Space dogfighting fans are in for a treat this week, as House of the Dying Sun, previously known as Enemy Starfighter, has emerged on Steam early access. Man, it is pretty damn good. House of the Dying Sun is another indie PC game made by one person — in this case Mike Tipul, a Bungie vet who left the world of big-budget development in order to do his own thing. His own thing turned out to be a really cool starfighting game.
Here's a video of me playing a few missions on Oculus Rift. (It works just as well on Vive and is plenty fun on a regular old monitor, too.)
House of the Dying Sun is an early access game, though it seems closer to a finished product than some games on that service. I've run into a few bugs and gather that other players have as well, but for the most part I've had a polished experience and while the game certainly isn't huge, I've yet to run out of stuff to do. Tipul's already issued a few updates, and will doubtless be tweaking it further over the weeks to come.
There aren't that many missions in total — I believe there are 14 — and they go by quickly, especially on the lowest difficulty. You're intended to replay them on higher difficulty settings with better upgrades and more ships in your fleet, aiming for additional optional objectives. And you do have a fleet — one way Dying Sun differentiates itself from contemporaries like Eve: Valkyrie and Elite: Dangerous is that you can control more than one starfighter.
At any time, you can pause the action and quickly zoom out to a tactical view. There, you can give orders to your teammates or even assume control of their ships, and just generally get a better sense of what kind of a force you're up against.
The meat of the game happens in the cockpit, though. In terms of vibe and tactics, Dying Sun's space combat takes cues from the Battlestar Galactica remake — gunfire is muted by the vacuum of space and battles are accompanied by an enthusiastic taiko ensemble. With the press of a button, your agile fighter can "drift" along on its own momentum, which will let skilled fighters do a lateral strafing skim alongside larger ships. Pull one of these off and you'll feel just like Starbuck in the cockpit of her Viper.
Occasional early access roughness notwithstanding, I'm amazed that one guy was able to make a game this polished and well-assembled. I get the feeling I'll run out of things to do after another couple of hours, but House of the Dying Sun will remain a really strong first outing.
Hopefully the finished version expands and further polishes what's currently in the game (baked-in HOTAS support, please!), and hopefully Tipul is able to build on this foundation in the future. For now: Fun game.