Into the Frak - Black Prophecy First Impressions

Updated Tue, Apr 12, 2011 by Ethec

In 2007, Black Prophecy was revealed to a swarming fanbase anxious for the good old days of space combat titles rooted in games like X Wing vs. TIE Fighter and the Wing Commander series. It was a rough three and a half years for fans, but publisher Gamigo pushed on with development despite a belly-up, bankrupt first developer . This month Black Prophecy entered closed beta in North America (the game has already been released in the Europe), and Ten Ton Hammer strapped in to offer our first impressions.

The fit and finish of Black Prophecy immediately stands out. The soundtrack was created by Dynamedion, whose orchestra-heavy work you might know from games like Crysis 2Sacred 2, and Runes of Magic. Similar attention was paid to the game audio – seemingly  every character got a voiceover, the engine sounds were as unrealistically epic as you’ll find (space being a soundless vacuum), the lasers are of the pew-pew variety (but they’re good pew-pews), missiles sizzle away and leave vapor trails, and even the ice asteroids make tingly crystalline sounds as you fly past.

black prophecy

black prophecy

black prophecy

Perhaps the first game with a racial slider, your character can be more Asian, African, or Schwarzenegger.

The cinematics team at Gamigo deserves props as well – the intro and subsequent cutscenes were created with care and do a good job of covering the escalation of conflict between the Sapiens factions throughout the prologue. Said conflict erupts 33 trillion kilometers away (give or take a trillion) around Triamon, one of the few Sapiens-inhabitable planets found by the Sapiens race desparately in need of room to grow.  The discovery of a wholly alien defensive system around the planet, coupled with a rash of destabilizing events that the player takes center stage for, throws a wrench into the fragile détente between the three Sapiens factions.

Black Prophecy does a nice job of easing players into the action. For the prologue, players jockey a turret and an escort shuttle for the plain-jane humans. The turret stage teaches player how to use the targeting function, as well as how to “lead” with your shots on a moving target, thankfully removing flying maneuvers from the equation.

black prophecy
Players start out in a turret, but soon you'll get your wings.

The Sapiens escort shuttle, while it pales in comparison to its Tyi and Genide counterparts in every way that counts, is a good teaching tool, and the premise of the story at this point allows the player to feel like a fighter pilot hotshot without too much suspension of belief. Past level 5 (for reasons we’ll let players discover), only two of the three factions – the technologically-enhanced Tyi and the genetically-grafted Genides – are playable past roughly level 5.

Combat is a twisting, turning affair that largely delivers on Black Prophecy’s dogfight and flight premise. I found myself pitted against agile Jadd Baran fighters, speedy alien drones, and huge cargo ships that must be destroyed one gun turret and weak point at a time, and once I got used to the semi-Newtonian physics, the confusing weapons mapping scheme, and the oddly powerful sidelong thrust (possibly adapted from the Gamebryo Engine’s strafe function), I found flying, targeting, and shooting fairly intuitive.  Some of my greatest moments in Black Propehecy have come while playing cosmic dodge ‘em with asteroids as I honed in on an enemy target while holding off pursuing enemies.

black prophecy

black prophecy

black prophecy

The game can be played in 3rd person or cockpit view, though I personally
felt that 1st person view felt most natural.

Unfortunately, that simple control scheme doesn’t carry over to things like selling back your vendor junk (items must be dragged piecemeal to an empty spot on the dealer panel), kitting out your ship (every item has a requirement, and what equipment offers is a little obscure – wings add armor, for example), and even interacting with stations, autopilot points, and players. Intuitively switching to cursor control or “free mouse” mode continues to elude action MMO game developers, as players must hold the control key and click the interaction icon as your ship sloppily spins upward to match bearings with the mouse cursor.

The big surprise, however, was the prologue’s storytelling. I never imagined Black Prophecy would have me drawing parallels between Stellarvox and Hearst’s yellow journalism, or that the game would have instantly memorable characters like Father Bartholomew and Spykee. Equally memorable were the graphics – space junkyards, the dark side of planets, and an orbital cathedral were interesting new settings that I haven’t seen before in a space game. Asteroid fields were very well done as well, but as you play past the prologue you end up seeing lots of asteroid fields.

black prophecy

black prophecy

Some of the unique environments in Black Prophecy.

black prophecy

black prophecy

More unique environments to be found in Black Prophecy.

Yet we heard reports of Tortage-itis as players pushed past the prologue and, sadly, these seemed accurate to me. It was natural that some of the epic goodness of the prologue would fade as the player took his or her place in the rank and file, but it was a pretty steep drop off in excitement level. Much better had Black Prophecy’s designers rebooted the hero’s journey for the Tyi  / Genide experience – something along the lines of throw away the new guy on this suicide mission / wow, he’s pretty good, let’s move him up the food chain / he’s brilliant, we should be following his orders as the alien and/or Tyi / Genide PvP threat escalates. Instead, players find themselves up a PvP-centric creek without a paddle, save one you could grind out with grindy repeatable missions.

It’s worth noting that EVE Online faced similar hurdles with a much less respectable tutorial experience, yet a deep commitment to the three metagame C’s – crafting, community, and commerce – helped turn the game into a self-regulating sandbox. With clan stations up for grabs and barebones community tools in place, Black Prophecy still could make big strides in that direction, but it will take a renewed commitment to community tools, a more robust itemization scheme and crafting experience and, most of all, an auctionhouse.

Bottom line: there’s a lot to be excited about in the opening stages of Black Prophecy. For those whose favorite memories of the nineties consist more of the exploits of the TCS Tiger’s Claw than the Berlin Wall’s demise or seeing Seinfeld for the first time, Black Prophecy is a welcome update to a mysteriously underserved genre. Whether Gamigo and developer Reakktor Media can adequately cover the content gap that follows the prologue as US launch approaches, however, remains to be seen.

black prophecy
Spykee is one of the more memorable characters you'll meet early in the game.

Our world made it through alright, but a number of game worlds came to an end in 2012. Did the ancient Mayans foresee these events?
Mon, Dec 31, 2012

Black Prophecy says goodbye today with a trio of farewell parties to send its players to the black of space one last time.

Tue, Sep 25, 2012
Reakktor Media's sci-fi space shooter, Black Prophecy, has announced that it will be closing its doors for good next month.
Wed, Aug 29, 2012

Gamigo has posted more details about the recent incursion on its account services and prompted a shut down.

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