Developer: ROCKFISH games
Publisher: ROCKFISH games
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, VR
Reviewed on: PC
Acquired: A copy of this game was provided from publisher for review purposes
Everspace is a rogue-like space game that looks absolutely amazing. It was released on the PC and Xbox One in May of this year after a very successful kickstarter campaign in 2013. Everspace is also available in VR, but was only played on the PC for this review.
Although it is both developed and published by ROCKFISH Games, making it an indie game, Everspace truly looks like a AAA title. Much like Hellblade a bit later in the year, it fills the space between indie and AAA games as a small-team, but big-budget game.
By combining graphically impressive space battles with the core gameplay loop of a rogue-like, Everspace straddles the indie/AAA gap in terms of gameplay as well.
Despite its rogue-like structure, Everspace does have a coherent and complete story. It is told through cutscenes the first time the player enters a new “sector” (a set of several star systems that must be travelled through to proceed) that fill in the backstory of both the unnamed protagonist and the Demilitarized Zone of Cluster 34.
Additionally, the protagonist will often talk to the ship’s AI, providing more exposition and explanation of key concepts. Both the ship and the protagonist are fully voiced. Once in awhile, there are also special encounters with other ships that are relevant to the story and might chat you up.
As mentioned, there are two main stories going on. Firstly there is the story of the space being traversed. The game takes place in a “demilitarized zone” following the peace agreement between humans and the “Okkar”. Human’s arrived as colonists to this part of space, called Cluster 34, but as it was already inhabited by the reptilian aliens known as Occar it lead to a destructive war that culminated in the peace agreement. This has lead to the demilitarized zone – a large swath of space where military intervention is strictly prohibited, enforced by the Okkar. Thus, the presence of the player’s ship is a breach of the agreement and this leads to a lot of the conflict.
On top of this large-scale plot there is the story of the protagonist. I will not spoil too much of it, but the protagonist’s search for answers is the driving force behind plot progression in Everspace. Sadly, I don’t think his story is very engaging and the personal stakes are fairly low for the player.
Everspace looks amazing. The high fidelity graphics and extravagant cosmic setting makes it a very visually impressive game and the small size of the dev team makes it even more impressive. The design of spaceships and technology is by no means revolutionary and falls into a lot of modern sci-fi conventions, but they all look great.
In addition to the in-game graphics there are the cutscenes for key story moments. These are presented in a painterly, almost impressionist, style with voice-over narration, and while they are not quite as impressive as the general cosmos they look quite good as well.
I did have a few performance issues. Despite being well within the minimum specs, I would occasionally drop to 20-25 fps when a lot of particles and ships were on screen. This does not really detract from the experience in my opinion, but it is noticeably choppy.
There are really two components to the gameplay of Everspace. There is the moment-to-moment gameplay of exciting space battles in 3D space, and the meta-structure of the rogue-like elements.
The space shooter part is excellent. By using a variety of weapons, power-ups and environmental factors you can have some truly exciting space battles with a variety of objectives. Want to just make it to the gate? Sneak past to find some loot? Take down a massive warship? All of these scenarios can play out and it all feels great. Additionally different layouts and equipment choices can result in very different experiences which is a big plus for variety.
The rogue-like meta structure is not quite so excellent. While the general structure of playing until you die and then restarting to get further works well, the upgrades are rather boring. After each run you can spend earned credits on upgrading the ship, but to my disappointment this is mostly increases in stats. This dynamic means that it often feels like a bit of a grind to die over and over again in order to improve the ship, rather than player skills. Another issue is that upgrades are tied to individual ships, which means it is counterproductive to try out new play styles while also attempting to progress the story.
Finally, I don’t think Everspace delivers on what I really look for in a rogue-like: emergent stories. There simply aren’t enough interesting systems interlocking to create personal stories in each run and they all turn out mostly the same.
The controls are generally very good and responsive. I mostly played with a mouse and keyboard, out of preference, but the gamepad controls appear good as well.
Once you get acquainted with the controls they offer 6 degrees of freedom and control over pitch, yaw and roll as well as lateral movement. This is a bit overwhelming at first, but it does feel great to have such control over the spaceship.
The User Interface informs choices very well and is also well integrated with the ship’s cockpit. This helps the controls feel intuitive and responsive, as it is usually clear what needs to be done and where threats are. Overall, ships in Everspace feel great to control due to tight controls and good UI.
Sadly, upgrades, crafting and non-weapon equipment are hidden in a menu, which is not great and breaks the flow when they need attention. Clicking through a menu to craft missiles or swap equipment is an odd choice in otherwise real-time and intuitive controls.
The rogue-like structure of Everspace means that there is as much gameplay as the player wants. It’s very easy to go for “just one more run” and individual runs are relatively short, usually spanning 20-60 minutes. The gameplay itself is still a bit grindy, though.
Additionally, the fluid controls and gorgeous scenery means dipping into Everspace to fly some spaceships is worth it. It’s pretty relaxing to do some flying and light combat (though it quickly gets more stressful).
Finally there is the photo mode. Everspace allows the player to hit a button (‘z’ by default) to enter photo mode. In this mode the camera can be maneuvered around to take pictures of ships,space and other objects of interest, and I personally think taking photos adds a lot to the replay value of the game.
Overall, Everspace is an excellent and graphically impressive space shooter despite its lacking rogue-like elements. I would recommend trying it out to anyone in need of a spaceship to fly or some impressive interstellar scenery.
Replay Value: 8/10
Total Score: 8/10