'Space, the final frontier....'
No this is not a game of interstellar travel as it were, but it is a game where the objective is to construct bases, harvest resources and gather information concerning the mysterious monoliths that have been encountered floating in space, their secrets waiting to be unlocked.
You'll start with the bare minimum you need to get going. A couple of workers or drones, a small corridor space and various sources of energy (represented by pink clusters of pixels). The base cannot and will not function without these energy sources so your first task is build a connecting corridor and then construct a harvesting unit to do exactly that.
Next you'll be asked to produce a Garden that grows 'sludge'. However unappetizing that may sound to you and I, your workers or drones need the stuff to survive.
You'll soon see the workers (shown as little white dots) moving from the gardens too the kitchens where the sludge will get turned into yummy proteins. And whilst all this is going on and you think about building quarters to start producing more drones....but wait, and there just HAD to be a but didn't there?
You have attracted the attention of your neighbours and they are not friendly. Maybe they resent you being in the neighbourhood, or maybe they are jealously guarding the secrets of the monoliths for themselves, but eventually they will demonstrate their ambiguity towards you by attacking. Just pray you have managed to build the weapons room and you have enough minions to keep the base functioning whilst others man the guns and start zapping the invading critters!
It's all about time....
It becomes apparent then, that what you have here is a turn based RTS/Castle defense game, and time soon becomes a crucial element. Keep an eye on that grey bar that runs across the bottom of your Vita screen, because when that starts changing colour to red, then you know an attack is imminent or some other major event.
This also acts as a guide as to how close you are to unlocking the monolith's secrets and gaining the rewards that that will offer you. Be aware at this point, that if you look around the star system you will have already seen more than one pink energy cloud dotted around, and likewise there is more than one Monolith out there too.
So now you have to think about which is the closest too you, how quickly can you get too either the energy or the Monolith, time it will take to build a new harvester etc etc.
There is a lot to do but oh so little time to do it.......
Tick tock, tick tock....
From the word go time is against you. The game does it's best to hold your hand in the opening stages, and yes there is a tutorial but, well I'll cover that in more detail a little later on.
What doesn't help though is the fact that when you first play this game (which is why review sites like this are so useful!) is that there is no indication that there is a time limit of any sort! It came as quite a nasty shock to me when I found I was running out of time as it were when under attack.
When the game ends you will be scored on the number of waves you have survived and the time it took you. And if things go badly, there is no handy rewind function here, no way of going back and undoing any mistakes or tactical errors; and any mistake will be punished harshly. This is an unforgiving universe and an unforgiving game.
Like most games on the Vita this utilizes a mixture of screen swiping and button pressing to enter and confirm commands. Now the tutorial I referred too says that you can say for an example, 'swipe the screen to move workers'. So I put my finger over the worker and tried to move them manually. What I didn't realize and what wasn't made at all clear by the on screen prompt, is that you swipe the icons on the menu screen at the bottom edge of the screen to appoint them to the desired task.
Neither did it make it clear that although you get a preview of the Tetris style blocks that will be coming your way in the top left corner of the screen, there is NO way for you to scroll through the three options to find a more suitable piece for your desired layout.
I wasted quite a bit of time trying to do exactly that and then I became aware that there was a time limit on the game, the hard way.,
Yes there's a tutorial, but it's not that clear from time to time. Sure it tells you what you should be doing, but it isn't always that user friendly in explaining HOW you should be doing it. Once you have got the piece then you have to find the right place in which to put it. Pieces cannot overlap. It's here that you again, find out, not very easily that yes you CAN rotate a pice to fit in exactly where you want to go but sometimes it's not that easy to do so.
Where the game requires you to move a piece then a simple drag is needed, but the problems start when you try and combine a drag with a piece rotation. It may pick up the one finger swipe needed to move the item, but I found 8 times out of 10, that it point blank refused to accept the tapping gesture needed to actually rotate it.
Time was ticking, those aliens were zapping my base, killing minions and there I was trying to place a room or a corridor! Not fun, not fun at all and no aid to me playing calmly and with a clear head.
There is very little button pressing involved in the game to be frank. You will need to press the back button if you want to restart the mission/level (and you may need to do this a lot) and why oh why can't we pause the game? Or if there is an option to do so, I couldn't find it. That would have been so darned useful!
Oh and back to the three pieces I mentioned a while back. The instruction says drag the desired piece onto the screen. This does NOT mean from the top left corner, but rather from the desired section of the options at the top of the screen, where it lists things like corridors, engineering etc etc. Tap one of those first and THEN you get the piece appear on the screen, and then you can drag it around. Not exactly the most player friendly interface that I have come across it has to be said.
Like Thomas was Alone, the graphics are as basic as they can be. This is no bad thing, they are more than adequate for the game as a whole. They are not going to blow you away granted, but they are sufficient.
As for the music, the soundtrack is pleasant enough, it doesn't jar or grate on the nerves like Thomas does. Zapping of weapons isn't meaty at all, it sounds and looks like a flash game (Indeed I guess that's what it was) but again it doesn't matter too much.
I won't mention the game physics here, the game does not have any physical engine to be honest. It's not needed.
Once you get used to it, the game offers a challenge and some of the bonuses from the Monoliths will be of great help. There is a sense of urgency that gets the adrenaline flowing, but rather bizarrely these Pro's also factor into the cons as well...
Tutorial is lacking in clear instructions and you think it might show some mercy for you whilst you are still actually learning the in's and outs of the game; no it drops you into it right up too your neck, and you may well find yourself floundering whilst trying to survive.
Awkward controls and surprisingly for the Vita some necessary screen taps and swipes have trouble being registered. This adds too the frustration a little too much and alas, detracts from the enjoyment of the title. However you do get a feeling of accomplishment when completing a base and surviving long enough to establish another, because there is little or no pause in the action and a level is only cleared when you have researched all the monolith's in the sector.
So it lacks a function to save the game when and where you want. Annoying to say the least when you can't reload progress and try and reverse your fortunes. If you have not finished the level you have to go right back to the start.
Once you get the hang of it, then the challenge becomes a little more less daunting but the learning curve may well be too steep for novice gamers and more experienced players may find that even for them, it's a little too unforgiving. Shame, this has potential. Maybe a sequel would/could address these issues but to be honest, I would have to be persuaded before I tried a sequel...