Space Sim Archive

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Game Review: Moon Breakers

I know it’s never wise to expect much from Free-2-Play MMOs, but Moon Breakers sets new records for poor quality game play, a shamelessly derivative concept, and pay-2-win mechanics that abandon any attempt at dressing up a revenue engine as a video game. What’s worse is that it does all of this within the much beloved space combat sub-genre.

Marketed as a free form space combat MMO, Uber Entertainment’s Moon Breakers sounded like something with potential. Take a look at the official description to see what I mean.

Moon Breakers is a free to play, multi-player 3D space combat game set in an alternate WWII-inspired future. As either a Government or Pirate pilot, take to the stars in single-seat starfighters and engage in epic dogfights for Helium-3 around the galaxy.

A modern multi-player take on the classic space combat genre of the 1990′s, Moon Breakers delivers thrilling gameplay with simple controls that will have you flying and shaking bandits off your six in minutes. Coupled with a bold, retro-futuristic art style, amazing music by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead) and a variety of ships to unlock and upgrade, Moon Breakers is pure space combat awesome. Sign up, climb in and get ready for launch… there are fortunes to be made.

Problem #1 – There’s nothing in the game to justify the “Alternate World War 2” description. Flying as the generically named Government or Pirate faction is a completely bland affair. Other than some variation on colour palettes, there’s no real difference between being the “good guys” or the “bad guys”. The pointlessness of the red vs blue mechanic is made all the more acute in that players can flip flop between sides. At least something like Battlestar Galactica Online, for all its faults, had the sense to create distinct experiences for the Cylon and Colonial factions.

Problem #2 – “A modern multi-player take on the classic space combat genre of the 90s…” Here’s the thing; space combat games in the 90s, well some of them, were rich experiences that offered a level of detail and immersion that were not to be found in other genres. This game is one step up from a point and click shooter. I can see how Moon Breakers attempts to capture a bygone era of gaming. However, the final product plays like something that was actually coded in the late 90s. I know it’s a F2P game, but I expected better than a watered down version of Crimson Skies set in space.

Problem #3 – “There are fortunes to be made…” Not unless you own stock in Uber Entertainment. Let us not forget that space combat in the 90s was synonymous with open ended games where players could carve out their own destiny. For my part, I spent countless trading cargo, hunting bounty, or plundering the shipping lanes in Wing Commander Privateer. Even the less than successful games like Solar Winds attempted to add an open ended aspect to otherwise scripted gaming. Given the description, could I be blamed for expecting the same thing from Moon Breakers?

Then there were the games like Freespace and Tie Fighter that boasted a robust story and complex branching missions. Moon Breakers isn’t one of these sort, either. Offering nothing more than melee death matches and capture the flag scenarios, which inevitably devolve into melee death matches, Moon Breakers has all the depth of a kiddie pool.

Credits earned through combat can upgrade ships, but unlocking new fighters and bombers requires buying “Helium 3” with real money. I don’t want to keep bringing the discussion back to BSG Online, but both that and Tribes Ascend allow for some level of in-game acquisition of premium currency, if only to try appease/addict in the cheapskates like yours truly. Moon Breakers makes it quite clear that if you want access to more than two ships, you’re going to pay for it.

I will give the game some credit when it says that people can jump in and feel like an ace within minutes. There is an elegant simplicity to the game’s controls. But there’s so little variety in the game play that after an hour of blowing up people flying in straight lines, I found myself bored. Even if I had the entire fleet of the government and pirate vessels at my disposal, I can’t see the long term appeal in this title.

Moon Breakers ends up as little more than a thinly veiled attempt to bank on gamer nostalgia as a means of making money. The shallow action combined with MMO elements that are so marginal as to be irrelevant, save for the fact that every 5th pilot gets a great set of lag armour, creates a wholly unsatisfying experience. Say what you will about free2play/pay2win games, but this one does not merit any investment of time or money.

