Tag Archives: Space

Weird Worlds – Return to Infinite Space Review: Something like a roguelike in space?!

It occurred to me once that Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space would make a pretty cool addition to the iOS gaming scene. Happily, it must also have occurred to someone whose opinion actually matters, because Weird Worlds is now available for iOS exclusively for the iPad. And I’m calling it the first notable release of 2011~!!

Have you ever wondered how a roguelike might play out if, oh say … the dungeon were instead the black of space? And your rogue were replaced by a starship? If ponderings such as these keep you up at night — I never sleep at all, I spend so much time thinking about such things — then Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space may be just the answer you’ve been seeking.

Weird Worlds is a game of space exploration and survival, set in a randomly generated universe each time you play. Beginning the game, you are given the choice of three starships in which to make your explorations of Sector Prime: a Science Vessel, a Pirate Corvette or a Terran Frigate. You may also set parameters for your universe including map size, nebula mass and enemy strength. You are given a limited number of years in which to explore the created universe — 20 years on a Medium sized map — and must return to the Glory system within that time to report your findings, else suffer stiff fines for defaulting on your contract.

Depending upon your ship choice, your primary and secondary objectives will vary. The goal of science missions to to catalog new lifeforms and to map as much of Sector Prime as possible. As a pirate privateer, your goal is simply to grab anything of value you can find: technology, alien artifacts, lifeforms, weapons and even hostages. And as captain of a military frigate, you are tasked to make First Contact with alien races, to determine whether they are peaceful or pose a threat to Terran interests; as a secondary goal, obtain any technologies, artifacts or information which may be useful for military purposes.

Embarking from the Glory system, Sector Prime becomes your playground as you venture from system-to-system discovering new planets, new lifeforms and many exciting space treasures. Travel amongst the stars takes time, however, and so it is always important to mind the date that you might return to Glory in time (the only way to ensure a good endgame score!).

There is much to be found in Sector Prime. New weapons and shields bolster your combat abilities, while allies may join your fleet to give you an even greater edge in hostile situations. Improved scanners can help you to make better decisions as you plot your course through the system, while faster propulsion drives will help to reduce your transit time between worlds, allowing you to explore more of the sector before your deadline comes looming. Drones can repair your damaged ship or provide other benefits, and artifacts and captured lifeforms may be exchanged in trade with other species, sometimes at currency value and sometimes in 1:1 trades regardless of an item’s inherent value (the Klakar are suckers!).

Events occur randomly as you travel the systems. You may encounter other lifeforms in healthy exchange, engage them in deadly combat, or encounter terrorists who will rob you of your cargo. There’s no telling what may occur in the black of space, where good decision making is the only thing that separates the living from the dead.

Likes:

Bite-sized Spacefaring: Most space games are epic in scale, such that you may never see the end of the game, if the game even has an ending; many do not. A game of Weird Worlds will rarely last more than 30 minutes, making it ideal for quick bursts of quality spacefaring.

Random Encounters: There’s a lot to see and do in Sector Prime, and you’re not going to discover all the game has to offer in a single go, nor even in several. I think gamers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of content there is to discover in the game on return sessions.

Variety: The different ship/mission types vary the goals of each game and change the way the game is played. Military missions favor an aggressive approach, while science missions had better avoid combat whenever possible. The objectives of your mission will motivate you to trade differently, and so prioritize your explorations in different ways. Combined with the many diverse random encounters to be had, Weird Worlds provides excellent replay value.

Visual and Audio Presentation: Weird Worlds is a great looking game. Space is pretty, and the game is full of original artwork. Ambient radio transmissions, interference and ship chatter help to set the mood.

Combat: Combat happens in real-time, putting you in control of your fleet and issuing orders to attack or retreat. During battle, the view shifts away from the starmap to a zoomed-in, tactical view of your ship and the opposing forces. Here you can plot the movement of your ships, target opposing vessels, launch fighters and fire your weapons. Ships may be boarded, destroyed or run away from. Hell, if you get desperate you can even ram enemies with your ships!

