Latest 'Star Citizen' Footage Looks Amazing, and Hard to Believe

New presentation shows planetary landings, first-person spaceport visits, and more.

Leif Johnson

Leif Johnson

Image: Star Citizen.

One of the main selling points of the highly anticipated and somewhat disappointing space exploration game No Man's Sky is the ability to take off from a planet and fly into space (and vice versa), seamlessly, without any loading times. Even if No Man's Sky fell short of your expectations, there's no denying that that part of it is impressive.

But yesterday at Gamescom in Germany, the makers of Star Citizen, the space exploration game of impossible ambition and nebulous release dates, showed they know how to do it better than perhaps anyone else. At a live presentation, the crowd watched, awed, as a ship called the Freelancer coasted down to the icy planet Delamar. Flames licked along the craft's sides as the atmosphere's friction resisted it entry, and the curvature of Delamar's horizons relaxed into a line. The mountains, always visible, even from space, took on greater detail as the ship approached. At last the ship hovers above the surface, and another player (seen through another window) hops on a one-man craft and flies away from the main vessel to explore the world on his own. And not for the first time, the crowd roars.

It's but one great sequence in a presentation that was brimming with them. Elsewhere director Chris Roberts showed off a highly detailed spaceport that acted as a "Mos Eisley of sorts" with non-playing characters who seem as though they have a life beyond the action, and an asteroid field with the rocks awash in the stark light from the nearby star. Never before has Star Citizen's dream cramming space exploration, mining, first-person combat, and trading into one appealing package seemed so attainable, and yesterday backers could believe that insane $119 million in crowd-sourced funding was going somewhere after all.But a bit of healthy caution is in order. The Star Citizen presentation comes as fellow space exploration game No Man's Sky is still grabbing headlines and Reddit topics, and not a few of those deal with angry players who believed Hello Games' finished product would offer so much more than it did. Many of those players seem to have been expecting something more like Star Citizen: something more realistic than stylized, something with more traditional combat action, something with multiplayer capabilities, and something that captures the scientific magic of space for those of us stuck living on this rock for the rest of our days. Based on what we've seen, Star Citizen will check off those boxes with style.

The very success of Star Citizen's presentation calls its ambition into question. Star Citizen bills itself as a game with a similar galaxy-spanning outlook as No Man's Sky, but I can't imagine the other hundreds of the corners of the galaxies will be populated with spaceports so vividly realized as the one Roberts showed. The mission shown seemed individualized, but how many others will fall into the same, predictable kill-or-fetch rhythm as innumerable other "open world" games? As legions of developers for roleplaying games can attest, creating one believable world is hard enough; creating multiple ones is a task that's still probably best left to the gods.