Of all the many video game species that have gone extinct in my lifetime, I think I miss the single player spaceship sim the most. Oh sure, there are games out there like EVE Online and Elite: Dangerous. But for those of us who fell in love with the old X-Wing series (especially its pinnacle title, Tie Fighter), Wing Commander, and the oft unjustly overlooked Descent: Freespace (Freespace 2, really, is the one I miss most) it’s been a long couple of decades without some serious pew-pewing.
With all the upgrades in graphics and gameplay in the intervening decades (not to mention the complete rebirth of the Star Wars franchise and the current Sci Fi renaissance), it’s almost shocking that we haven’t gotten something in the vein of these rightfully revered classics. Yet here we are in 2017 and our best hopes for something that might be somewhat similar are basically Star Citizen and ummmmm…
Yeah, it’s going to be a while before we can get our space on again.
Other, smaller developers have occasionally deigned to try to pick up the slack. One of those is ROCKFISH (rockFISH!!) and their PC/VR Rogue-like EVERSPACE (EVER… oh, come on. Can’t we do all this without the shouting?).
Questionable capitalizations aside, EVERSPACE looked darned interesting in Early Access and has some solid buzz at release. So is this the space sim I’ve been desperately waiting for?
The story, as we know it
You play a singular pilot of a singular fighter ship (though more can be earned over time). You wake up, amnesia’d, with only a few cryptic flashbacks and a snarky, disembodied Brit to help guide you. Who are you? Why are you in this spaceship? What secrets does this universe hold?
Seriously, who gives a crap?
The story here is only the thinnest veneer of narrative to tie the action together and drive you forward. You will be flying through space, hopping from sector to sector FTL-style, blowing up bad guys, and collecting resources. Eventually you will leap forward to a place that will reveal your true destiny or whatever.
Let’s move on to something that’s actually worth spending time on.
Judge a book by its cover
The story may not be much to look at, but EVERSPACE, itself, is gorgeous. This is one good looking game, putting even some AAA works to shame. The universe is bright, colorful, and filled with interesting creations. This is a place I want to explore, putting the lie to the idea that a true space environment must be, by necessity, empty and dull.
Ships are also visually appealing, though I do wish the enemy fighters were a bit more distinctive. Overall the design of the world works. It feels believable as a place that exists, which is no small feat for such a fictional world.
Sound design on the other hand is… fine. The music is actually really nice, though there’s not a ton of variety. The voice of your pilot-self is straight up Johnny Generic, but the Alfred the Butler rip off who accompanies you is well done. He’s just the right mixture of supporting and critical, to the point where I felt his compliments were often reward enough for a job well done.
Ship sounds, however, especially weapons fire, feel underpowered. This is a serious problem for a space sim. A lot of the immersion in a game like this comes from the ambient effects and while it’s never bad or off, it falls far short of perfection. That may not sound like much of a ding, but imagine a game like Forza where the engines all sound weak and tinny and you can see how this might pull you out of the action. I want my ship to roar with acceleration, my bullets to BOOM BOOM BOOM out of the muzzle, raining fiery death on my enemies. I don’t care if this is the vacuum of space! Instead it feels like I’m playing a video game. Which is fine… I guess.
All the good looks in the world won’t matter if your ship can’t get off the ground. So how does the gameplay do?
Your ship in EVERSPACE is designed to be controlled with a mouse and keyboard (unless you’re playing it in VR, where a joystick is recommended). I’m sure this is disappointing to all the stick jockeys out there looking for a real pilot-y feel. However the controls work well for the most part.
WASD moves your ship and the mouse lets you aim and fire. There are a couple other controls for boosts and weapons, etc. However, there is no way to look up what the controls do. God forbid you forget which key is for boosting. The game tells you once, as part of the tutorial, and that’s it. You can’t pause and look it up. There’s no menu up front to remind you of the controls. You either have to start the game from scratch and do the tutorial over (take notes!) or hunt and peck and see what happens. That is uniquely dumb (there’s also a wiki, but guess what isn’t listed there?).
Assuming you remember which keys do what, you’ll spend most of the game warping into a new sector, exploring for resources, shooting at baddies, and jumping to the next sector. Each sector is procedurally generated which should lead to surprises but actually leaves things feeling very same-y. Just about every spot you explore will have the same five things, and after awhile it kills the fun.
I think about Dragon Age: Inquisition or the recent Zelda game, where even just wandering randomly led to all sorts of exciting, interesting discoveries. EVERSPACE does not have that. If you’ve seen one fuel depot, you’ve seen them all. There are moments that feel like they could be revelatory – slowly floating into the shell of an abandoned ship, blasting through asteroid caves, discovering a lost recording from a crashed ship. These should be unique, memorable moments that I’m talking about for days afterwards. Instead it’s just, “there’s that abandoned ship again.” The wonder of exploration is quickly lost as a result.