Do you remember Warpgate and how it was an awesomely impressive game in almost every conceivable way, except having combat that dragged the game headfirst into the muck and grime of Yoda’s swamp, and not just any part of the swamp, but the part where Yoda poops? Combat in Weird Worlds is nothing like that. In fact, Warpgate would have been a much better game had it simply aped Weird World’s combat wholesale. Yeah Freeverse, I’m talking to you. Look here and see real-time, tactical space combat done right. Do you see how it doesn’t suck? Do you see how it doesn’t bring down the entire game?!

Dislikes:

Small UI Elements: With the iPad’s big, beautiful display, there’s really no excuse for so many of the user-interface elements to be so frustratingly tiny. Every one of the game’s buttons — cargo and ship access, help/description icons, text buttons, close window buttons, etc. — is just too friggin’ small. They’re difficult to hit with any accuracy at all, so it’s lucky that buttons are usually (not always) spaced out enough that there’s nothing else to hit by mistake. Star systems can be difficult to select on the map, and you will often have to stab repeatedly at your destination before it will register for travel. Enlarging the sensitivity areas around systems would really help the game out. These issues really should be addressed by the developer at some point, so here’s to hoping …

A Little Rough Around the Edges: Having been ported from desktop operating systems, Weird Worlds is still a little rough around the edges. You will catch some of the tutorials referring to mouse clicks and movements rather than touch-interface controls, such as in the combat tutorial. I’ve also experienced some lag and unresponsiveness when dragging items between my cargo bay and the shop. The game suffers from occasional frame-rate drops and stutters; as the game does not require fast reflexes, this is usually not enough to hamper play, though it is fairly annoying. Hopefully these are issues that will be resolved in the game’s first update, whenever that comes.

Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space takes out a new lease on life on the iPad. The game has been around for more than five years now, and holds up incredibly well to the ravages of time. The game is every bit as fun as it ever was, and makes an ideal fit for the iPad. While many of the UI elements are too small to be comfortable, the touch-interface is functional and does work really well for a game like this one; hopefully the developers will work to improve the interface in updates. Spacefaring gamers should definitely find Weird Worlds a worthy addition to their gaming library, and fans of roguelikes should also find a lot to like in the game.

Weird Words: Return to Infinite Space is developed by Digital Eel and Astraware Limited, and is available exclusively for the iPad [$4.99]. Reviewed at version 1.00.000 on an iPad.

Galaxy on Fire 2 Review: Tough to Get Into, Totally Worth the Pain

Galaxy on Fire 2 is a type of game that has plagued me for my whole gaming life. It’s a very complex, technically challenging, and wide open sort of game that, to a certain extent, makes the more linear individual wonder what the hell you’re supposed to do.

Even after several hours of play (spread over a good number of days) I don’t feel like I’ve gotten very far. In fact, it took me ages to feel comfortable enough to write this review and even still I don’t really feel like I’ve plumbed the depths of the game.

This should be a pretty darn encouraging thing for those of you who love and adore these types of experiences. There will be no shortage of stuff to do. I promise. My sister has played a total of 7 hours so far and hasn’t yet tired of it or felt like she was nearing the end.

So, I’m going to focus on the mechanics of the game. Once you get used to them, they’re pretty great.

At first I was put off by the simple fact that you don’t get to control the speed of your ship. That’s tough for me. I like to really feel like I’m driving the thing and at first I didn’t at all. Of course, I feel the same way about EVE Online so…

What you do control is your weapons and all other aspects of piloting which, is not at all easy. You will very quickly be glad you don’t have to worry about the throttle. You have a choice accelerometer control or onscreen d-pad control. Personally I find the onscreen d-pad more rewarding and I feel less self conscious using it on the bus. It’s totally a matter of personal preference though.

Navigation is done through a nifty system of target and then jump which I find quite fun and further eliminates that nagging desire for a throttle. As Douglas Adams said, ‘space is big’, so there’s no real need to vary your throttle.

