by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
ELEMENTAL TACTICS (cntd)
Something likely to catch many players out initially is the downright deviously cramped unit cap. It’s not unusual to find yourself stretched unreasonably thinly across the battlefield, because you simply can’t build any more units. It adds palpable tension, and certainly hammers home the idea that Humanity is on the back foot, but the AI suffers no such limit; often pitching hordes of enemy ships against you on multiple fronts. As the campaign progresses, the difficulty rarely lets up, and it can sometimes feel a little unfair.
The levels on offer, though, are on a very manageable scale, rather than the epic emptiness space is generally known for. This allows for tight, focused gameplay, and means it’s easy to have a complete tactical overview of the situation without too much scrolling around.
The ‘tactical pause’ feature, in particular, will be a godsend for players who find RTS games too fast-paced to be enjoyable. At the press of a button, you can pause the game, retaining camera control and the ability to give orders. It’s disabled at the highest difficulty level, and players after more of a ‘think-fast’ challenge will probably want to ignore this, but for those who like having time to think, it’s invaluable.
Aside from the main storyline, there is also a skirmish mode, although it only offers a paltry three missions, so the campaign is where you’ll find the bulk of the gameplay on offer. And yes, that’s right; Ancient Space has no multiplayer. It’s a real shame, too – the varied, tactical gameplay would translate into a highly compelling multiplayer experience, but it just isn’t there.
YOU’RE SAYING NOTHING, BUT IT SOUNDS GREAT
For a game focused solely on the single-player experience, the plot does not easily hold one’s interest. It’s well-told, and the voice-acting is top notch – easily some of the best I’ve heard in a non-AAA title, featuring the likes of Dina Meyer, Dwight Schultz, and John Billingsey, amongst others.
Despite all that, and my best efforts to pay attention, I found my eyes glazing over during many of the cutscenes. Names of places, organisations, and people all blurred into one big mess, and absolutely none of it stuck. Fortunately, the game is eminently enjoyable even when you aren’t quite sure who you’re blasting out of space or why. Something to do with ‘T-cells’, I think.
The musical score, too, is of very high quality, and is exactly the sort of bleepy, pulsing synth-type stuff that I’ve come to know and love thanks to the likes of Deus Ex and Mass Effect. It perfectly complements the atmospheric visuals, providing an ideal melody as the asteroids dance their gentle waltz across infinity. Every level is filled with these background elements, which make the universe feel alive, and it isn’t long before the floating corpses of destroyed capital ships litter the battlefield too.
Let’s be clear here: Ancient Space is definitely not a new Homeworld, nor should it have to be. It has found its own niche, applying the excellent balance and approachable tactics of the traditional RTS, and taking it into space with panache.
There are missed opportunities here, to be sure, but this remains an entertaining, if punishingly tough, diversion that I’m happy to recommend to fans of sci-fi strategy.
Well-polished and balanced gameplay. Unit customisation adds variety. Appealing visuals and audio.
No multiplayer. Story is dry. Difficulty curve a little steep.