Constantly rumored to be extinct, space combat sims are a rare breed these days. Yet, Space Force: Rogue Universe aims to change the fortune of recent games that were over-hyped and delivered less than promised. Boasting a wide variety of ships, weapons and races, as well as an incredible graphics engine, the entire galaxy is your playground as you choose what to do, from creating a formidable trade empire, to becoming an intergalactic diplomat, to turning your laser cannons against everyone as a widely hated space pirate.
Space Force 2 can be played in either of two modes– Story mode or Free mode. In Story mode, you follow Jim Anderson, an EMD pilot trying to find his lost sister. You watch as Jim’s father is killed in space while Jim and his sister are still children. Fast forward a number of years, and the siblings have grown apart. When Jim hears troubling news concerning his sister, he knows he must do whatever it takes to find her and make her safe. However, you can follow the story arc at your leisure while dabbling in any of the other elements the game offers. Free mode is exactly as it sounds: you are free to simply explore the galaxy, trading goods, fighting battles and accepting side quests while making both friends and enemies. This open-ended nature allows you to enjoy Space Force 2 however you see fit.
If you decide to forgo the story and play in Free mode, you start by choosing to be a combination of the game’s 10 different races and nine professions. This is the only way to get to play as a race other than the EMD, such as the insects known as the Collective. The choice of your race affects your starting ship and standing among the other races. The profession you choose will either help with your initial ship and cargo or give small bonuses throughout the life of your character.
Much of the fun of space sim games is, of course, the illusion of being in space. The thrill of seeing huge glowing stars, rotating space stations and other vessels is usually at the core of any decent space game. The graphics engine of Space Force 2 renders all of these cosmic wonders in real-time and with an impressive number of frames per second, even on modest hardware. The colors are vibrant and the lighting of the stars is spot on. The attention to detail goes all the way down to the smallest asteroids which bounce off your ship as you travel. Additionally, an elaborate physics engine makes all aspects of this outer space world seem realistic. As an example, when a ship explodes, it produces a noticeable blast wave that will throw your ship for a loop if you’re caught in its path.
Your most prized possession is your trusty space ship, which you use to travel the galaxy. As you advance in rank and amass a fortune, you can upgrade your ship or buy a new one. Upgrades include the standard weapon, armor and speed enhancements along with more unique items like units to jam the tracking of homing missiles. Once you decide to buy a new ship, there are 14 different models from which to choose ranging from standard human-made ships to bizarre, bug-like alien crafts.
While docked at a station between battles, you have the option of accepting one of the game’s 2,500 side missions. With so many available, it seems there is an endless supply of people needing their remote satellites activated or an enemy’s satellites destroyed! These quests will earn you much needed money and respect among the various factions. With time, you can spend your hard earned cash on outfitting your ship or hiring wingmen.
If side quests aren’t of interest to you, you can make your money running trade goods all over the galaxy. There are many unique and humorous items to be bought and sold, including futuristic drugs and black market hacking devices. As you fly between stations or solar systems, you buy and sell your items, always trying to make a profit. Alternatively, you can simply loot the wreckage of ships or mine distant asteroids for cargo to sell. All the while, news broadcasts on the Global News Network tell of price changes for you to use to your advantage.
With an open-ended nature, stunning graphics, fast-paced combat and plenty of other things to do, Space Force 2 aims to be the game that revives the space sim genre. Let’s see if it’s a true classic or falls short of its lofty goals.
The graphics are simply stunning. As you cruise the galaxy, huge planets loom in the distance, while hulking space stations and satellites dot the landscape. All of them look exactly like what you’d imagine if you closed your eyes and pictured yourself flying through the abyss of space. A number of subtle details complete the illusion, such as asteroids and abandoned space stations. Additionally, the many ships throughout the galaxy are equally amazing. It’s evident a lot of time was spent giving each one its own look and feel.
Despite beautiful gameplay graphics, the static visuals and movie scenes leave a lot to be desired. When other people communicate with you, you see their picture in the upper left of the screen as a grainy still photo. While you hear their voices, their lips don’t move. Additionally, when you dock at a space station, you’re treated to a picture of your ship simply sitting there waiting for you to return. The worst culprit, though, is the opening movie. The animations aren’t realistic, nor is the clip compelling.
The interface and controls are an absolute mess — and the cause of a large learning curve when you first load the game. There are close to 50 different controls mapped to various buttons and keys. Some of them, such as “Minimap”, are easy to understand, while others, like “Use Nanobot”, are not intuitive.