Update: Sometime between my initial Moon Breakers play session on May 27 and yesterday, May 31, when a representative from Uber Entertainment sent me an email regarding my review, the development team enabled purchasing ships through credits as well as Helium 3. Additionally, there are now rotating ship unlocks that will allow players to fly various “ships of the day” without buying them with either currency. However, buying ships with credits is so expensive, requiring such a vast investment of game play, that I can’t imagine anybody wanting to grind it out. Just for fun, let’s break down the numbers.

A second tier light fighter costs 600,000 credits. In a roughly ten minute battle, I pull in about 1,500 credits. That would require somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 battles or 66 hours of game play before I could buy a F-3X Sidewinder. Clearly the emphasis is on buying ships with Helium 3, or buying credit boosts with Helium 3.

There’s the business model, boys and girls, do what you will with it.


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The Daily Shaft: Mars Effect gives way to 0x10C, Notch’s New Project.

Like seemingly everybody else on the internet, Markus “Notch” Persson, best known for the building game/creativity engine Minecraft, decided to have a little fun on April Fools Day. The gaming guru announced that his next project would be a space based resource trading game in the fashion of Elite. The title of this game, wait for it, Mars Effect. Notch even went so far as to make up a fake website for his homage to BioWare’s Mass Effect.

But behind the joke lay a real game.

PC Gamer broke the news on Notch’s new project back in March. Back then, the Swedish game designer hinted at “…a game that’s more like Firefly. I want to run around on my ship and have to put out a fire. Like, oh crap, the cooling system failed, I have to put out the fire here.”

Now, in the wake of the Mars Effect prank, the true name and nature of Notch’s summer project has emerged. It’s called 0x10C. Here’s the back story straight from the project’s website.

In a parallel universe where the space race never ended, space travel was gaining popularity amongst corporations and rich individuals.

In 1988, a brand new deep sleep cell was released, compatible with all popular 16 bit computers. Unfortunately, it used big endian, whereas the DCPU-16 specifications called for little endian. This led to a severe bug in the included drivers, causing a requested sleep of 0×0000 0000 0000 0001 years to last for 0×0001 0000 0000 0000 years.

It’s now the year 281 474 976 712 644 AD, and the first lost people are starting to wake up to a universe on the brink of extinction, with all remote galaxies forever lost to red shift, star formation long since ended, and massive black holes dominating the galaxy.

As you may have guessed from the presence of big and little endians in the game description, Notch is going for a hard sci-fi theme with this project. Although he’s already admitted to some level of hand waving being necessary with respect to the game’s FTL travel mechanic. Notwithstanding that one aspect, 0x10C’s is promising a game whose science has a “plausible theoretical basis”. Anybody for Newtonian physics based starship combat?

Although the title is in the early development stages, some of its features seem quite promising. In addition to all the usual tropes of space adventure games (mining, piracy, salvaging, combat), starships within 0x10C are going to include actual computers.

The computer in the game is a fully functioning emulated 16 bit CPU that can be used to control your entire ship, or just to play games on while waiting for a large mining operation to finish.

And here I thought setting up a delay circuit that would make the glass centre of my Minecraft TARDIS go up and down was complicated. Now Notch is going to let people code games within a game? This may give cause for a greater interest in coding. Or it might alienate potential buyers who don’t want to be tricked into learning.

Speaking of alienating people, Notch hasn’t ruled out launching this game with a monthly subscription. While single player action would be free, access to 0X10C’s persistent metaverse would come at a cost.

All of a sudden I have a vision of the future. There’s a headline that reads “Notch launches potential EVE Online killer.”

Notch has stated that he will likely opt for a gradual release of 0x10C, just as he did with Minecraft. If this is the case, then it might not be long before gamers get a chance to dirty their hands with an Alpha release. Head over to 0x10C’s website for additional details and production updates.

UPDATE: Notch just tweeted the following on 0x10C’s nature as hard science fiction.

I’m starting to regret the decision to go with hard science fiction. A lot of interesting gameplay elements are hard to explain well..


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Geek News: September 10, 2011

Today in Geek News:  A new space combat game, David Weber has a new book, and Fox is the only network that seems to care about science fiction on television.

