We can't help but think how good it would be for a game to incorporate exploration, trading, elements of RPGs, ship combat, PVP and a kind of space-based instance. Well to be honest we didn't think it, but the folks at Starfire Studios did, and what’s more, they built this huge conglomeration of ideas and concepts into one game and released it through on Xbox Live.
Like all good space yarns, there has to be a hero, and it's you. An assistant to an aging professor, you are thrown into a world of secret discoveries, political intrigue and the fate of mankind. The story has different threads depending on which of the five factions you align yourself too. The story itself takes place across nine huge galaxies, so don't expect a quick ending.
The basic game is a twin-stick shooter: one stick is used to guide the space ship while the other directs the weapon. This is old school, so the action takes place on a level plane with no up or down to contend with (we thumb our nose at the theory of three-dimensional space, and don't start us on time being the fourth).
There is a very deep RPG element to this game that only becomes evident the more you play. As you complete quests, you gain experience points that in turn gain you levels. Every time you level up you get skill points that can be allocated to a base level of skills. These include damage, shields etc. In addition to standard experience points you also gain faction points that can be allocated to faction skills. Each faction has a different set of skills and these can vary from mining improvements to stealth, and so on.
You also have a sentient as a companion that, like you, levels up and has its own set of skills. These are dependent on your choice of sentient — you have choice of a tank, healer or defensive build. You can also teach it base skills such as improved mining.
Mining is undertaken by both you and your sentient, and is done by parking next to asteroids and selecting the mining skill. Both you and the sentient select a different asteroid which, once exhausted, explodes. Rewards include ore, crystals and power ups. These can be exchanged at a spaceport for credits.
It’s at these same space ports that you can upgrade or purchase new space ships. The ships vary from scouts and assault class cargo carriers, right up to huge cruisers. You can accumulate a stable of ships that you pilot depending on mission requirements. Likewise, you have a huge array of armaments that you can deck your ship out in depending on your preferred form of destruction. These are limited by the amount of load out slots the ship has.
All the action takes place in space with no land based combat. The basic format is to blast away at an enemy’s shield and start eating into the ship itself. Once destroyed, the ships can leave behind upgrades, consumables and credits for you to loot.
You can elect to play a private game; however, at any time you can elect to open it up to be part of the persistent online world and take part in player versus player games or co-operate to take on the Dark Legion or undertake instance-like quests.
The graphics are gorgeous and conjure up the vibrant colours of some of the great NASA galaxy photos they have recently been releasing. Space is not barren apparently, with space junk, asteroids and other debris creating corridors and tunnels for you to navigate through. Sound effects and audio is good with a selection of space orchestration pieces to listen to as you mine.
This might all sound fantastic, but there is a dark side to this shining star. Despite all the depth and complexity that this game delivers, it lacks one fundamental but simple component: there are no real instructions. Sure, there the basic controls are set out in the help menu, but other than that there is a lot you have to “discover” about the game. It was a real chore for us to work out how the skill system worked, how the ship upgrades were done and even some of the finer controls were only discovered after trial and error. As one of our testers said, it is a real shame that there was not a more comprehensive tutorial. You feel like you are making mistakes and thrashing about for most of the early part of the game.
This could have been a great game. Heck, it still is, but it is a real shame they did not put more effort into the player instructions instead of relying on the player to work things out as they went on. Despite this, if you are a fan of space trading and combat games, this will light up your night sky and deliver you hours of happy game play.