DEVELOPER: Rockfish Games
PUBLISHER: Rockfish Games
EXPECT TO PAY: $42 AUD - $72 AUD (Ultimate edn)

I’m feeling pretty good - my ship’s at full health, the shields are powered up, and I’ve steadily upgraded my weapons until I can comfortably take on a swarm of drones and maybe a few fighters. I’ve gotten this far by being cautious and methodical, never lingering in a zone for long enough for the Okkar forces (a mysterious and hostile alien race) to track me down and, in general, keeping on the good side of the G&B mining corporation (well, there was that time I looted their fuels cells and turned the entire corporation hostile for the remainder of the sector - it was that, wait to get blown out of the sky by the Okkar, or risk being turned into dust by attempting a jump with insufficient fuel). The zone I’ve jumped into is amazingly pretty - floating clouds as far as the eye can see, an electric storm rippling in the distance and there, at the centre of everything, a black hole. Some warnings flash up on the screen, but I barely pay them any attention. I’ve encountered these types of clouds before and know that they interfere with my scanners. Suddenly, cutting through the mist, I see it: an Okkar corvette: a ship five times the size of my fighter, bristling with long-range laser cannons, and swarming with offensive and defensive drones. I decide to give my upgraded guns a go, and using my agility to put some decent size asteroids between us, I gradually whittle down their shields and inflict enough damage to take it out. Mistake. Yes, it drops a decent load of goodies, but taking out the corvette seems to have alerted the rest of the fleet. The first I realise this is when a couple of Okkar fighters jump into the zone - okay, not a problem. The two corvettes which follow, however are a problem. Time to leave! I start searching for the jump coordinates, but can’t find them. That’s when I realise that there were two warnings: 1) sensors impared, 2) JUMP SUPPRESSOR DETECTED. Twisting away from the THREE corvettes I start frantically searching for the suppressor (a signal tracker lets you know if you’re getting closer or further away).

This could have worked. The corvettes have long range weapons but are slow. Then the warship jumps in. A ship the size of a Star Destroyer warps in literally just underneath me. Skimming its surface, I manage to dodge the laser blasts and beam weapons - for about two seconds. Game over. At least I got a goodish amount of credits from that run to upgrade my ship a bit more for the next attempt...*

I think this game has just gone to number 1 on my favourites list. I haven’t played anything so visceral and visually satisfying, and with such a sense of tactical cat-and-mouse in a long time. (‘Do I explore the zone fully and risk the armada tracking me? Do I use lure the outlaw ships towards the G&B fighters and get them to help, or instead attack and loot the G&B?...’) Being a roguelike, death comes fast and often, and not just from an avenging armada, supersized battleships (yes, you will fight those) outlaws or rare space anomalies (tip: DO NOT shoot the grey goo, it doesn’t like it). You may get caught with no cover in a solar storm, as I did. Panicking, I watched as my shields geo stripped away and my life support systems fried, leaving me with a few minutes to frantically (and ultimately hopelessly) search for the resources to repair them. You might overestimate the thrust ability of your ship, and, thrusters straining, inexorably get sucked in to that black hole you’ve gotten a little too close to (that said, luring an enemy into one is very satisfying). Or you may simply be being careless and run into something.

It’s a mark of just how good this game is that, rather than throw the keyboard (or gamepad/joystick/VR headset) out the window, you find yourself coming back again and again. Every sector is randomly generated at the start of each run, and the world itself is rich with items to collect and craft, and areas to explore, with nothing feeling too much or redundant. Each weapon and device has its own distinct flavour, and can be customised (for example, to increase range, damage, reset time, energy economy and more). Need to quickly destroy an enemy’s shields? Try the laser. Want to be able to collect items from 700m away? Use the tractor-beam. Want to vary the gameplay? Start the next run using a sub-routine or glyph - giving distinct advantages and disadvantages - you’ve found. All this even before you consider the three types of ship (scout, fighter, gunship) you can choose from, and what upgrades to apply. The amount of choice available is simply staggering, but, amazingly, never overwhelming.

All of this has been superbly executed. The control scheme (especially keyboard and mouse) is tight and responsive (making death by collision all the more embarrassing), the HUD and camera simply work (and each ship has a fully functioning cockpit if you don’t like an over-the-shoulder view), and the in-game database is straight-forward and easy to navigate. Also, the game looks absolutely stunning (check out the screenshots), and is undoubtedly one of the prettiest games around. Rays of light peak through behind giant asteroids, suns crackle and sizzle, glowing bolts of energy zip through the darkness, black-holes distort the space around them. Along with this are little visual flairs which continue to impress: shoot a target straight on and it leaves a neat hole/scorch mark, decrease the angle from which you’re firing, and it leaves a long, ragged tear. All this increase the sense of immersion. Couple this with good audio, a decent story with excellent voice-acting, and a sardonic Red Dwarf style AI which quotes the Wizard of Oz at you (on unleashing a combat drone the AI suddenly cackles ‘Fly my pretties!’), and you have a complete package with great fun and tons of replayability.

While the Ultimate edition of Everspace does cost a fair bit more than the standard, you certainly get your money’s worth: the original soundtrack, digital art-book, wallpapers, and the Everspace - Encounters expansion. This adds a new ship for you to play with (the Sentinal, a medium fighter specialising in electronic warfare and armed with twin lighting guns), items, and a cast of new characters and missions.

Sometimes a developer simply gets it right, and this is one of those times.■

* Rockfish have since updated the game an made it that the pursuing warships can’t track you in cloud locations, giving a brief moment of respite.

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