Ancient Space offers a flawed but familiar ride to fans of the Sci-Fi RTS genre
Believe it or not, it’s been fifteen years since Homeworld came out. It was known to be one of Sierra Entertainment’s greatest games, and would go on to make Canadian developers Relic a household name for fans of real-time strategy games around the world. Relic would go on to even greater things with Company of Heroes and Dawn of War, while Sierra would fade into oblivion before being acquired by Activision, who have recently attempted to revive the brand.
The Sci-Fi strategy genre, however, didn’t go anywhere. Neither did it achieve mainstream appeal, nor did it simply cease to exist, thanks to games like Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire. The latest instalment in the genre, Ancient Space, piqued my interest because of the nostalgia it evoked (I’ve spent more than a few hours playing Homeworld, its expansion and the sequel), its voice cast (which features actors from shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Star Trek: Enterprise), and the promise of a flawed-yet-engaging space opera-type story with strange new worlds to explore and large scale skirmishes involving giant space ships. What I got out of it eventually was almost exactly what I expected.
If you’re still reading this, you’ve played more than a fair share of space based strategy games, but be warned: Ancient Space is not going to offer near-infinite layers of complexity like GalCiv or Sins. It is a simplified, scripted take on the genre, and one that’s single player-only. Through a series of story missions, the game takes you on a journey akin to Star Trek, where it is your job to lead an expedition into unknown space (‘The Black Zone’). It certainly helps that the expedition consists of monumentally powerful capital ships (which look pretty cool, btw) and the ability to build death-dealing craft of all kinds (for defence purposes, of course).
Firstly, it gets deep space exploration spot on. Not only do the ‘sectors’ feel massive and remote, the game allows for full 3D movement and there are wormholes that allow travel between locations in a single map. There’s also an abundance of asteroids, bases and giant space rocks which change the visual and gameplay dynamic in every mission—there’s also the feeling of exploring a strange new location every time you play the next mission. The gameplay itself is very simple, following a rock-paper-scissors formula for the most part, with each unit featuring vulnerabilities and advantages against other units. Resource management is fairly simplistic as well—with a limited pool of resources and resource points. Then there’s the progression system which allows you to upgrade your fleet and carrier in-between missions. You can also have three ‘Officers’ who offer a limited number of off-map buffs per mission tag along. The missions offer variety despite being very scripted, and playing through each mission feels like a different experience—it’s a little slow to get off the mark, so you’ll get the most value out of Ancient Space the longer you stick with it.
Now to the negatives. The game’s engine is very poorly optimized—even on a PC with a GTX 970, the game is sluggish when there are a lot of units on screen. The core component of any RTS game, the UI can only be described as a shambles, with pixelation and difficult-to-read text in almost every screen. The ‘stellar’ voice cast are mostly a let-down as well—offering bland renditions of familiar Sci-Fi technobabble (the writing isn’t particularly great either). I wasn’t expecting a lot of polish from a $20 (approx. Rs.1,200) game on Steam, but there are issues with Ancient Space that are quite frankly, unacceptable.
Despite its flaws, it’s a difficult game to hate because there aren’t too many Sci-Fi RTS games to begin with, and it can be an incredible amount of fun when it wants to be.
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