by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
A TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW
In gaming, there are always going to be genre behemoths. If you make an FPS, someone will compare it to Half-Life. If you make an RPG, someone will write an article about how Baldur’s Gate did everything better. And if you make a sci-fi RTS, you will probably never stop hearing one word: Homeworld. That’s a tough shadow to step out from under.
Developed by Polish studio CreativeForge Games, and published by strategy behemoth Paradox, Ancient Space has received the inevitable comparisons for some time now. It certainly looks the part, with the Unity engine firing on all cylinders, and it has some serious voice-acting guns to flex. But is Ancient Space the find of the century, or is it destined to be just another footnote in the history books?
First things first, there’s a little confusion to sort out. At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the return of the truly 3D space strategy game, but that’s not quite the case. Can units move in three-dimensions? Yes, although it’s a little clunky to order them to a specific altitude. Is there any point in doing so? Well... no, not really.
The unit path-finding can get itself into a right pickle if you give them more complicated orders, but – more importantly – there’s absolutely no tactical advantage to be gained from being above or below an enemy. It’s almost as if CreativeForge coded the 3D movement, but forgot to attach it to any other gameplay. Ultimately, this means it’s best to think of Ancient Space as a strictly two-dimensional RTS and set expectations accordingly.
With all that in mind, how does the game hold up? Quite well, actually. There’s a good variety of units available – from nippy fighters and strike bombers, through to hulking cruisers – which are all excellently balanced against one another. You really get the feeling that even the smallest of ships has a distinct purpose that could turn the tide of battle, and it’s a joy when you get it right. A key unit is the Homeworld-style carrier – the vital unit which should never be destroyed, and which contains the hopes and dreams of Humanity. For gameplay purposes, it’s your primary source of unit production, as well as a formidable battleship in its own right.
Between missions, you are able to customise not only your standard units, but also your carrier. This adds a layer of complexity to the game that many strategy titles lack, and gives you the power to choose your own rules of engagement for the coming mission. Want to buff your fighters shields, and allow the carrier to do the heavy fighting? Not a problem. Need your bombers to deal more damage to Medium-class ships, but wish your carrier could move faster and provide repairs? Done.
If you have second thoughts about a modification you made, you can hit a button to start from scratch with no penalty. This freedom allows you to experiment freely, and should greatly aid replayability.
Resources in-game are earned from environmental pools which must be captured, a la Dawn of War. These control points are plentiful, but only a handful will actually provide any kind of raw resource. Nevertheless, the space stations you construct when capturing a point – resource rich or not – can be fortified with offensive or defensive structures, and this offers some interesting tactical choices, such as pushing forwards without having to leave a weak rear-guard.
Well-polished and balanced gameplay. Unit customisation adds variety. Appealing visuals and audio.
No multiplayer. Story is dry. Difficulty curve a little steep.