Combat is as expected although you have the ability to set your weapons to auto fire which is more helpful than you can know. Mining is one of the chief ways you make money in GOF2 and this I find to be the most frustrating element. It is TRULY DIFFICULT. It takes practice and has made me put the game down more than once in frustration.

Still, it is worth pushing through it and learning. Don’t forget to play with your control sensitivity. This will help…a lot!

Galaxy on Fire 2 is so big and complex I could just sit here and ramble. Instead, just do yourself a favor and buy it. You won’t regret it. It’s one of those epic games that even if you don’t play it right away, you won’t be sorry to have so you can pick at it. That’s exactly how GTA: Chinatown Wars is for me. Like Galaxy on Fire 2, my iPhone is never without it.

Likes

Gameplay: Perfectly rock solid gameplay makes this game one of those ‘Holy crap this is better than the PSP’ kind of games. There is nothing lacking here.

Graphics: Just absolutely gorgeous top notch visuals that all by themselves will make you happy you bought it. It REALLY shows off what iOS and it’s devices are capable of.

Depth: There’s no end in sight. It just keeps going, and going, and going.

Dislikes

Gameplay: I wish it was a little easier to get into at first. That first hump is really hard to get over and there was serious danger of losing me there.

Galaxy on Fire 2 is a must. Even if you don’t normally play these kinds of games, you should buy it. It proves that your iPhone IS a gaming platform and perfect to show of to your unbelieving friends. There’s more than enough fun here for the most demanding player and still fun to be had if only as a novelty. This is all not to mention that the game is universal and looks AMAZING on the iPad.

Galaxy on Fire 2 is developed by Fishlabs and is available on the iPhone/iPad for $6.99. It was reviewed at version 1.0.3 on my iPhone 4.


Warpgate HD Review: Out of this World

I’ve never been a big fan of space traders and such on any platform; they never hit me as interesting.  Outer Empires MMO almost caught my attention into the space trading genre, but in the end, it didn’t capture me enough to keep playing over and over.  As I’m more into action and epic storylines, buying low and selling high isn’t exactly my idea for a game.

But Warpgate HD took me totally by surprise, as it plays like no other space trader I’ve played.  The storyline, one of a conspiracy theory of someone trying to create war between the N.S.E. and the Ecclesiastory, is intriguing and easy to follow.  Dialogue boxes are well put together so that the player can follow along with the story, and much of it is far from broken.

Along with an intriguing storyline, the action is present.  While the fights aren’t extremely complex and fleshed out, it’s enough to have you sitting on the edge of the seat, wondering if your skimpy ship can defeat the enemy.  All in all, this is a space trader you shouldn’t be missing.

Likes

Graphics: The background environments along with the ship graphics are very impressive, and I never knew Freeverse could produce at such a quality level.  Sure, I’ve played some of their Mac games and enjoyed them, but Warpgate HD looks absolutely beautiful; it sure beats Gameloft’s graphics out of the water.  You won’t find many flaws with the appearance, and if you do, I will be surprised.  This is the best-looking game I have seen on the App Store so far, and it should stay that way for a long time.

Sweet beats: The epic battle song/background music is well-composed, and it definitely added to much of the immersion effect.  During a battle, the background music helped you to get into the cockpit and fire those missiles, and while you’re cruising through the galaxy, epic music will still be playing to keep you alert and on your feet.  I thought the audio was very well done, and it definitely adds a lot to the gameplay.

Tons of things to do: Warpgate is, more or less, and open world space game.  There are so many locations to travel to, so many planets to land on, and so many missions to accomplish.  I usually like to finish the main storyline before moving on to the extras, but it would take so many more hours to visit everywhere.  While some people may find themselves overwhelmed with the sheer size of Warpgate, I found it to be welcoming and one of the most expansive games on the App Store.

Tons of things to buy: You have a lot to do and a lot to buy.  Ships, weapons, commodities; this thing is packed with items.  I have no clue how many weapons, ships, and commodities there are exactly, but I can tell you that there are A LOT.  There’s a new weapon and/or ship on almost every single planet (which should be way over 100).

