Preview: Startenders: Keeping the Customers Happy

Within twenty minutes of being behind the Startender bar I’d told two hulking, craggy-looking aliens to piss off. They couldn’t hear me, but it felt cathartic after they complained that I hadn’t served their drinks fast enough. Within another twenty minutes I’d mastered the art of washing glasses with my left hand, while my right hand poured a suspicious-looking liquor. At the end of my shift, I felt exhilarated.

Startenders puts you in the shoes of an intergalactic bartender. You stand in a little cubicle surrounded by drinks and equipment; customers approach the bar and you give them a thumbs up to ask them for their order. Some want a chilled pint of space lager, others want a fancy colourful cocktail complete with a tiny umbrella.

There is so much to do in this small space. There seemed to be bottles everywhere, as well as fancy machines for squeezing juice, chopping garnishes and chilling the glassware. At first, I was worried that this would feel clunky and awkward, but each poured shot or pulled pint felt incredibly satisfying. There were still moments of clumsy hands; at one point I spilt a complex drink and let the customer walk away, throwing the glass over my shoulder.

Despite the confined space behind the bar, there’s a great sense of freedom in movement. Placing a garnish on the rim of a glass felt as smooth as the broad arm movements of placing a drink in front of a patron. By the end of the first few shifts, I’d earned plenty of tips which allowed me to buy new drinks and upgrade my equipment.

I put down the headset and kept thinking about the intricacies; the humour, the vibrant colours of the bar itself, how natural everything felt – even how the fluids poured! I found myself looking around between customers, absorbing the ambient chatter and clinking of glasses. While we’re constricted to being behind the bar, it feels like there’s a huge universe out there.

That exhilaration I felt came from a good VR experience, I found myself eager to get back in and see how much more complex the drink orders could get. Startenders is a test of memory, motor functions (and customer service patience).

The only downside to this early build was the disparity between standing and sitting modes of play. While every counter height can be manipulated by pulling a handle and raising or lowering, I still felt I was having to stretch too much to reach high up. Much of the game tries to counter this with pulleys and handles, but it slows the pace of the game meaning more errors or time wasted with each customer.

That small gripe aside, Startenders is not only shaping up to be great fun, but the possibility of a ‘pass the headset’ mode and a lengthy campaign means this could be a must-own experience for VR users everywhere. The developers seem to have nailed the atmosphere of a busy bar, minus the sticky carpet and smelly toilets.