ThreadSpace: Hyperbol Review
|Publisher:||Atari and Valve (via Steam)|
|Release Date:||July 12th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
Someone at Iocane no longer has a soul. Well, to be more accurate, they probably still have a hold of it, but technically it belongs to Beelzebub ever since they traded it to go from bedroom coders to finalists at the 7th Independent Games Festival and then landing Steam distribution via Atari. So what kind of game does cashing in your immortal essence let you develop these days? A refreshing return to the essentials of dip-in compulsive internet and LAN gaming with much of the MORPG nonsense stripped away, that deserves plenty of recognition on the Steam network. Not least to give me someone decent to play against.
Hyperbol: Threadspace is, first and foremost, a gibberish title to call a game. It's based around the concept that hundreds of years in the future, after the technological event of The Jumpstart, three factions have blah blah blah etc. The plots pretty light in this particularly offering, but that's not something that will get in the way of your gameplay. No one wants the back-story of what brought you to the wheel in Gran Turismo or what lies behind the ideological grievances of the Counter Strike teams. What we have here is Worms in Space, or maybe Worms: Starfleet Academy. The essential premise is that you control a spaceship that can thrust around on a flat arena, firing a range of specialized ammunition at other players in a similar situation; last one to explosively decompress is the winner.
This is of course an enormous simplification of the deep strategies and involving play of Threadspace, but it is because the premise is simple that such engaging play arises. Control is entirely enacted via point and click on the screen. Players can zoom and rotate the view around any point on the map, and click on first the 'fly to…' button then the appropriate point and your ship will trundle along obligingly. Hold down the left button and move the mouse whilst in motion or stationary and your craft will swivel to point its arsenal in whichever direction you choose. Along the left hand side and lower part of the screen is a long bar containing up to 30 specialized projectiles - highlight and then click on your ship to fire one off. If it's a particularly fancy projectile you can either put a little spin on it to make it curve using Z and C keys, or if appropriate hit the spacebar to set it off.
This is basically as complicated as the controls get, and even at the height of 16 player online firefights there are rarely any moments that you can become confused as to what you're trying to do or slapping at the buttons. Smashing away at a mouse button as your torpedo banks run dry and your engines poop out and that smug git lines up his answering salvo as casual as he pleases is, of course, completely different. Moments like this are exactly what make the game excellent.
The underlying key to the tactical play is that all actions require recharging and cool-down periods. Movement is done in a series of linear thrusts that will leave your boat immobile for several second afterwards dependant on its specs and your upgrades. The same is true for firing any of the projectiles - the bigger and fancier it is, the longer it will take you to manufacture more, and likely the slower it will move as well. This causes game play to be a series of increasingly elaborate moves until the theoretical high ground is gained and withering salvos of exotic warheads can be launched. The game play is real time, not turn based, and last minute lurches out of the path of incoming thermonuclear death or squeezing out a surprise munition can be remarkably more thrilling than the simple neon and black graphics initially suggests
Ammunition types range from the basic plasma bolt - still versatile with its ability to be spun around corners and obstacles and fired at high speed, right up to heavy hitters like Time Bombs and the thunderous Hyperbol itself. Much tactical mojo starts to arise when you employ the Effect projectiles, that when detonated will become black holes, strings of force field projectors, repulsions, attractors, EMP emitters, and all sorts of high tech tomfoolery that openly mocks physics as we know it. What is particularly pleasing about Threadspace is that the higher orders of tactical play still don't exclude the possibility of carrying the day by flying in and dropping a very large bomb on your enemy - it just makes it that bit trickier to do, especially without leaving yourself la canard reposant for the rest of the vultures afterwards.
There are a variety of ships to chose from or work your way up to, each with differing stats in a range of about a dozen different criteria ranging from shields to amour to propulsion, projectile speed, engine cool downs, etc. You can pick your ship at the start, and kill your way to outfitting it with new systems or an entirely shiny new ride eventually. These power-ups are fun and will give you an edge on the neon field of battle, but will not squeeze more modestly outfitted players out of the game entirely.
The other major element that gives the game play tactical depth is your production station. At the start of each round you can launch your remote production station which will set up shop somewhere and start churning out projectiles based on which production modules you tell it to develop. The ammo will be automatically added to your own ships stores as it's made, but the production station itself is weak and ponderous to move. Hang back and look after your production yard and stockpile the weaponry, or go right out and put what you have thus far to good use. Run and gun or intergalactic camper? Your craft will never run out of ammunition all together, but the power and versatility of the advanced weapons will set the tide of battle. These decisions get far more involved when playing team battles, where sides will have to decide to distribute their resources or try and fortify them in one place with guards.
The online features are well implemented. At the start you will create a profile and align yourself with one of three factions, divided over the (yak yak yak) each of which will give you slightly different stats at the start. These factions will battle in a series of arenas across each server, and can control sectors by racking up enough kills in each. Such control will make a noticeable difference to the price and availability of hardware in the stores and the size of the weekly stipend you get from your clan. Casual players frankly won't give a monkeys which clan they're in, but if you plan on making a habit of Threadspace you'll appreciate the bonuses you can get from being part of the dominant faction and the extra hardware you can outfit.
Given that the games most of us are looking forward to include the ilk of Bioshock and The Witcher, the gameplay mechanics and graphics of Threadspace seem positively retro - but it is proof that core elements like balance and pace that are the heart of any really good gaming experience. It warms the cold, atrophied passages of my heart that the bedrooms coder can not only still turn out such a solid gameplay experience, but actually get recognition on a distribution circuit like Steam for it. Do yourself and the whole industry a favor and stump up the few pennies for the quick download today.
- Good ol' fashion fun.
- Clear tutorial systems.
- Simple game mechanic.
- Looks good on any system.
Not so good stuff
- Damn silly name.
- Ludicrous nod at a plot.
- As yet sparsely populated servers.
- Occasionally clumsy camera controls.
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