by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
A 3D space shooter, Beyond Space drops you into the boots of Max Walker, adventurer and pilot-for-hire. When conflict threatens the galaxy, it somehow becomes your job to sort things out through judicious application of red-hot laser death.
It sounds like this has the potential to be great fun and, if you go by the game's description on Steam and the official website, your expectations will be very high indeed. 'An epic space odyssey,' they say. A 'rich and captivating storyline,' and 'the most exciting 3D space shooter game ever released.' Blimey – they aren't pulling any punches with the marketing hype.
A pity, then, that it's all complete bollocks. From start to finish, the plot is an uneven and amateurish mess; filled with hackneyed dialogue and cringe-worthy attempts at humour. The story lurches between events, taking regular breaks to assault you with dreadful cutscenes and radio chatter. For all the talk of a 'rich and captivating storyline,' I had a hard time working out how the missions were even connected to one another.
AM I SUPPOSED TO CARE?
And it isn't just the mission flow that's off; the characters are just as bad. Max, the protagonist, takes the self-absorbed, hot-shot pilot stereotype and runs with it – over the hills and far away. He regularly hurls abuse at his friends, and has no problem with murdering people for personal gain. He accepts contracts, from an unnamed and shady organisation, to 'smoke' a number of anonymous victims on the basis that he has 'nothing better to do.' This man is an unlikeable ass at best, not to mention a genuine psychopath.
It's almost as if the writers were going out of their way to prevent the player from getting attached to any of the characters. A perfect example of this is the introduction of Yuen, a fellow pilot. She's introduced, mid-battle, with a back-and-forth that hastily implies a deep, long-standing friendship between her and Max. Just over one minute later, she is killed off in a cutscene. I kid you not. This is truly the sledgehammer method of character development. Did I mention that this is in the very first mission?
While I could forgive a clichéd or dull storyline when it intrudes very little on the game, Beyond Space spends so long trying to force this awful plot down your throat that it really needed to be addressed. Could the gameplay possibly claw this game back from the abyss it's dug itself into?
SHORT & SWEET
At its heart, Beyond Space is a simple arcade shooter, based around short, action-packed battles. Piloting a variety of ships with interchangeable equipment, the gameplay is enjoyable when played in short bursts, but does start to feel repetitive during longer sessions. Fundamentally, there are only three types of mission in the game: the dogfight, the boss, and checkpoint races.
While every mission has the veneer of an objective, it always boils down to 'fly here and shoot these guys,' before the mission fades out. There's no flow from each mission into the next, and there are certainly no choices to make. The sheer gall that led them to put 'non-linear story' as a feature on the official website makes me doubt that whoever wrote it had even played the game.
As you play, you unlock new ships and equipment. Not every piece of equipment can be fitted to every ship, but the game doesn't tell you that, so you'll have to try everything to see what works. There are plenty of these upgrades, so you can mix and match to your hearts content and find a load-out that works best for you.
A nice feature is that the different types of enemies act in slightly different ways – pirates fly more chaotically than military pilots, for instance. Even so, each fight seems to play out in much the same way. By far the biggest challenge is simply avoiding the constant barrage of homing missiles sent your way by the more powerful fighters.
OUT OF CONTROL
The controls are vital when it comes to the feel of a shooter, but Beyond Space once again fumbles here. In the menus, everything screams 'mobile port,' from the clunky buttons placed at the far corners of the screen, to the farce of having to swipe vertically with the mouse to scroll through equipment. It shows a fundamental lack of care taken towards the PC port, and the in-game controls aren't much better.
At first glance, the game supports either a keyboard-only control scheme or a gamepad. My attempts to set up the gamepad involved sweat, tears, and twenty minutes of my life I'll never get back. The default configuration is unusable (with such novelties as roll left/right assigned to Select and Start), there's poor support for the ubiquitous Xbox 360 pad, and the option to invert the flight axis actually inverts every axis at once. I genuinely don't know how this sort of ineptitude made it into the game.
After giving up on the gamepad, I played the first couple of missions on the keyboard-only scheme, which was functional albeit imprecise. It wasn't until mission 3 that I accidentally nudged my mouse and realised I could use it to fly. While it might seem obvious, at no point in the menus or the in-game prompts was it ever suggested that the mouse was even an option.
With attractive graphics and a well-produced soundtrack, Beyond Space does its best to feel AAA, but once the game gets going it all starts to fall apart at the seams. When the game backs off and lets you blast things, it's a fun diversion, but it's let down by the woeful storyline, and the simple fact that there are many other games out there that do it better.
Fun blasting action in small doses. Looks and sounds good. Low price.
Some of the worst writing I've ever encountered. Frequent reminders that this is a mobile port. Zero depth. Stability problems.