And you’ll be doing a lot of exploring in order to get necessary resources. Your ship needs fuel to make the sector jumps, doohickeys to repair the ship, thingamabobs to upgrade systems, and widgets to purchase supplies. I’m almost positive those are the names for these things. Just jumping from sector to sector will leave your ship underpowered for the advanced threats. However, hanging around can get you in all kinds of trouble.
There are enemy ships which will attack you on sight. There are also neutrals who will destroy you if you start futzing with their things. There’s a nice risk/reward set-up here where all the good stuff is well-guarded and even the crappy stuff has a drone or two and so you’re constantly weighing how much you really want to risk death for a geegaw.
Space sims are mostly based around dog fighting, and here EVERSPACE acquits itself well, though not perfectly. Every review I’ve read of the game has described the ship feel as being “off” or “floaty” and I have to agree. It’s not the kind of thing I’ve been able to put my finger on, but something about flight just doesn’t feel exactly right. It’s like the difference between playing some random dude’s FPS vs Halo. There’s a certain “there” that’s just not there with EVERSPACE.
The fighting itself is good but missing a certain something. While it is fun to chase around two or three enemy fighters, there doesn’t seem to be enough strategic options except for chase and fire. You can do the whole Battlestar Galactica thing where you float backwards and fire forwards, so that’s pretty cool.
You start with three weapon types: mass throwers to bust hulls, lasers to break shields, and missiles for when you can’t hit anything, so you just fire off as much as you can and pray. Players will discover other weapons, mostly just variations on those themes but with better firing rates or stronger damage.
Ideally, you’re lasering down the enemy shields then switching to projectiles to finish them off. Unfortunately, however, the way that enemy hit points show up on your HUD makes it really hard to make out whether they have shields or not, especially when in the heat of battle. I’m lining up my shot, spinning away from enemy fire, squinting at my screen to see if it’s time to switch weapons. That takes a lot of the fun out of it.
Death be not proud
There’s another thing you’ll be doing in EVERSPACE and that’s dying. A lot. This game takes the Rogue-like title seriously. A bit too seriously, if I’m being honest.
Maybe I’m just a poor pilot, but I spent a lot of this game watching myself go boom. Of course, a lot of these games start out that way, but then you slowly build up resources, improve your ship, and turn into the universe’s one and only badass.
This happens in EVERSPACE, too… At least theoretically. In practice, EVERSPACE is one of the most parsimonious, mean-spirited games I’ve ever encountered. You can collect all kinds of helpful resources throughout the game, but the only thing you can keep between runs is the cash.
This can be spent to upgrade your ship before you go out into the deadly darkness. However, any money you don’t spend between lives is lost forever. So there’s no saving up for big purchases. Buy that semi-useless scanner upgrade or just kiss your cash goodbye. Worse (yes, it gets worse), you’re almost never just buying an upgrade. Instead, each improvement must be purchased in increments.
For example, let’s say you’d like another weapon slot on your ship. First, you pay a bunch of money to open the category of weapon slots. Then you pay again to move one quarter of the way towards the upgrade. That’s right, you must make four (not small) down payments before just getting the baseline upgrade for your ship. And that’s the case with almost everything you can buy.
Progression is just so slow that the goal of getting better is almost impossibly far away. And so the enjoyment is also often very much out of reach.
Let’s blow this thing and go home
EVERSPACE is not a bad game by any means. There are times when it is even fun. But repetitive gameplay, an imperfect flight feel, and a downright cruel system for improvements makes it often add up to something less than it ought to be.
At $29.99 currently on Steam, it feels a little dear. But – BUT – EVERSPACE is also an experience that is constantly evolving. What we have now has definitely improved from its time in Early Access. If the developers are willing to continue with that process – add more content, fine tune the flight model, maybe make upgrading a bit less onerous – I think there’s a seed for something special here. And there are always sales.
Also of note for those who care about these things: EVERSPACE is VR-ready. I wasn’t able to try it out on that platform, but if you have a serious rig then that might make the difference. The graphics really seem like they’d be something else and I can imagine VR adding a lot of value to the experience.
I don’t hate EVERSPACE. I just don’t love it either. But if you miss this genre like I do and can get it cheap, EVERSPACE might be right up your (space) alley.
TL;DR: EVERSPACE is a beautiful space sim game high on graphics and even higher on expectations. Combat can be cool and exploration is sometimes interesting, but it’s very uneven and gets repetitive quickly. The system for upgrading your ship, however, is downright evil and drains a lot of the fun from the game. Those looking for a leisurely stroll through space will be disappointed, but if you like a challenge, EVERSPACE might be for you.
You might like this game if:
- You miss the good old days of space sims like X-Wing, Wing Commander, and Freespace
- You like a tough game that gives no quarter
- You’re looking for a quick, jump-in jump-out dogfighter
You might NOT like this game if:
- You need games to feel finely tuned and be fully featured
- You cannot abide by a flight sim that doesn’t work with a flight stick
- You value gameplay over graphics
Joshua played for 15+ hours on a Powerspec g313 with an Intel i5 6600k processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070