Friday, May 28, 2010

Why space-sims need to be revived

 There's nothing like space camaraderie.If there’s something in the gaming world to get all riled up about it should be, without question, the total abandonment of the space-sim genre. Taking a look back, Freespace, Wing Commander, and TIE Fighter are all notable, successful titles that did their fair share to optimize contemporary gaming. Why then, has no one successfully sought a return to this glorious form?

 In a world where gunmetal grey and post-apocalyptic settings are taken and reused without a second thought, it apparently hasn’t occurred to anyone that reviving this genre could lead to a much needed creative burst throughout the industry. Sure, there’ve been games here and there that employ space exploration and combat, but it’s been nothing too serious. The Colony Wars trilogy created a successful feel on the Playstation, but the wind was quickly taken out of its sails in Red Sun. EVE online remains successful, but it’s a highly involved MMO and not something as accessible as any of the aforementioned games. Honestly it’s quite baffling when you think about it.

 Playing on the side of the  Imperials was awesome. There have been plenty of titles that take place in space, but it’s not the same as playing in it. Mass Effect does an excellent job at exploratory devices in the black, but you’re not actually piloting a hunk of expensive, sleek looking material; and that’s a big difference. Having your own personal fighter means you’ve got the ability to cut and mold it to your liking with the magical properties of space-travel to boot. For example, being able to turn 360 degrees in any direction allows for free-form maneuverability, thus allowing you to shake bogies and missiles in a plethora of ways.  Altering speed, hitting a turn just at the right moment to get that perfect missile trajectory, your fighter is a piece of you and it’s all in how you utilize it. The closest you can probably get to a quality space-sim, believe it or not, is located in the vast skies of Ace Combat. Impossibly over-sized bosses, intense dog-fights, and more missiles than any third-world country could amass make it feel exciting, albeit for a game taking place within the confines of gravity.

 There was a time when this was  revolutionary. Customization isn’t a new thing, but aerial/space combat games are the only ones that allow total freedom in movement. So allowing you the opportunity to customize individual play styles furthers my bewilderment as to why these games are so few and far between. More so than that, combat scenarios, such as in Wing Commander, ramp up to insane levels and allow you to go about it in your own way. The feeling you get as your convoy is ambushed is absolutely nothing like the emotion you’d receive in present day games. Do you take down the capital ship and in turn leave your freighters open to attack? Or perhaps you take its engines offline and simply move away from the assault as you and your wingmen mop up the surrounding fighters. Present day games treat these scenarios as trivial and forgettable, which is what sets games like Wing Commander apart from the rest.

Constant use of a setting that’s churned out successful games isn’t going to disappear, but the industry must explore different settings if it’s to become more of an exciting place. Space-sims are definitely one of the most neglected genres and that’s probably because developers/publishers feel the market isn’t grasping for them. They’d be right, but with a single break-out hit a forgotten genre can bloom into a successful one. Just look at what Red Dead Redemption did for the western. It’s just further proof that unique, compelling, and absurdly fun games are waiting beneath the dusty shelves of the past. What just a little polish could bestow unto unsuspecting gamers.

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1 comment:

  1. Dude, I couldn't possibly agree with you more! I've been hoping for a Freespace 3 for years now. We can only hope one of the more open-minded developers reads this blog. :P