The universe is a harsh and uncaring place at times. Its deepest parts are bleak, vast expanses of cold vacuum where emptiness chills the very soul. Well, if there were anyone around it would. But compared to the Spaceforce: Rogue Universe, even the most remote corner of our existential plane is pretty darned cheery and friendly.
There are two reasons for this. One: in our universe, when you take a driving test, you generally aren’t shot at (possibly excepting the less stable parts of the Middle East). In Spaceforce, you begin the game by attempting to pass your pilot’s exam, a pursuit soon derailed by several pirate ships who show up to obliterate you. It’s very much a case of in at the deep end, because these corsairs are pretty tough nuts and will probably take you to school (before tying you upside down to the railings and running off with your lunch money).
This is one tough Elite/Freelancer style space combat sim. The AI is accurate and you’ll need some decent reflexes and fancy evasive manoeuvring to survive even this introductory battle. Which is pretty scary, but not as scary as the lack of direction you’re given by the game’s rather pathetic excuse for a tutorial. That’s reason number two why Spaceforce has one of the unfriendliest beginnings to a game we’ve ever encountered: “Look in front of you. There are some dials, they do stuff, you’ll work the keys out sooner or later…”
And that’s about your lot. Unhelpful doesn’t come into it, and it’s doubly a shame because the interface isn’t very intuitive, either. And, to be honest, a lot of gamers aren’t going to see beyond the first few missions when faced with this brick wall of a learning curve, especially when you also consider the fact that the story doesn’t make much sense, the cut-scenes are poorly done and the game seems almost completely directionless.
That’s not to say there aren’t any likeable facets to Spaceforce. The graphics are certainly very tasty and a lot of effort has been put into making the universe look colourful and alive, while the ship designs and combat pyrotechnics are admirable. And there’s no shortage of options for the player, either. Along with the main story, there’s a healthy helping of side missions to be sampled and different alien factions with which you can raise your standing, so you can deal and trade with them more effectively.
As well as trading, there are plenty of other ways to make money, with the traditional staples of bounty hunting, piracy, mining and so forth. Once you’ve built up a nest egg, ship upgrades can be purchased and new technology developed from bits and pieces you’ve scavenged or traded for. There’s actually a considerable amount of depth to this aspect of the game.
But try as we might, we couldn’t get past the hackneyed plot, frustrating learning curve and the fact that the side missions are pretty similar (kill this, blow up that) even early on in the proceedings. With greater care and polish, this could have potentially been a sleeper hit, but as it is, it falls short of the mark.