Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Game Review - Ancient Space

Game Review: Ancient Space
Score: +6/-7

Summary: Ancient Space is a bit short at just 15 missions and boring skirmishes. The story is not bad, with interesting plot twists that are not afraid to kill off main characters. The has a lot of the more advanced/clever RTS features, and the design has a lot of potential for future development in an "Ancient Space II" sequel. If you like Company of Heroes or Star Wars: Empire at War, you'll like Ancient Space.
Gameplay is basically crafted scenarios and there is modest carry-over from one Mission to the next in upgrade components, officers, and the number of uses of officer powers per Mission. Although some have criticized this, I think this is a conservative choice to try to get a handle on Mission difficulty and gameplay experience. The first Battle for Middle Earth had the problem where you carried over all your experienced units and ended up with a powerful force at the start of every Mission and mowed everything down without losing whole squads, even at highest difficulty. Not surprisingly they dropped this in the sequel. Too much carry-over adds up and can wreck scenario creation. Or they could anticipate it but end up ruining the game for players who want to play faster rather than painstakingly collect every advantage for the future.
Despite the drawbacks, I did really enjoy the game, which had both exciting and relaxing moments. For optimal gameplay experience I recommend playing on the lowest difficulty (Explorer Scientist) but use no Officer powers.
+ Broad selection of units as well as mobile unit production give you different ways to approach the Missions. Not all of them are optimal but at least you have the choice, and the choices are supported by the upgrades you can choose for your flagship. Upgrades to the non-flagship units could be made to have more of an effect, however. As it is, they really don't matter.
++ Allowing you to steal enemy units makes for even broader tactical choices and overall interestingness. Often people like to try playing the enemy and this is a nice way to do it instead of making a completely new faction. A lot of untapped potential here.
+- Generally a good range of play in each mission, ranging from rush to combat to "hidden object game" (looking for the anomalies to scan for "Discoveries") to just building and structuring your fleet before moving on. But some missions are too hard if you don't take the time to clear the map or use an exploit/oversight -- and this is on the lowest difficulty. The very first mission can be near-impossible on highest difficulty whereas later missions, with more time and flexibility, are not impossible. Nevertheless players will have already been turned off trying it.
+- Nice ship models, but often they fire when not in proper alignment, which is odd. If the guns were on a turret that might make sense but often this is not the case.
- 3-D fleet movement is generally planar but hard to properly estimate without a lot of camera panning. The option to select your position on the Z (up/down) axis is extremely clumsy. I would have preferred to instead see a game-pausing toggle of a 3-D grid of points to select a position for your ships. Zooming could increase the density of these points.
- Officer powers are interesting but often make no sense. For example, the crewman "Two" is an expert hand-to-hand combatant apparently but you can invoke her to damage all enemy ships in the area? Why? Something more sensible might be to link her selection or in-game acquisition as a crew member to an enhancement of all ship-capturing Boarding actions.
-- Units often end up clumped together in a spaghetti or just fly so closely that trying to click on the right one is hard. And when you have 5 of the same type, clicking one at a time to find the one you are looking at / wanting to target is annoying; you don't even get this option when it's the enemy units that are clumped together. This has several drawbacks, including trying to select the proper unit, units struggling to path-find their way, units getting stuck, and units not knowing their line of fire is blocked and they keep firing anyway without changing position to get a proper firing angle. I don't see the point of a no-pause Hardcore Mode when selecting a ship from this morass can take a half minute.
+ The highlighted icon for each unit is not just necessary since the units tend to blend into the environment based on their not-very-vibrant colouring, but a nice way to quickly locate and select your unit. It is also a great way to allow units to be more to scale, such as fighter squadrons being tiny but selectable based on their icon. This was something that Star Wars: Empire at War didn't do and they compromised with ridiculous ship scaling.
- Horrible anti-climactic ending cutscene obviously setting up a sequel. The final mission is not bad, however.

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