Monday, 3 August 2009

Space opera to go [Reviews: Galaxy On Fire and Deep]

I'm reviewing two java mobile phone games by FishLabs: Galaxy on Fire and Deep Submarine Odyssey. Both use the same 3D graphics engine. The former is a space combat sim with Freelancer style missions - follow the waypoints and shoot down the enemy ships, although there is some mission variation - shoot down mines, junk or asteroids, carry a passenger/cargo to a waypoint, defend or attack a freight convoy, disable a cap ship. The game is set in an endless war between the humans and the alien Vossk, with some pesky pirates thrown in for good measure. Arrr. Storyline missions are linear however when you complete them the game opens out, allowing you to explore the galaxy, continue trading ships and upgrading weapons, and take on further missions. If you travel far enough you can switch allegiance and fly missions for the Vossk, attacking the human convoys, fighters or cap ships, and trade your ship and weapons in for Vossk equivalents. Flying and fighting are simple and playable, and happily the game features some really corny dialogue.

Galaxy on Fire seems to be an attempt to code a space-based exploration game with some freedom of play. Deep is a direct descendent of Galaxy - the graphics and interface are almost identical but the gameplay is much deeper. Elite, the original freeform space game, inspired both space and submarine-based sims (UIM ring any bells?) and this game is set on a submerged world, where submarines travel between floating colonies. Once again you are placed in a war between two factions and have to complete missions similar to those in Galaxy, however a key gameplay element has been added - fishing. Using a kind of tractor beam you can hunt down about twenty different kinds of fish and algae, as well as picking up cargo from downed subs.

As the game progresses you can either sell your cargo, or earn money from fishing missions, or take your catch to processing stations where you can create and sell other products. This time you have to actually travel from place to place using portals, and approach stations to dock (auto-only, Elite fans!) Ship upgrades are more complex - in addition to weaponry and the harpoons you have to equip your ship with radiation shields to reach the high-altitude stations, or hull reinforcement for low-altitude. And while I still think only Frontier ever really got the ship upgrade system right, Deep comes close as you can opt for heavy and slow ships with a huge capacity or small fast multi-weapon subs depending on whether you are a fisher or a fighter or to suit different mission types. One more feature of the game stands out - as you progress through the story missions, the political map changes as stations switch alliegance.

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