genre to its strategic core.” That’s the quick tagline on Aurora’s homepage, and theoretically I could start and end this review with that statement. But what is the RTS genre’s “strategic core,” and is Aurora a game that truly exemplifies the RTS genre? Hit the jump to read more about this indie game that I discovered by chance.
I found out about Aurora while I was browsing Reddit the other day. The creator, E. McNeill posted to tell people about his brand new RTS indie game, Aurora. As part of the “launch day special” he was giving the game away for free. A free game’s a free game, so I jumped at the opportunity. For those who missed out, Aurora is now available to download for $5, but I’d strongly caution you to try the free demo first.
Aurora’s gameplay is fairly straightforward, and I have to agree with the tagline. Simple is an apt description. The player controls streams of “units” which are automatically generated from suns (yes like stars in space), and the goal is to control all the suns on the map.
There are three teams: orange, green, and blue. The player always controls the blue team, and the orange and green teams are controlled by the computer. Aside from color, the teams are entirely indistinguishable. Each map has a certain number of suns that are always arranged in the same pattern. Using the mouse, the player selects groups of units and directs them where to go. Getting enough units into an unclaimed or an enemy sun will allow the player to capture it, adding more unit producing capability to their side.
Each time you play, no matter which map you choose, the beginning of the match starts off as a land grab. The three sides race to capture the unclaimed stars, and then things slow down. The units used to capture suns disappear, so once you capture the sun you have to wait for it to produce more. Once the original land grab is done, you end up waiting for a few minutes while you build up more reserves. Then you repeat the process.
Certain suns are also able to be upgraded, but I didn’t realize this until my third time playing the game thanks to the lack of tutorial. The suns grow in size and produce more units per second. For me, upgrading my starting sun is always one of my first moves, but the computer players always wait a couple of minutes before upgrading.
The problem with Aurora is that once you’ve played one level you’ve played them all. The only thing that changes is the arrangement of the suns and where the player starts. There’s no other gameplay elements other than clicking and telling your collection of colored dots where to go.
Aurora’s art style also parallels the gameplay’s simplicity. Everything is very minimalistic, and for the most part it works. The suns look nice, and the little explosions when the streams of units fight add a little bit of flair. But I couldn’t help but wish for something more. The background behind the suns is just black and this makes the game come across as a little plain.
I can’t complain about the music, but I can’t really shout praises about it either. It’s atmospheric and beat driven. Nothing is terribly offensive, but nothing particularly stands out either. Maybe for future updates, the creator could add the option to play the game while listening to your own music. That would add a little bit of Audiosurf flair to Aurora.
Is Aurora fun? Yes. It’s a quick little time sink. Most of the matches I played didn’t last much longer than ten minutes or so. It was nice not to have to worry about all the minutiae that normally come with the RTS genre, but at the same time I found myself wanting more variety.
But the biggest question is: is Aurora worth the price? No. Even at $5 I can’t recommend that you purchase it. The game is too much of a work in progress to justify that price point, especially when there are other similar games out there. Maybe if more features are added in the future I’d consider it. Creator E. McNeill has a good thing on his hands; it just needs to be refined more. For now, get Eufloria instead.
The suns look nice, but the backgrounds are very plain. There's no thematic variation between levels.
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The gameplay is simple, but not varied enough.
Inoffensive, but forgettable.
Essentially if you've played one level you've played them all.
Too similar to games like Eufloria and not enough content to justify a purchase.