Content: You won’t run out of things to do in a few hours, let alone a few days.  Over 100 main missions should last you more than enough time to get your $7.99 worth out of it.

This is a steal: $7.99 will get you a premium game on the IPHONE. A premium game on the iPad has been set by EA as $14.99, and Warpgate is much more than anything EA has to offer.  If you look at the price tag as expensive, I suggest you go see the doctor to check out your eyesight.

Dislikes

Multi-touch scrolling: I might be doing this wrong, or the multi-touch may just be broken.  Zooming in with two fingers works perfectly fine, but when I’m trying to use my fingers to scroll left and right, it doesn’t exactly work.  I have to force my fingers to move the camera angle multiple times, and it usually refuses to budge much.  It does start to get annoying after a while, and if I’m doing it wrong, please correct me via comments.

Combat system: I think the combat could have been spiced up a bit more, as the one right now is more about monitoring your health and pressing buttons once they turn green.  The weapons themselves are impressive, but the combat could be improved with maybe no homing-missile system, a turn-based combat system, or something else that I can’t think of.  The current one isn’t bad, it’s just not good.

Earning the dough: Like the real world, earning money can be a pain.  Buying low and selling high is easy enough once you know where the cheap stuff are, but it starts to get pretty monotonous when you’re trying to turn $2000 to $10,000.  This is the “grind” part of the game, and while it’s necessary, I found it quite dull.

Warpgate HD is currently the best the App Store has to offer.  It has a few problems like I mentioned above, but the epic storyline, breathtaking graphics, and sweet battle background music makes this a game that’s unrivaled.  It would be nice if Freeverse updated according to the dislikes I had with the game, but again, Warpgate HD should be one of the must have games you need on your “magical” iPad.

Warpgate HD was developed by Freeverse, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPad.  The price is $7.99.


Flatspace Review: Deep Space, Now With Depth

It may be considered the Final Frontier, but space is a place I visit often in video game form. Any time a promising new space game hits, I get excited. And so I was jazzed to get my hands on Flatspace, the debut App Store release from Wisp Games.

Flatspace is an epic, open space role-playing game. At the outset, you create your ship captain and assign him/her a profession from among Trader, Mercenary, Bounty Hunter, Space Pirate, Police Officer or Scavenger. The game randomly assigns you Training and Specialty, affecting the role of your captain aboard ship. Examples of Training include maintenance, medical and security; maintenance helps with ship repairs, security officers can be used to confine passengers/prisoners aboard ship, and medical crew work to get your other crew members back on their feet after injuries. Specialties have no impact on the game, and are there just for fun. Depending upon your chosen profession, you begin the game in a particular type of ship, and you may begin with some small amount of personal wealth.

The game takes place in a distant future, when the universe has expanded so much that things have just come apart and flattened out.

In the beginning, the universe was curved, vibrant, energetic, alive. As aeons passed, all matter drifted apart, drifted so far that planets crumbled to rocky masses, stars died and became listless nebulae, and all that was left was darkness. Cold. Flat.

The universe is void, without habitable planets. Those who have survived the decline of the cosmos now live aboard their ships or on space stations, and in this world you must make your way, carving out your own story as you go. Set adrift in space, your general goals are to earn money, explore the galaxy, complete missions and to purchase bigger, better ships and armaments. To “win” Flatspace, you can assemble the four components of the intergalactic hyperdrive, but … it’s all about the journey, and not so much the destination. Space is your sandbox; go blow stuff up.

In Flatspace, your ship configuration will determine how you play the game. Ships come in various shapes and sizes, with the larger ships naturally being able to fit more gear. And it’s the type and amount of gear that will dictate your options in space. For example, if you want to bring aboard salvage or passengers, you will need a tractor beam. Several types are available; some can pick up people (Man Trap), while others pick up asteroids or cargo (Hoover).

