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Spaceforce: Rogue Universe Review

Spaceforce: Rogue Universe pack shot
Developer:Provox Games
Publisher:JoWood Games
Genre:3D Space Fighting/Trading
Official Site:http://www.spaceforce-game.com
Release Date:June 22nd, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Craig Laycock (Cragtek)
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So here we are, drifting through space without a care in the world. You and I, Mr Spaceforce, alone in this empty universe with just each other for company. Kill me now.

I expected something better than this from a space-faring epic. I've always felt that the genre has never truly been done justice. Elite set the standard all those years ago and, ever since, people have been trying to bring it up to date. Some have got close, some have completely missed the mark, but as far as the genre goes, this example is particularly bad. It looks beautiful, but soon the space sickness kicks in and you realise that this is just another lame effort at achieving the impossible: simulating a universe (and all the empty space within it) and being exciting at the same time

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There's a hardcore out there that will love this game, but it's going to be an extreme minority. It just doesn't feel like Spaceforce has been tested on people at all. The difficulty of the space battles right from the first moment you take the controls is off-the-scale - even on easy mode - leading to a really frustrating and not at all fun gaming experience. Fans of the genre might say the same about X3, but hey, at least that was fun. The dogfights initially seem fast-paced and frenetic, but when you realise that it takes about 20 minutes to kill a single enemy (and not being too sure how to remedy the situation with no clear guidence on upgrades, etc) the fun starts to drain pretty quickly and never really returns. Monotony ensues.

Spaceforce has a free-play mode and a story mode. Whoever wrote the story mode wants taking outside and beating around the face with a large kipper. I want names and numbers. Indeed, if it wasn't for the cost of getting there, I'd be round their offices doing it right this second - with gusto. The story mode should be the driving force through the game, instead it feels like a tacked-on afterthought which completely fails to satisfy in any way, shape or form. The characterisation is probably the worst I have ever seen in a computer game and you don't feel a grain of empathy toward any of the characters. And as for cinematics, at one point near the start, the story is told via a voiceover while the camera stares at the dullest, most inactive space station you can possibly imagine for about a whole minute. Spielberg this ain't.

Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 5 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 6 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 7 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 8

But do you know what the WORST thing is about this game? The VERY WORST? It's the voice acting. It would amaze me if it turned out that the voice "actors" had taken more than one take to record each line, but they really should have done. I can only surmise that the developers saved a packet on hiring this lot, because it is quite simply the most offensive work known to man. Right from the outset on the first (poor) CGI sequences, the appalling theatrics kick in. I'll be frank with you, it's rubbish. Any trace of emotion in the (already poor) writing is shaken out by the scruff of the neck with some of the most hackneyed performances of all time. It makes me shake with anger just to think about it again. Medal-winningly dire.

One of my major criticisms of X3 was that it didn't guide the user enough, particularly in the early stages of the game. Some fans of the genre will see this as being fair enough and expect a steep learning curve in a space game. Indeed, some gamers see being thrown in at the deep end as part of the fun and feel it brings an important role-playing element to the game. Sadly, most gamers simply do not think this way and buy games because they want to have fun, not stare blankly at a screen for an hour wondering what they're supposed to be doing and what they should be doing next. The learning curve in Spaceforce: Rogue Universe is so horribly steep that 90% of gamers will be put off within the first 20 minutes or so of playing the game (probably after their tenth death).

Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 9 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 10 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 11 Spaceforce: Rogue Universe screenshot 12

But let's get to the good stuff. Well, it looks beautiful, have I already said that? (checks) Yes, I have. But it does. No matter how poor the storyline is, the engine underneath it all is pretty solid. I mean, it looks like the kind of glamorised, beautiful space we've come to expect from the genre, with some nifty lighting effects and big explosions. You really couldn't fault it on the visual front, and some of the ship designs are truly wonderful. There is a clear, cohesive and well-developed sense of art direction and that is a major plus in anyone's book. The controls are nice, too, and you'll be whizzing around with your mouse without any trouble whatsoever.

The upgrades system isn't bad either, but it's pretty much forced upon you. Without upgrades, you'll be dead at the first sign of trouble. You have the option to hire wingmen for protection, or upgrade your ship in a number of ways, including the essential damage-boosters and armour improvements. All of this costs money, though, and in Spaceforce, money doesn't come easily, meaning you'll have to carry out mundane activities like mining or complete the extraordinarily repetitive side-quests to get on in your space-faring life. Picard simply wouldn't stand for it.

You'll be wanting to play the free mode rather than the story mode and, in fairness, this part of the game's not terrible. However, the learning curve is just as bad (what am I doing? Why am I doing it?) and the side quests available to you quickly become repetitive (there only seem to be two or three variations). With no real motivation to keep going, this leads to little long-term playability. Add to this that there's nothing in Spaceforce that hasn't been done before elsewhere and it all starts to beg the question: "What's the point in me playing?"


Without wanting to sound patronising, the developers have certainly got their heart in the right place. If Spaceforce had ticked a few more boxes along the way, they would have had a really playable adventure on their hands, but as it stands there are much better options out there, like Freelancer and X3, both of which you can probably pick up cheaper. Like I said, hardcore fans of the genre will no doubt rush out and buy it anyway and completely ignore everything I've said - and they'll probably love it. But if you're a casual gamer looking for an exciting voyage through space, this isn't for you.

The main problem is that you feel like you're just floating aimlessly through space with no real impetus or purpose, and while the hardcore out there might find that a turn-on, most won't. Beam me up Scotty, PLEASE.

The bottom line
4.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Looks pretty
  • Nice control system
  • Heart in the right place

Not so good stuff

  • Rubbish voice acting
  • Why should I buy this and not Freelancer?
  • Stale and repetitive side-quests
  • No multiplayer option

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