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Big budget sci-fi game Starfinder launches on Alexa

The first three episodes of Starfinder's first "season" release today, featuring voice work from Laura Bailey and Nathan Fillion.

David Priest Former editor
David Priest is an award-winning writer and editor who formerly covered home security for CNET.
David Priest
3 min read

"Alexa, play Starfinder." That's all you need to say to try out Amazon's new interactive narrative game on any Alexa-powered smart speaker or display. Besides the free pilot episode released last year, you can buy the first three full-length episodes today for $2 each, with three more coming in October. You can also pay $10 for access to the whole 6-episode season as it releases.

In this science-fantasy game, beginning on a space station ravaged by gang violence and organized crime, your character is joined by Raia, a humanoid technomancer, as you carry out missions for the Starfinders, a society of galactic explorers.

Starfinder is an exciting example of more experimental game and story formats made possible by voice assistants like Alexa. We've seen examples like The Wayne Investigation -- a Batman-themed choose-your-own-adventure Alexa skill from 2016 -- but Starfinder brings higher production values and a bigger budget to the structure, although Amazon won't share the exact numbers. Actors like Laura Bailey (The Last of Us, Part II) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) voice characters in a cast of 13, selected and recorded by Audible Studios. The acting, sound and music are excellent across the board.

Unlike a simple choose-your-own-adventure, Starfinder allows you to select from five characters to play, gives you an inventory of items and checks your stats for performing different actions (say, schmoozing an alien or disarming a bomb). That's not surprising, given the game's roots in tabletop gaming: Starfinder is based off of a 2017 tabletop game of the same name.


The game is surprisingly well designed. If you've tried a tabletop role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons, you'll be familiar with many of the mechanisms at play: in combat, for instance, you can move toward enemies or away, take cover or attack, use weapons or spells. You can also turn on a quick mode, which performs die-rolls instantaneously, keeping the pace breezy.

The story is a bit more linear than the open-ended experience of role-playing with a human dungeon master. Often, two options in a given situation lead to the same basic conclusion, or one of the choices clearly closes off possibilities in a way few players would choose. The dialogue isn't exactly high art (street vendors sell "fried ooze"), but it is entertainingly brought to life by game developer James L. Sutter's clever writing.

The free pilot is straightforward and runs only 30 minutes, but following episodes are longer, clocking in around 90 minutes a piece (Amazon says the game contains over 13 hours of linear gameplay, if you follow all possible threads). For $2 per episode, or $10 for all six, that's not too bad. Progress is also automatically saved as you play, meaning you can step away at any moment and return to the story at your convenience.

After only a brief foray into Starfinder, I'm excited to play more. Early combat is challenging, characters are compelling and the world is well-developed. The space station feels vibrant, thanks to the writing and sound design. Most importantly, I could see myself coming back for more episodes as the intrigue continues to grow.