I’m speaking generically of course, but I love space as a setting. Star Trek, Star Wars, The Expanse: I lap them all up. One of my earliest experiences of the great black infinity in a gaming backdrop was the Escape Velocity series on the Apple Mac. It was a top-down 2D blast-em-up at heart. But young me projected all kinds of stories onto my journey through the game. Would I be a cargo pilot making lucrative runs between systems controlled by opposing factions? Or a small time pirate; bursting into government controlled sectors looting the weakest ships (not nice I know!) and then getting out before the local police could react? Or would I follow one of the game’s own story threads? The options felt limitless.
As games made the jump to 3D I have spent the intervening years (on and off – I’m not a nutcase!) looking for an open universe type space game with the same feeling of exploration and freedom. X3, Freelancer, Elite: Dangerous: I’ve played them all. I don’t want a game that’s going to take me 10 minutes crossing near empty vacuum to reach the next jump gate, only to die when I get there and have to pay 70 bajillion credits just to recover the ship which I bloody paid for in the first place!
So, calm voice now: let’s talk about Everspace. You’re lead into the “man forgets who is he is and has to fight to re-gain his memory” story via a comic-book style cut-in. It’s not very good and if I had to speculate I’d say this is where RockFish Games put the least of their development budget. Best case: it does act in giving you some motivation for why you’re making your journey. But honestly, the less said about the narrative the better.
Done better however, is your sense of place in an already existing universe. The Okkar and Outlaws seems to be two already established factions often duking it out when you enter a sector. Space is littered with debris from long-ago fought wars and mining companies go about their business on huge space stations, guarding their precious cargo inside massive space freighters. Add that in alongside an AI who resides in your ship, feeding you tidbits of information on what happening before you arrived and it’s easy to believe you’re just one more pilot in a whole galaxy of action.
If you’ve played any space dog-fighting game since pretty much Colony Wars on the PSX you’ll know how Everspace handles. Thumbsticks control pitch and yaw. Triggers shoot and ancillaries like drones, missiles and cloaking devices are evenly spread out amongst the remainder of the buttons. A little reticule appears close to enemy targets telling you where to aim for best results. Controls are tight and responsive with an immediately noticeable difference depending on the type of craft you’re behind the wheel of, so-to-speak.
The result is that swooping around from sector to procedurally generated sector is an absolute blast. You’ll find yourself ducking and weaving between space debris, enemy ships and ancient space stations in no time. Space is packed with obstacles and antagonists and optical flow means fights have a real sense of speed. You feel like an absolute rock star as you unload a full charge of your Gatling gun into the side of an unsuspecting foe before adjusting course and tucking in behind an asteroid just as they’re about to return fire.
I mentioned above what an absolute ball ache it is to drag your behind all the way across a system in A.N Other space game just to progress. Well, RockFish has a neat solution for this. In each sector your on-board computer generates an exit point for the area of space you’re in almost immediately. All you have to do is point your targeting reticule in the direction of the icon and a jump point appears. Of course just doing that in each system defeats the point of the game but, as someone the wrong side of 30 with a young family, I love that RockFish respects my time! It’s one of a number of neat little touches constantly reminding me how much thought has gone into what actually makes a game like this fun.
Death in Everspace, when it comes (and it will come) is encouraged rather than punished. Your starting ship, the Interceptor, is the veritable jack of all trades – pretty average across the board. This is where the game earns it’s rogue-like chops. Each run sees you hoovering up credits. Get enough of these and you can unlock perks which improve your ship as well as countless other passive skills to make your next run last that little bit longer!
The best of the best in genre (I’m looking at you Spelunky) know exactly how much new content, abilities and upgrades to drip feed the player to make pressing continue one more time an inevitability rather than a choice. I would put Everspace in that very top tier. I’m an addict. Just when I thought I was getting to grips with the Interceptor the game prompted me unlock the second of three available ships. Small, nimble and fragile I thought I would hate it. But ah ha Rockfish said. Have a cloaking device. Absolute game changer. Suddenly I could unleash a barrage of missiles, cloak and pop up several kilometres away to rain down hell all over again. There’s a third ship type too and all three have their own unique perks to be upgraded – there’s hours and hours of time to be eaten up should you choose.
Dig a little deeper into the game’s sub-systems and there’s plenty to be upgraded as you go along too. Each sector has a huge number of natural resources to be farmed (read: shot.) If you find your homing laser doesn’t quite eat enough shields or your cloaking device doesn’t last last long enough it’s no sweat. Just upgrade it! Resources are lost every time you die, but that’s a huge part of the beauty of Everspace – every run is different.
But beauty is skin deep for Everspace too. Asteroids, huge mining platforms, Capital ships – even black holes! – are rendered beautifully. The first time you see a cosmic storm is breath-taking. Huge sector wide space wars explode in front of you with nary a hitch to be seen in the frame rate. If I had to nit-pick, icons in the periphery of your vision indicating what else there is to be discovered sometimes don’t show up too well against the background. But it’s small fry when set against the backdrop of the game’s many, many achievements.
I play with a headset on and weapons make all the noises you would expect from fictional laser cannons and torpedoes. Likewise, the music serves it’s purpose, picking up during fights and dropping off exactly when it should. There aren’t too many tracks that will stay with me once I’ve stopped playing but there’s nothing offensive either.