Greetings programs.  Let’s do things in the reverse order of the headline, just to mix it up a bit.  This September’s television line-up doesn’t cater to fans of science fiction.  We’re coming up on seven years without a new Star Trek series, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome is still being talked about in the future conditional tense and for the first time since I was fifteen years old I find myself living in a Stargate free world.  So what’s a genre fan to do other than mine episodes of Castle for its various and sundry Firefly references?  Why watch the Fox network, of course.

I know, Fox gets a lot of hate for cancelling shows with cult followings.  There’s also no denying that particular network has pissed me off on more than one occasion.  However, it was recently pointed out to me that Fox takes chances on shows that other networks wouldn’t touch with an inanimate carbon rod: case in point Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. So while I don’t expect it to fill the Destiny sized hole that SGU’s departure left in my life, I can’t deny that Fox’s time travel-dinosaur-dystopia, Terra Nova, looks reasonably interesting.  Terra Nova sees humanity escaping from its polluted and overcrowded future into its distant past.  The idea is that the refugees will built a sustainable civilization and either escape to Mars, or die off with the ice age thus preventing any species-nullifying time paradoxes.  It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.  Here’s the clip.

Anybody who knows science fiction knows that David Weber is one of the genre’s most prolific writers.  Weber’s most recognizable claim to fame is the long running Honor Harrington series of military sci-fi novels.  This coming Tuesday, September 13, 2011, sees the launch of the next entry into Weber’s “Safehold” series of novels.  How Firm a Foundation is the fifth instalment in a series of novels that chronicle the ongoing conflict between an oppressive and dogmatic church and the small empire that dares to defy the “truth” of the Church’s history.

Blending elements of science fiction, fantasy, and historical narrative, the Safehold novels are rich in detail and rife with complex characters.  Moreover, Weber’s outstanding ability to write space battles has easily translated to the sea battles of planet Safehold.   How Firm a Foundation will be released in hardcover, e-format and as an audio book which promises “to translate to die-hard fans as well as listeners looking to break into the Sci-Fi genre.”  Here’s a little taste of what’s to come in audio book format.

Finally, gamers can delight to the knowledge that a new first-person space combat game is on its way.  Back in July, indie gaming studio Seamless Entertainment announced Sol: Exodus. The good folk at Seamless are, in their own words, intent on “re-energizing a faded genre once known for legendary hits like Wing Commander and Freespace.”  It’s a gusty proposition to say the least, but one that seems to have a lot of potential.

Sol: Exodus taps directly into the fears of our time to weave its story.  When humanity discovers that it has centuries, not eons, before the sun goes nova, the Earth government sends out a fleet of starships to find a new home.  One ship, the UCS Atlas, returns to the Sol system to find the government that sent it out displaced by a doomsday cult that embraces the impending destruction.  Players will assume the role of an Atlas star fighter pilot while this lone starship attempts to save humanity from itself and its dying star.  The game promises fast-paced dog fighting, to scale capital ship battles and a gripping story.

Want to know more? Send me an email and I’ll be sure to ask your questions when I have the developers on an upcoming podcast.

And that, friends, Romans and Space Marines, is your geek news for September 10, 2011.  May the immortal Emperor’s blessings be upon you.


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Game Review: Starpoint Gemini – First Impressions

At a glance: Starpoint Gemini wants to be Wing Commander: Privateer meets Starfleet Command III. I don’t think it’s quite there yet.

Developed by: LGM Games

Playing through the demo of Starpoint Gemini leaves me feeling ill at ease.  As space-sims, especially free roaming space-sims, are such a rare breed these days it is tempting to glaze over the game’s glaring flaws for the greater good of the genre.  Unfortunately, the demo of Starpoint Gemini seems intent on showing off all of the game’s weaknesses rather than promoting the title itself.

SPG’s opening cut scene sets an interesting if not all together original stage.  The human population of the Gemini system, having grown weary of the Earth Directorate’s exploitation, decides that it’s time to break away from the hegemonic government.   After a brief but bloody civil war, the Directorate’s forces retreat from Gemini, exploding the system’s starpoint (worm hole) behind them.  The blast that cuts Gemini off from the rest of the galaxy also has the unexpected side effect of trapping a few thousand starships in alternate dimension.  Your character plays the role of a “revenant”: one of the people pulled out of the alternate dimension, twenty years after the events of the independence war.  Players emerge to find the once united Gemini system fractured into various competing factions.  It’s a story that is a little bit of Colony Wars, a dash of Andromeda and a soupçons of Starhunter.

