Explore the final frontier in a fantastic rogue-like space adventure
My worst run of the game still shames me. Usually, I lose because of bad luck. I am unable to find the parts I need to repair my ship, or I fail to find any worthwhile weapon upgrades. In these situations, I simply shake my fist at the gods of random number generation (RNG) and move on. However, in one case, my loss is entirely my own fault. Everspace is all about player choice.
In this case, one bad choice cost me my run. The Okkar, a race of space lizards, have been hunting me for a dozen jumps. Usually, I escape without too much hassle, but this time I jump right into the thick of it. Sick of running, I decide to fight. But in front of me lies a Corvette, larger than anything I have yet faced. With multiple gun batteries and a substantial shield, this enemy is daunting. I do not feel dread, but anticipation: on this run, I have finally acquired enough resources to boost my weapons and store a vast supply of missiles. So, I engage the Corvette, sick of running from these Okkar bastards. Much to my surprise, I win the day! Maybe my skill is improving, or maybe I just finally had the necessary equipment to take on the ship. Either way, this is my greatest success yet.
As debris slowly drifts through the vacuum of space, I comb through the destruction for my well-earned rewards. I take everything I can carry off the Corvette’s ruin and strip everything I can for resources. I feel like the world of Everspace has finally clicked; my ship sits on enough advanced weapons and resources to hopefully carry me through all the challenges ahead. I begin to fly away to prepare to explore the rest of this sector I have jumped to. Looking ahead, I notice a singularity in the distance. It looks small, but the singularity warning on my screen leads me to believe it will be no less dangerous for it.
But I am drunk on power after my victory over the Corvette. After noticing that the singularity contains Dark Matter around its borders, a valuable resource, I make the fateful decision to get closer and siphon up the delectable new resources. With my newfound confidence and some swagger to boot, I get a little too close. As the singularity begins to suck me in, I desperately attempt to turn around and fly away, putting all my power into thrusters. It is not nearly enough. As my engines run out, I get sucked in, to my doom. I would never have expected hubris to be my downfall, yet here I am, looking at the letters “KIA” in the middle of my screen.
This is just one of many stories Everspace, the first title by Rockfish Games, has provided me. It is a space exploration game. It uses the “rogue-like” style of play where random events determine the path you take in each game. In a rogue-like, you are expected to die frequently. You go through the game until death, and then restart, and try again. Each play through is quite different thanks to the randomized nature of the game. One run of the game may see you dying in the first sector as you fail to find any good loot to propel you through the game. Another run may bequeath glorious hauls of advanced technology on you early in the game, letting you coast through jump after jump until you finally face a worthy enemy.
In Everspace, you are a man in a ship with an AI companion to guide you. You have a destination, but the journey is not clear. The premise is simple but very straightforward and easy to follow. The story comes to you in bits and pieces, mostly through flashbacks and short cutscenes that are rewarded as you make it further through the game. There is nothing particularly special about the story, but it serves its purpose well as an explanation for your purpose in the game. The voice acting is solid thanks to a very small cast of characters. There are good lines here and there as your AI companion dryly remarks on the shenanigans you constantly get mixed up in. For the most part, however, the story is inconsequential to the experience of the game.
The Everspace experience, thankfully, is quite robust. The game revolves around a cycle: each sector contains a few jumps. At each jump, you must explore the space around you as you fight, trade, and pillage, and collect resources. Your run constitutes you attempting to progress as far as you can into the game with each sector unveiling new enemies and threats in exchange for greater rewards if you survive. When you finally succumb to the harsh enemies and are destroyed, you then return to the main menu.
All is not lost as you can enact permanent upgrades to your character in between runs. You gain credits over the course of your run, and these can be spent on “perks” (passive bonuses) that your character keeps on all future runs. You can purchase greater resource yields, better trade options, and more scanning information about what you are jumping into, to name some handier perks. You can also buy two new ships for hefty sums. Each of the three ships plays quite differently, with different speeds, different weapon capabilities, and different equipment. The smallest ship, the scout, is my favorite. It can use cloaking to turn invisible, and even use a teleporter to travel short distances and disorient its foes. It has limited armaments and shields, but is by far the fastest of the three ships. You can even unlock multiple starting configurations for each of the three ships, with different starting weapons and equipment. These options keep each new run fresh, with numerous play styles.
In a rogue-like, it is necessary to give a player many options and different ways to play. Players need to be able to make choices based on the randomized circumstances the game provides, and live or die by those choices. Everspace thankfully provides the player with many options to choose from. With limited weapon and equipment slots, and a wealth of resources to spend, you must always make tough calls about ways to spend your resources and effort. Should I keep my chain gun, or swap it for a coil gun? Should I carry one ARC-9000 super weapon or a dozen anti-shield missiles? Should I repair my hull or fix my damaged weapon systems? Would I rather better range, or a better fire rate? Should I risk stealing from the G&B mining company at the risk of future hostility with the group? Everspace is filled to the brim with choices like these. The wide array of player choices provides a sense of agency few games can match.
If there is one downside to the gameplay, it is the controls. The game was obviously designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind. The game offers you the options to roll, strafe, boost your engines or brake, to change your camera view, fire primary weapons and missiles, and use two types of equipment. The game is complex, and the wealth of options do not work as efficiently on a controller. Eventually, you will get used to it, but a controller will never work as seamlessly for this game as a mouse and keyboard. However, the inconvenience that controller play initially provides is not of a magnitude to detract from the experience, overall. Once you are used to the controls, the game will play wonderfully regardless of the system you play on. Though, if you have a computer that can run Everspace, I would recommend the PC version. It is worth noting that on PC the controls will have less of a learning curve, and you will have the option of playing the game in VR if you have the hardware.
I would be remiss not to talk about the technical quality of Everspace. The game is gorgeous with fantastic backgrounds and fiery explosions. The visuals are often awe-inspiring both due to the flair of magnificent space anomalies (such as lightning storms) and the art style which places an emphasis on a bright, colorful, neon aesthetic. The game has solid attention to detail in its visuals. A damaged ship will show cracked glass in first-person and scorch marks on the hull in third-person. The game also runs very smoothly. I experienced only one major frame rate drop during all my time playing the game which I consider anomalous.
With concern to the visuals, the HUD (heads-up display) is my only gripe. The HUD is redundant, displaying both at the top of your screen and in your ship’s cockpit. You can try playing using only the ship’s cockpit, but playing without the HUD to attempt this will require playing without a crosshair which complicates the matter. I consider it a missed opportunity to design each ship’s cockpit to incorporate all aspects of the HUD except for a crosshair or targeting mechanic. Playing with effectively two HUDs on your screen at once takes you out of a game that is otherwise extremely immersive.
The sound design is also quite good. It delivers solid effects and a suitable soundtrack. The soundtrack focuses on electronics, especially the guitar. Do not let the trailer fool you though; the in-game soundtrack is far subtler than it would appear and suits the game well. You will recognize the style from other sci-fi set games like Mass Effect, Stellaris, and especially FTL: Faster Than Light (which obviously had a great influence on the design of Everspace).
If you enjoy space exploration, dogfighting, and a rogue-like progression, Everspace is a dream come true. The game could use more enemy types in the early game, and a fix for its redundant HUD, but these are minor flaws. This game is great entertainment, and a highly replayable experience. It has my wholehearted endorsement. I cannot wait to see what Rockfish Games has planned next.
- Rogue-like mechanics
- Gorgeous visuals
- Emphasis on player choice
- Challenging, but rewarding gameplay
- Variety of play styles
- Redundant HUD
- By-the-numbers story
- Controls initially challenging