EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Vincent Chandler
previewed on PC
A Literal Fistful of Dollars
“Welcome to the harsh and unforgiving world of the Space Western!” boasts the Steam store page for Exoplanet: First Contact. Developed by Alesteam, Exoplanet is billed as a sci-fi western action RPG. The unique premise was captivating enough to find the game funded on Kickstarter to the tune of $67,447, a good $20,000 past its goal. For the purposes of out preview we are looking at the 0.15.4 Alpha build of the game that went live in December to see if Exoplanet can put its fistful of dollars where its mouth is.
In Expolanet you play the role of space cowboy stranded on the harsh alien planet of K’Tharsis; after having your ship stolen you set out to explore this strange new world with the aim of getting your ship back and getting out of here. Very early first impressions are good; the presentation is of a relatively high quality. From voice acting introducing the backstory, professional music and loading screen splash art, Exoplanet does well to initially hint at a project that may one day become a fully realised project with strong production values.
What is troubling however, is that once we gain control of our protagonist and start to trudge the lifeless desert planet it all becomes clear that this game is nowhere near finished, and would need some fundamental changes in order to present an experience worthy of your time and money.
How the West Was Won
The world of Exoplanet is bright, colourful and not without an alluring visual character of its own. Brightly lit flora, waterfall fed coves, crystal-lit caverns and believable (if a tad uninspired) alien beasts all inhabit this game world. However, it all feels a bit lifeless. The character models, animation and user interface all look dated, and in all honesty, not very good. Aside from lots of collectable plant life, the environment is empty and lacking things to. No voice acting and repetitive dialogue from NPCs further exacerbate the issues the game faces. It all feels like an empty MMO from half a decade ago.
Although billed as an RPG, there is no experience point system, and no character progression. Quests simply give money, or further the almost non-existent plot. There is a hydration, food and crafting system, because these are mandatory includes in every indie game with an open world to explore now, apparently.
The combat is nothing short of absolutely awful – with it degenerating into backpedaling away from bullet sponges that flinch after every gunshot. Melee combat is the clumsiest I have seen in some time, with it being a case of who hits first, and flinches less from the attacks of their foe; and to give you a heads up - your flinching animation is often longer than those of the creature you want to stab to death.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
A protagonist dressed in cow-boy regalia, a revolver and some acoustic guitar may evoke the idea of a western but it all feels a bit shallow. A skin-deep connection to the genre that gives the project a unique selling point. Smaller gripes such as the lack of graphics options, an awful camera system and an ugly UI can all be fixed as development progresses. The issue is that despite the game being in an early build, some of the fundamentals feel wrong. The combat and character management systems need to be reworked from the ground up. And once changes like these are incorporated we might be looking at a vastly different game with a lot more potential.
The overall premise is interesting and shows some potential, but a shallow connection to a once popular genre of fiction doesn’t save this title from showing very little promise at the moment. Although far from the train wrecks and steaming piles often found on Steam’s early access catalog it still does little to create an enjoyable experience at present. When you take into account the comments on the Exoplanet Kickstarter page, with tales of people not receiving backer rewards and struggling to get their early access codes, it doesn’t instill you with the greatest confidence in the project. Add to that the lack of updates aside from hotfixes over the last month and a half and things start to look a little worrisome.
If the genre premise is enough to lure you in, then perhaps add this to your watch list, but the game offers nothing to merit a recommendation at this stage, especially at its current £14.99 price tag.
It pains us to say this, but we don't see how this game will mesh. At the current stage of development the game should be much farther ahead than it is.