The current video game marketplace has not been kind to space combat fans. While we once had store shelves that were full of titles like
style="font-style: italic;">Wing Commander, X-Wing, Elite,
TIE Fighter, Privateer and style="font-style: italic;">Freespace. Now the
space action genre has all but dried up, with gamers having to resort
to the older titles to get their space jollies. The video game market,
however, is incredibly cyclical and games that were once faring poorly
in the market tend to make rousing returns. Roleplaying, adventure,
first person shooters, and RTSes have all been up and down this roller
coaster, and if the developers at NetDevil have anything to do with it,
the space combat genre will hit another peak in June 2009 thanks to href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/306"
Evolution will bring space combat gamers back into their glory days
after a very long reprieve.
Before I dive any further into this
style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution
hands-on report, I need to give you a bit of my background info.
I’m a space combat junkie. Ever since LucasArts first started
publishing the X-Wing
series, I’ve been strapped to a joystick and flying around
space looking for errant bogies to blast out of the black. While you
received a fine dose of unbiased content from Ten Ton
Hammer’s Jay Johnson with his unadulterated look at the game,
I come from a camp of players that grew up with the space combat
When I initially sat down at one of the six laptops (yes laptops!) that
were running Jumpgate
Evolution; I immediately noticed the astounding beauty of
JGE. For years, everyone has praised the graphics in href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/eve/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EVE Online.
However, the graphics in Jumpgate
Evolution are as good or better than
its more strategic cousin. Compared to some of the very early builds I
saw at last year’s GDC and a few of the later conferences,
the play areas have greatly improved and offer a titillating amount of
visual eye candy. From enormous boiling suns to immense battle stations
and wrecked cruisers, the art team at NetDevil has really pushed
forward in their efforts in this department. These space areas are not
empty, lifeless husks of black; they’re stylized, active
areas that players will love to explore and fight in.
Along with the zones, all of the spaceships in JGE offer an incredible
amount of diversity from one another. After seeing dozens of
screenshots depicting the Solrain, it was nice to finally get a chance
to gaze at the Octavian ships. While the Solrain ships are streamlined
and sleek (more like the Republic transports in style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars Eps.
I-III), the Octavian ships practically bristle with aggression. With
jutting protrusions and wicked profiles, these ships will definitely
sate the users lust to look as badass as they feel.
After selecting my avatar, I put on my headphones and jumped into the
game. In many of the previous interviews I worked on with Producer
Hermann Peterscheck, he and I href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/27148" target="_blank">constantly
discussed how focused his team
had been on iteration. The first glance at the player screen made it
incredibly obvious that the constant iteration cycles had definitely
paid off in the user interface. Old space combat gamers will instantly
recognize many of the elements of the genre’s standard HUD.
From the opponent viewing window to the center targeting reticule,
there’s a lot that stays true to that old formula. Shield
status and hull integrity are also quickly recognizable and located at
the top of the screen.
in JGE are incredibly varied from one zone or ship to the next.
However, a bevy of MMO related options have been integrated into the
UI. At any given moment, a player can access their email, inventory,
character info, mission status, galaxy map, social functions, and more.
These were all put at the bottom of the screen in a rather
inconspicuous little row. If players want to access any of these
options, they can quickly hit their middle mouse button and click on
anything on their screen. Since there were no joysticks readily
available at the event, how selecting these options works in stick mode
is still a mystery to me.
Speaking of the joystick, I would have loved to try the game with one
in my hands for a number of reasons. In most space combat games, I tend
to feel that throttle control is an incredibly important weapon in most
dogfights. If you have solid control of your throttling, whether to
slow down to perform a tight turn to keep your bead on a target or to
keep distances close while protecting another ship, your results in a
space combat game will be exceptional. An enemy may have bigger guns,
but if you can consistently stay behind them, you’ll win in
the long run. While the mouse and keyboard certainly allowed me to
maneuver well enough to get through the first few levels, I
didn’t have the tight sort of control that I felt would be
available with a joystick.
That’s not to say that the mouse and keyboard combination was
inadequate. On the contrary, I thought the mouse and keyboard control
was exceptional in JGE and it didn’t hinder my progress at
all. I simply know that the joystick control would have given me a
greater sense of precision, especially on my turns, aiming and throttle.
Speaking of throttle, this was the one element that wasn’t
incredibly clear on the UI. While I’m sure it exists amid the
windows and targeting panels and shield indicators, I don’t
remember looking at the screen and thinking “Oh,
there’s my speed and throttle indicator.” Speed can
be judged by the flare of your exhaust ports, but the hardcore among us
will want to find that little indicator especially during PvP.
imagine seeing this many ships flying at you?
Speaking of PvP, I was thrilled to learn that fifty versus fifty versus
fifty PvP will be in the Jumpgate
Evolution experience. This was discussed by
Codemasters’ David Solari during his JGE presentation, and
the brand new trailer that they’ve unveiled gives a sense of
that epic combat feeling of massive amounts of ships flying at each
other at the same time. On top of that, the NetDevil and Codemasters
teams have also said that instanced PvP action will also be available.
Although there are a number of vocal style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate fans that
are against instanced PvP, I really enjoyed the concept in href="http://warhammer.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Warhammer Online,
and I think it’s a great way for people to jump in and jump
out of the game if they only have a few minutes of free time to spare.
Finally, there were a number of small things that I noticed while
playing the game that I thought were remarkably neat. While using the
mouse and the keyboard, I noticed that there was a small targeting
reticule that would help me to “lead” the target
that I was locked on. The grouping system and the integrated voice chat
were very helpful. The different color exhaust port / afterburners are
a nice touch to help identify opposing factions.
At the end of the day, I was ecstatic with what I saw with
style="font-style: italic;">Jumpgate Evolution.
From a space combat gamer’s perspective, it feels like the
NetDevil team has gone out of their way to insure that all of the
little things that we enjoy have been integrated into the game. Space
feels denser than I ever thought was possible, and the overall quality
just seems to be so much better than any game I’ve ever seen
in this stage of production. With months until release, the NetDevil
developers can make this game into something incredible for space
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