Indie Space Combat Games – A Review

After posting our recent articles on Bioware, Star Wars the Old Republic and Mass Effect, I was curious to see what else there is to see in the world of space-themed games. Turning away from main stream titles I headed out to see what the indie industry came up with recently. Browsing through personal websites, indie forums and the one or other odd Google search, I wanted to make sure to find some of the lesser polished content out there. After all, for bug-tested software, I can go to GameStop. From browser games to downloadable titles, from strategy to arcade – I went out to see what the internet had to offer.

Spave Invader Games

Spave Invader Games

Starting out with the classics, the first game I ran into was Space Invader Games – A number of flash games that copy legendary game concepts like space invaders and other arcade favorites. Unfortunately the adaptions are a little lacking in creativity. It looks more like someone created 5 ship graphics and then tried to get as many games out of that as possible (all games use the same models). Reminds me a little of the click&play games on Windows 95 (or was it even Windows 3.11?) that allowed you to create your own (less-than-super) games by drag&drop. However, Star Reavers makes for a nice past time game for a 5-10 minute break.

My next candidate was Yet Another Space Shooter – YASS. Apparently developers in Germany are still on dial-up connection, judged by the download speed for the YASS client. After 5 hours of trying to download the 264MB demo I gave up. A pity.

With Naumachia I faced a similar issue. Just that here, there was no download link available at all. A quick look at the FAQ revealed that the release date is ‘yesterday’, though quite apparently it has been postponed. Nevertheless the alpha and beta videos are a pleasure to look at (and to listen to – it has a decent soundtrack). However, that’s about as much enjoyment as you’re going to get out of Aurea Sections’ soon to be released multiplayer space title.

Mars Lander is a close contender for the title ‘worst game I tried’ together with Space Invader Games. What makes it stand out a little is that it’s just so damn hard. Mars Lander reminds me very much of my very first computer game: It featured a guy jumping out of an airplane that had to be landed in a target area by moving the mouse left, right and up to control his descent. Quite difficult, if your 6 year old self hasn’t learned that you can move the mouse further left than the end of the table by picking it up and moving it back to the center.

Apparently space games either get their names of the shelf, or they just go for outright weird. Really Rather Good Battles in Space – or RRGBIS in short – probably belongs to the latter category. It was surprising to see during installation that the game came with its own soundtrack that later on turned out to be very much like the ambience soundtrack in Eve Online. Another ‘huh?’ were the spaceship models – which are actually hand-drawn and scanned. It definitely makes for a rather unique combination together with the arcade-like briefing and character graphics being on the screen at the same time as the space ship doodles. Unfortunately it’s a little broken graphics-wise and seems a little slow-paced. Part of it might also be the extremely big battlefield and slow ship movement. Some might appreciate the relief from 400 action-per-minute Starcraft matches though. All in all a curious experience, but not the incorporation of the next weekend-filling indie game.

Looking for the perfect combination of LSD and space combat game? Well, apparently there’s not only a shortage of supply, but also one of demand. At least that’s the reason why we haven’t seen any other games like Polynomial so far. Luckily for the takers, Dmytry comes to the rescue with Polynomial. Unfortunately this is one game I have to judge by screen shots alone. I couldn’t get it to run on my PC and unfortunately the readme.txt wasn’t of much help there either. The author promises to bugfix the game within a day for your graphics card – a noble offer – but that’s not what a quick space shoot ’em up should entail. Skipping the tech support and moving on.

The most promising title from the start seemed to be Continuum. Having been around for 15 years already, it seems to have acquired a very dedicated following. The community consists of different zones – each zone has their own following, league and regular players. You can imagine zones like individual maps which each are also on individually operated servers. You basically get thrown into a side-scrolling style space fighter that centers around capture the flag. The fast paced game also lives from the trash talk going on in the chat at the same time, though it’s difficult to follow that while you’re still busy trying to figure out where up and down, or in this case, left and right is. Continuum thrives on its community, dedicated players and long-time fans. However, this is also its biggest drawbacks, as you’ll keep running into veterans who can take you out with a casually fired shot while passing you by. Imagine a counter strike match, where you stumble around while opposing team players kill you ever other time with a glancing look – and accompanying head shot – before heading on to real opponents.

All in all the harvest from this evening of indie space shooters was quite mixed. In some cases it’s not only polish that’s lacking but playability altogether. What made up for it though and made this an enjoying evening were interesting concepts like RRGBIS’ hand-drawn ships, the obsessive challenge of getting the Mars Lander down safely or the lure of Continuums community made things interesting.

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