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
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
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 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.
|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
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.
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
have come while
playing cosmic dodge ‘em with asteroids as I honed in on an
enemy target while holding off pursuing enemies.
The game can be played in
3rd person or cockpit view, though I
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.
|Some of the unique
environments in 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
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
. 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
Spykee is one of the more
memorable characters you'll meet early in the game.