Friday, June 4, 2010

In Space No One Can Hear You Ruminate About Old Game Genres

Space-sims. Probably the loosest use of the word "sim" you'll encounter, but a large number of gamers have many fond memories of these types of games, whether they're of the Wing Commander / X-Wing / Freespace combat-focused variety, or the Elite / Privateer / Freelancer type game with more of an emphasis on trade and exploration. It probably seems like they don't make them anymore, but as with most seemingly forgotten genres, they're likely still being made by small European PC game developers that you've never heard of.

One wonders, with all this goodwill for the genre in the hearts of older gamers, why they don't seem to have released a decent space-sim of either variety on any of the current generation of consoles. That's going to change, though, as it appears that Ascaron Entertainment's fairly well received 2006 space trading and combat game, Darkstar One, is being readied for release on the Xbox 360. I see Eurogamer even has a preview for it, which I haven't even read because I'm so worn out from work at the moment.

I don't really know whether the market will support this sort of game, and I don't know if Darkstar One is the best of the breed as far as modern Elite-clones go, but I am certainly happy to see someone trying to get a space-sim out into the console market. I'm going to make two predictions: it will end up with a metascore somewhere in the mid-60s, and by the end of the year you will probably be able to import it for less than £10 before shipping. And when it that happens, it may well be worth a look, if only for old times' sake.


  1. I've actually been playing X3 - Reunion for a long while, a spiritual successor to elite. It's amazingly well put together with each aspect of the game feeling complete and well-fleshed out. What I mean by that is that I've played the game as a warmongering privateer and found the pirate bases offer fun missions in addition to the regular fun of attacking ships, evading security, and building up my own fleet. I've played as a trader, at first solo and then buying an additional ship to run automated (with very good but not intimidating AI) trade missions, and then finally bought stations and set up my own emporium staffed with a fleet of trade vessels. I've played as the loyal bountyhunter who turns into a military power of my own with a fleet of ships at my beck and call sufficient to take on the largest pirate factions and even some of the less friendly alien races. In all modes I've been surprised by hidden treasures and bases lurking in long-forgotten corners of the galaxy. I'd recommend X3 for anyone who liked Elite. ... but don't play the story mode, it sucks ;) . I think they've bought out X4 by now, but I'm still satisfied with the graphics and gameplay of X3, which has a mass of fan mods that make the game more enjoyable.

    Give it a try if you have a PC.

  2. I've been playing Eve Online the last three weeks (while waiting for my xbox repair). This MMO scratches the Space itch for a big whack of the target market for these kinds of games. Everytime I log on it tells me how many other players are currently online, and it is usually in the upper 40-thousands. And most of them are paying a monthly subscription. It has loads of trading and mining and you can play as a pirate (many people do) with the special joy of pkilling other human pilots. Unfortunately, it doesn't scratch the "sim" itch for me (even though it is insanely complex). There is no "flying" because all the controls are click based, rather than yanking a joystick back and forth. I reckon an Xwing vs Tie Fighter remake would make a terrific Xbox Arcade game.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys, it's always good to hear what you have to say.

    I seem to be on track with my Darkstar One predictions; it currently has three reviews on Metacritic, 60,70,70, so it's heading for the mid 60s, and the game is already available for less than £18, which is my bargain bin target level for a lot of games, and it hasn't even been released yet! Sub £10 by year end seems quite possible.