Capping off Star Citizen’s annual conference was a demo that showed a player fighting off sand people and sand worms as he tried to recover the black box from a crashed capital ship. It was deeply impressive, though Star Citizen's chief creator Chris Roberts made clear it wouldn’t be in the game any time soon.
Star Citizen’s developer, Cloud Imperium Games, gave the first good look at the game’s planetary tech at Gamescom. During a live streamed event, Roberts showed how the game could handle players seamlessly fast-travelling between planets and flying down through the atmosphere it land on a planet’s surface. What Roberts showed off this evening was far more extensive.
The demo begins in the space around a desert planet called Leir III, in the Leir system. The camera moves from space down to the low atmosphere of the planet. All seamlessly and in-engine.
The camera sweeps across the surface of the planet, revealing terrain that stretches on for thousands of square kilometres.
The camera picks out a speck of a ship in the distance and zooms in on it before jumping into the pilot’s vision.
The pilot is on a rescue mission, responding to a distress call from the planet’s surface. As he flies towards the SOS beacon he encounters atmospheric disturbances that mean he has to land nearby and travel to the downed ship by ground transport.
We watch as the player lands their ship on a sand swept landing bay. From the belly of the ship, the player lowers a rover onto the deck and begins driving it towards the distress beacon. It's a four-kilometre drive across beautifully rendered sand dunes before the player finds the first wreck.
The player finds no survivors but the beacon links to another downed vessel and updates his PDA with its location. He sets off in his rover, taking a route that leads through a narrow canyon passage.
The demo then goes a bit Star Wars: A New Hope. The rover is disabled by AI enemies that look a lot like Tatooine's sand people. The player is forced to hop out and start firing back. It's easy to forget this game is Star Citizen – a game originally pitched as a spiritual successor to Wing Commander – as it looks like Star Wars Battlefront's missing campaign mode.
The player escapes the canyon and finds the second wreck. Again there are no survivors but there are two abandoned Dragonfly speeders – the Star Citizen equivalent of Star Wars' speeder bikes. Hopping onto the back of one the player speeds towards the third and final crash site.
As he approaches, we can start to make out something on the horizon: a sand storm.
The storm looks to be two miles long at least and it’s headed straight for the wreck of a downed capital ship. The same ship the player is trying to get to. Chris Roberts, Cloud Imperium Games’ CEO, is saying to the watching audience that the team hopes to have weather events like this happen dynamically on all the different planets the team is putting into Star Citizen.
The player races towards the wreck on his speeder. Jumping from the bike as he reaches the hulk that’s buried in the sand. He scales the back of the ship, silently kills a sand nomad that was meant to be keeping guard but had been distracted by the incoming storm, and manages to make it inside the hull of the wrecked ship just as the storm hits.
The storm passes over quickly and the player goes hunting for the final black box. He only finds more sand nomads. He kills two but from a vantage point at the rear of the ship he sees a fresh contingent of the raiders arriving by speeder bike. He’s outnumbered and it looks like he’ll be overwhelmed when a thundering crash announces the arrival of Star Citizen’s other key sci-fi influence: Frank Herbert’s Dune. Out of the desert sands erupts a giant sandworm. It’s mouth looking like a many-toothed wound, swings threateningly towards the player.
Before we can see an end to the confrontation the camera begins to pull back. It’s the end of the demo.
It’s all impressive and quite unexpected.
However, there is a big ‘but’ hanging over this whole demo. The planet, Leir III, is in the Leir System. CIG is currently only working on releasing the Stanton System, with other star systems not planned to be released until 4.0. Roberts gave no estimated release dates for other systems, let alone the Leir system. So, while a compelling and impressive demo, it’s likely to be at least another year until there’s a chance of Leir III making it into Star Citizen.
This latest demonstration of Star Citizen is likely going to win the game new fans – there are a lot of No Man's Sky followers out there looking for a new game to pin their hopes to – but, while you can buy access to something of the game today, what was on show is a long way off, if ever, finding its way into the game.