Scanners are also important. Trade scanners can tell you the imports and exports at a space port, helping you to determine how to maximize your profit. Bounty scanners can help you locate ships with bounties to collect; more advanced versions can also help you to judge an opponent’s armament and defensive capability. Cargo scanners can tell you what a ship is carrying; rough them up a little, then demand they hand over the goods. Whatever your profession, scanners will be paramount to getting the job done. Without them, you’re flying blind.

Additionally, you can equip your ships with various types of generators, guns, energy weapons, missiles, radar arrays, shields, medical droids and more. Later in the game, with larger ships at your disposal, you can also equip defensive turrets and fill your hangar with fighters.

As you navigate the galaxy, you will inevitably cross paths with other vessels, some hostile and others not. Space pirates, police forces, traders and bounty hunters flit amongst the stars. By bringing down pirates, you win bounties; but slay innocents and a bounty may be put upon your head. Police and bounty hunters will attack on sight, and your only recourse is to pay heavy fines at police stations to have the bounty lifted.

Likes:

Depth: Flatspace promises an open world and delivers on it. Have ship, do as you please; the game offers levels of customization rarely seen, and how you fit your ship has an incredible impact on how you play the game.

There is loads to do in this game. Missions include rescuing prisoners, destroying enemies, ferrying passengers between stations and delivering cargo. You can accept bounties from police stations, trade at space ports, devote yourself to a life of crime and plunder, or just explore the galaxy. When encountering other ships and space ports, you can open communication to demand the captain’s surrender, cargo or passengers, request permission to dock, call for police backup or assistance, or request aid repairing your ship and equipment.

In combat, your ship’s components take damage. You might find your weapons, thrusters or hyperdrive offline, crippling your ship. Adaptability in combat is important.

Variety & Customization: As I’ve already said, it’s really up to you how to load out your ship and how to play the game. With so many options, Flatspace provides almost infinite replay value.

Visuals: Ships and space stations are rendered using three-dimensional polygonal graphics, and look quite good. Space is full of gaseous formations and colors, giving each sector of the galaxy it’s own look and adding enjoyment to exploration. When ships make hyperdrive jumps, the lens flare effects are very nice. Space has rarely looked better on the iPhone. If only the same could be said for the interface (see below).

Sound: Flatspace sounds pretty good, especially with headphones on. The synthesized soundtrack by Mark Sheeky is varied and appropriately spacey, and makes for good listening while you play. The soundtrack is also available for purchase on iTunes. The sound effects are effective as well. Too many independent developers overlook the importance of audio presentation in their games, but Flatspace nails it.

Dislikes:

Ship Collisions: Ship collisions in space are a peeve of mine. The likelihood of two objects colliding in space, rather than one passing above or below the other, is actually very small. It’s a three dimensional space, and a large one at that. It’s like trying to knock a baseball out of the air by throwing another baseball at it; not bloody likely. Also consider that ships — unlike baseballs — have pilots at the helm. Greater than ninety-nine percent of the time, one pilot or the other would surely manage to avert collision, unless one of them really, desperately wanted to crash their ship into the other (and there’s no reason to do that in this game). While ship collisions can make for incredible drama in film or television, they just plain suck in video games.

User Interface: Between the ship and weapons controls, menu and navigation buttons, damage indicators, radar display and status notifications, Wisp crams a lot things onscreen at once. It would be nice to somehow see the clutter reduced. The scan button, for example, could be done away with completely by tying the scanner into the targeting button.

Menus & Stats: The menus in Flatspace are just ugly. All menus use the same generic background image, which isn’t very attractive to begin with. Green blocks and an unattractive font make up the buttons. Statistic reports fare no better, I’m afraid. The information seems poorly organized and presented, which ultimately makes it difficult to follow. The menus and reports could benefit greatly by the implementation of icons, colors and layout.

Equipment, for instance, should have icons representing guns, energy weapons, missiles, shields, scanners, etc. In shops, equipped items should be displayed in a separate color than items for purchase. Presently, it’s all lumped into the same list, all the same color, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell what category of equipment an item belongs to.

