Rants in Space
I’ve done the rogue-like ramble before, but it is the prerogative of age to be able to go on at length about the same topic over and over again. Without diving into the history of the genre like in other reviews, I just have to say that roguelike and roguelite are among the most over used and misunderstood phrases you can slap on a game. At best they’re just being misused by developers who may not really understand what makes up a game of the genre. And at worst? They’re a clear attempt to twist an existing game into a form that will tickle the memories of gamers.
You kids may know by now, this ol’ salt really likes his space games. Strategy to cockpit – it doesn’t matter, done well space is a subject that always inspires wonder. As such, I tend to go easy on games that at least try, and get angry at games that promise the moon, but roll up a cheese slice and say it’s the same thing. (You know… cause the moon is made of cheese? Do people still say that? Forget it – I’m off topic) With that in mind, Everspace is decent game. But I can’t fathom how people are calling it a rogue-like.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. I know exactly how they’re calling it a rogue-like, I just can’t imagine how we, as consumers, continue to let people mislabel things. Purposefully using buzz-words and catch phrases to sell us on trends or concepts that just aren’t present. It’s irritating, but obvious, when a shitty product does it.
When a good product does it, it’s infuriating.
Sell your game on its merits. Don’t force terms on to it that are ill fitting. Don’t have a specific genre that you can condense neatly in to a single tag to list in a shop? Too bad. Treat your customers better.
With that out of the way, I will go in to the nitty gritty of Everspace. As I go I will explain why it is a good game, why it isn’t a rogue-like, and exactly what kind of game it may be considered. Follow along, and if I start foaming at the mouth again, I apologize in advance. Rest assured I’ve had my shots.
Death, Plot and Credits
Wasn’t sure what I should be expecting when I saddled up on this game, but I definitely wasn’t expecting a story I was interested in or decent voice acting. So, it managed to take me off guard right from the get go – because there it was. Sure, the game was about dying over and over again to perfect your build and play-style, but I tell you they put some decently thought out plot in there.
You start out a pilot of a spacecraft, with very little memory of how he got there or what is going on. The on-board computer AI seemingly is curious about your predicament and is trying to help you uncover the mysteries of your existence. The developers have put a great deal of care in crafting the lore of the setting, and your memory deprived protagonist is given tour guide explanations by his new AI friend.
All your deaths are part of the narrative. Meaning, the game doesn’t simply pretend they never happened, and in fact the question of why you keep coming back, sometimes with a slightly different load-out, is part of the mystery.
This load-out is determined by the player. When you die, credits that you have acquired in the current run come with you. There you can upgrade various things – from increasing the credits found during play, boosting the strength of your ship’s hull, or improving the ship itself. There’s a high degree of specialization and the credits you don’t spend at this point are wasted. So, there’s absolutely no reason, other than being mean to yourself, to not spend all your digital pennies at this point. Plus, you can get things to customize your ship, which is always fun.
Without giving up too much of the discovery, because part of the game is learning about the setting and your place in it, the object is to explore, scavenge, and fight your way across interconnecting regions of space. You hurtle towards an uncertain future – dealing with a bit of information overload – as you learn about the current political situation while trying to dig up your own past. Fortunately you have your AI buddy to help you along. I’m sure he is completely safe.
So, lets talk controls and game-play. The first line of the features for Everspace says “Single-player roguelike space shooter with persistent progression,” and this is where things get sticky. Conventional gamer view is that this game would meet the definition of roguelike: A gameplay setup that deals with a revolving door of death and procedural content. However, anyone who has read my other articles, particularly the one on Midboss, knows that I’ve become more and more wary of this term. I subscribe closer to the “Berlin Interpretation” but admit that’s almost ten years old now, and I can see the cracks in it.
In my perception a roguelike should have a few elements. To me, the unknown found gear is an important one. The player needs learn what their gear does and how to use it, and there must be a danger in using unidentified gear. Another is movement – traditional roguelike games operate on a move by move style of play. When the protagonist moves a space everything else in the game moves as well. This is often lost in the world of action games.
I know – I know – I am really having a ‘darn kids’ and ‘muh lawn’ moment here. But we are not a bunch of people lacking in creativity. We can come up with new terms to better describe products. If you keep clinging on to loose-fitting tags of older games all you wind up doing is confusing the consumers, or worse, angering them who thought they were buying something else. For those looking for a traditional roguelike experience, keep moving. This is not it.
Everspace puts you into mostly randomly generated part of space. It is a full 3D environment and everything happens and moves in real time. To be fair, while the game recommended keyboard and mouse, I felt right at home with my Xbox controller. You zip around this part of space, fuel up, get better gear that is dropped or in crates, and swoop in to the next region of space. Slowly but surely carving your way to the end of the map and then progressing to the next one. The game has a goal and a story – and it is all very interesting.
Honestly, outside of sticky definitions that likely upset me far more than they should have, (I blame the heat. The heat – and a lack of beer) Everspace is really solid. The controls are simple for the frantic nature of the gameplay. There is a lot of the ‘Do I leave now or Risk a fight for more booty? And all the interesting lore is stored in a lexicon that you can read at your leisure between runs. Every time I took off it felt like a new adventure connected to the larger story.
There are only two main mechanical issues that I had – and both were very minor. The first was some of the menu screens were difficult to navigate. That said, it could have been because of the sensitivity on my Xbox controller, so this may not be an issue for the Mouse and Keyboard crowd. The other was the crafting system. It wasn’t interesting or engaging and I forgot about it most of the time. Whether or not I made use of it didn’t really seem to have an impact on my enjoyment of the game or the difficulties that I encountered. The crafting system could have been replaced with more loot drops, maybe with an item identification system; finding and discovering the use of items is a hallmark of proper roguelike games, after all, but in Everspace everything is just known. Had this been in place, I would have ranted for at least two paragraphs less!
The High Quality of Death
Everspace is one of the first titles that wasn’t The-Game-That-Shall-Not-Die from Bethesda that made me want a VR headset. The ease of using the Xbox controller combined with what is a visually stunning game make me feel that this would be a fantastic title in VR. I have not played it with such gear, nor seen others playing it, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a shot sometime.
The audio of the game is well directed as such I never struggled to hear or understand the characters. I am always a big fan of slideshow-style cut-scenes, particularly if it means more money can be spent improving the game – and the art and graphics in the game are a high quality. Lots of love went into the design and it shows.
Again, I will repeat, the story is worth signing on for. While other games with roguelike elements will have a story that is a back drop, it’s less common to see games of this design with a story that comes in to the game play with you. There is a paranoid conspiracy feel to the game, and I kept getting an uneasy feeling that I was being had – beyond the obvious issues it presents early on. But that is good, I want a story to make me feel things. If I’m rolling my eyes and hitting ‘X’ to breeze through the exposition, I am not engaged. Everspace made me want to know details about the protagonist and the surrounding situation.
Good Times – Naming Aside
Everspace had me giving it an old man glare at the start. However, this game really is a fun time. I would highly recommend it for anyone who likes action packed space games with some heart and good narrative flow. This is one of those games where the more you die, the better and stronger you get, and I really love those. These games can fall flat if poorly designed. They can be frustrating instead of fun. But done well, like Everspace is, each death brings with it a deep exhale as you consider how you’ll do better next time. The big difference between this and something like The Surge is that procedural levels keep the game fresh. Despite my grumbling, I will cross my arms and rock in my chair a bit, and begrudgingly give this a strong recommendation.
8/10 – any issues are minor and easy to overlook, it is a decent addition to the library of any Space Fighter fan.
Review by Joshua Smith aka Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This game was received free as a review copy.