Most games with a complex control system have a tutorial mode or key binding tool tips while in the game; however, Space Force 2 has neither of these, and leaves it to you to figure out everything on your own. This leads to extreme frustration. For example, the first mission in the Story mode instructs you to activate four satellites, yet gives you no indication of how to actually go about activating them. As soon as you set off, you find yourself in a dogfight without any instruction on how combat works. After you manage to kill the enemy ships, you’re left to find and activate the satellites. After an hour or more of crashing into them, shooting them with missiles, reading through the instruction manual, yelling at the monitor and shooting them some more, you’ll hopefully stumble onto how to activate them.
Additionally, the save game system was not well thought out. You create and manage profiles, and the game auto saves at various points for you. Despite this, it’s easy to lose hours of progress or save over your previous game when you didn’t want to.
The interface isn’t a total disaster, though, as other elements are well thought out and easy to use. The radar has blinking red dots to represent enemy ships, for example. It’s easy to track them and focus your fire while keeping tabs on your own shield levels and missile supply. Additionally, normally challenging things, like docking with a space station, are easy to accomplish. In this case, you simply fly close to the station and hit the “Dock” key.
The open-ended nature of Space Force 2 is both a blessing and a curse. You’re always free to do whatever you want, from exploring the galaxy, to running a trade empire, to hacking remote installations. Most importantly, there are plenty of fights to get into. Everywhere you go, there are enemies to engage. The battles are quick and exciting, and combine with the brilliant graphics to form the true heart of the game.
Yet this freedom gets repetitive quickly because the different elements of the game aren’t very deep. The quest system is touted as having over 2,000 missions, but in general, there are only a handful of different types of quests. You can choose between flying for 15 minutes and destroying a ship, flying 15 minutes and destroying a building and so on. The trade system is similarly flawed. There are an astounding number of things you can trade, but there isn’t any economic model to make it interesting. Some space stations randomly have their trade items either expensive or cheap. Occasionally, news items alert you to changes in prices, but it doesn’t feel dynamic. Also, the solar systems are huge, and traveling between stations takes up to 15 minutes of flying in a straight line with nothing exciting happening.
Most glaring of all, though, is the ambivalence you get concerning the game’s story. The characters aren’t engaging at all and, frankly, I couldn’t have cared less what happened to them. Without a good story, trade system or interesting side quests, Space Force 2 quickly devolves into you just flying around in space blowing up stuff for no reason — and that doesn’t have lasting appeal.
From the laughably bad main characters in Story mode to the continuous trash talking of your enemies, the voice acting in Space Force 2 is downright poor. While docked, the constant notices of people leaving the station quickly become annoying. However, as with most aspects of the game, when engaged in combat, the sounds are spot on. Missiles whoosh by and ships explode like expected.
The empty vacuum of space is supposed to be spacious and serene, and the music of Space Force 2 fits perfectly with this idea. When you’re flying in vast open areas, the background music is peaceful and relaxing; however, when you engage in a dogfight, the tempo increases and the songs become the heartbeat of the battle. Simply put, the soundtrack in Space Force 2 sets a fantastic backdrop for whatever you’re doing.
The computer-controlled enemies are surprisingly tough to beat, and act like you’d expect humans to. The first time I saw an enemy ship fly toward a bright star to blind me, I couldn’t help but smile. Don’t think you can sit in one spot and blast away, or else the computer will swoop in close and fly around you faster than you can turn.
The difficulty levels in Space Force 2 aren’t adjusted very well. Medium difficulty is extremely hard, and even the lowest difficulty setting is pretty challenging. This is due to both the strength of the computer AI and the weakness of your own spacecraft. At almost every turn, you’ll find enemies that are more powerful and carry better armor than yourself. Combined with the high cost of repairs and upgrades, some battles are almost impossible to win.
If you think of Space Force: Rogue Universe only as a simple space combat simulator, it’s a great game for awhile. The graphics are beautiful, the action is fast and the fights are challenging. However, beyond combat, there’s not much more to like, and the gameplay quickly becomes tedious and repetitive. The quests can be grouped into a handful of categories, and there’s nothing interesting to do like escorting a spy to an enemy station or taking pilgrims to a remote planet. The trade and diplomacy systems are fairly shallow, too.
The largest drawback, however, and the area that will be an annoyance to everyone who picks up Space Force 2 is the lack of a tutorial or any direction to accomplish your objectives. From figuring out how to use the jump gate to hacking remote installations, it’s up to you to decipher how to do it. The manual isn’t helpful, so you might have to write down your button mappings on a sheet of paper and use a trial and error method to figure out the controls. When all of this is combined with the steep learning curve and difficult opponents, Space Force 2 will ultimately be remembered for what it could’ve been, not what it was.
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