Ship stats and fittings windows should just be nicer to look at. For example, show the listing in one color and the value in another; “Class” in white, and “Gladius MkI” in yellow, for example. The black box in which this information is displayed is also too transparent; sitting atop the menu items, the information is even harder to read.

Not Enough Options: I’d like to see a few more options included in the game. From the Main Menu, you can access an options menu to change sound volumes and to make in-game menus opaque rather than semi-transparent. Additions I’d like to see are sensitivity adjustments for the accelerometer, the ability to rearrange user interface buttons, and perhaps an option to invert ship steering. Most of all, though, I’d like on option to turn off asteroid targeting. Playing as a bounty hunter, I have no reason to scan asteroids; but when I try to target another ship in an asteroid belt, it’s nearly impossible to target anything but rocks.

Controls: Ship controls are tied to the accelerometer. Rotating your device slightly left or right rotates your ship, while a Thrust button propels you forward. I have personally always preferred controls as seen in Void or Stellar Blaster, where a see-saw tilt allows you to rotate your ship. It would be nice to have the option here.

That’s a matter of preference, though. Setting that aside, Flatspace’s controls remain clunky and imprecise. It’s something that could easily be refined in an update, and I really hope Wisp will continue to work on the feel of the accelerometer control for the next release.

No Orientation: Flatspace is deep, and that means a steep learning curve. The game offers some tips during load screens, but otherwise does not contain any type of tutorial information. Wisp promises tutorial videos in the works for YouTube, but that doesn’t really excuse the fact that there’s so little in-game help. Some of the menu screens do have help buttons, but remain skimpy on information. A map key would be really nice, as well as a brief tutorial demonstration of game controls and concepts. For example, I’m still fuzzy on the relationship between the Core Generator and ship energy consumption by shields, weapons and … well, I don’t even know what all consumes energy …

This review really only scratches the surface of Flatspace. To really hit on every aspect of the game would require multiple play throughs using different types of professions and ships, and by the time that review got written the game would be too old to be reviewed as a new release. There’s just that much content here to be explored.

Overall, Flatspace is a great game, but still rough around the edges. The lack of final polish, including unrefined controls and ugly menus, can be easily forgiven considering the scope of the game. The game could probably have benefited from some additional development time, but Wisp has promised at least two updates in the pipeline, and so there’s reason to hope that the polish will come.

The App Store is rife with space games, many making promises on which they do not deliver. Flatspace is the game to put the rest to shame. If you’re a fan of computer games like EV Nova or Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space, then you’re going to love Flatspace. It is the only game I’ve played on the iPhone that lives up to the promise of being a true open space role-playing game, and there’s no other game on the device that I know of — space themed or otherwise — that allows so many different approaches to gameplay.

And in addition to the standard game, there are also custom and arcade modes. In a custom game, you can setup parameters for your universe, dictating whether your universe includes space pirates or police, and the frequency of space stations, asteroids and nebulae. If you’re a fan of space trading games, but would rather not be hampered by combat, then create a custom game without pirates and live the quiet life of a merchant. Or take the opposite course, create a galaxy with only pirates and fight to your dying breath.

Arcade mode puts you in a fighter craft against increasing numbers of opponents as levels increase, making the game a survival space shooter. Great when you need a quick fix of space carnage.

Being a gamer, I have often wished I had the know-how to create my own game. That game, I have often thought, would be an open space simulation in which players would be able to play the game according to their own whims. Players should be able to choose to play as a lone fighter pilot, or to helm a battlestar armed with cannons, turrets and a full compliment of fighters; they should be able to play as space pirates, traders, miners, military or whatever. It’s the game I’ve always wanted on my iPhone. But now that I have Flatspace, I can stop imagining my perfect game; while it’s not everything I want, it’s very close to it. In fact, Wisp has produced a game so close to the one I’ve always imagined, I’m thinking I should next set them to work finding the girl of my dreams to see whether they can repeat the success.

buy

Flatspace is developed by Wisp Games and was reviewed at version 1.0.0 on an iPhone 3G. The game costs $2.99.

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