Even before this lengthy cut scene comes to a close, problems with the game begin to emerge.  The narration that tells the story of Starpoint Gemini is flat and unremarkable.  Indeed, the narrator rattles off the details of Gemini’s civil war with all the enthusiasm of a man reading a grocery list.  To make matters worse, there are problems with the grammar in this monologue.  I know, only piss ants poke fun at grammar.  However, glaring tense shifts within the same sentence of dialogue tend to raise a few red flags with me.  On the other hand, LGM Games is the development team of Croatia’s Intercorona Entertainment Production; perhaps there is some room for mercy when a character says “status” but the on-screen script reads “stasis”.

Since the demo does not include the game’s tutorial, Starpoint Gemini dropped me into the pilot’s seat of my ship without a clue how to do anything.  Fortunately, the gameplay is similar to that of the Starfleet Command series.  Flight occurs along a fixed two-dimensional plane within a three-dimensional world.  Unlike the SFC games, where ship-to-ship combat was often a slow and methodical duel, combat within Starpoint Gemini feels like being in a drunken knife fight with an equally inebriated Orangutan.  That is to say that the fights are fast, confused and would-be pilots are as likely to win through sheer luck as they are through any sense of skill or timing.  For my part, I just pointed the front of my ship at my target and mashed the “fire all weapons” button as much as I could.

Despite the fact that NPCs revelled in taunting my ship’s antiquity, I still managed to blow up a few pirates.  And truth be told, the few kills that I made were quite satisfying.  After stumbling into these early victories, I wanted to learn some of Starpoint Gemini’s finer controls, as one is wont to do when they don’t have a clue what they are doing.  It turns out there are some tragic problems with key bindings in this game.  Despite using the default controls, things don’t always work.  When pressing ‘A’ to fire my primary weapons, my ship decided that it would release its lock on my current target.  Attempting to bring up my weapons’ firing arcs did nothing at all. Similarly, trying to fire my secondary weapons yielded a null event.  I can forgive a game for not making the button to trigger the jump drive, “J”, but broken key bindings?  Well that’s just sloppy.

Sloppy is also an excellent word to describe the game’s graphics.  Despite cranking everything to the highest setting, Starpoint Gemini looks like a game that should have been released ten years ago.  It certainly looks no better than 2006’s Star Trek: Legacy.  Dare I say, 2002’s Starfleet Command III would give Starpoint Gemini’s visuals a run for their money.  Although SPG’s ship design is interesting enough, the textures are wholly unattractive, the weapon effects look cartoony and the UI is as cumbersome as it is byzantine.  Oh and did I mention that the thing that you use to jump from one sector to another within the Gemini system looks like the inner workings of that machine from Contact?  I could almost see Jodie Foster inside the little pod that rests at the core of SPG’s creatively bankrupt answer to a mass relay.

In fairness, Starpoint Gemini does boast a lot of interesting features: fifty sectors to explore, free DLC, a robust economy, rich skill trees, unique abilities for every ship in the game and a variety of in-game professions from bounty hunting to mining. Sadly, I didn’t see any of that in the demo.  All the demo does is present buggy gameplay that seems to be the antithesis of what I expected in a  starship combat game.  To make matters worse, the in-game voice acting has less endurance than a constantly clicked peasant in Warcraft 2. Adding insult to injury, Starpoint Gemini’s graphics are so dated as to border on downright crappy.   Currently priced at $28.56 on Impluse and Direct2Drive, I didn’t see a thing in the demo that would motivate me to pay for this game.

Perhaps the full version of Starpoint Gemini addresses the flaws of the demo.  If that’s the case, LGM Games needs to revise its business model.  In my mind, game demos are like a first date.  A person can be great in bed, but they will never get to show off that talent if their first impression is akin to a projectile vomit all over their date’s shoes.

Verdict:  Try it yourself but you won’t see me paying for this game.