Developer: Flow Combine
Publisher: 11-bit studios
Genre: Tactical, Real Time
Rating: E (Everyone) – Although online play may change rating
Release Date: September 17, 2014
Playing strategy and tactical games since the 1980’s, I’ve had a hidden love for games that reach back into my youth and drag my pimply, high-school self into the present. One such video game that came out in 2006 that emulated Global Thermal Nuclear War reminiscent of the 1983 film War Games staring a young Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy and John Wood. The game was called DEFCON and thrown out there by Introversion Software – the same guys who made the hit game Darwinia. So when David threw a new game into my lap, and I tested it out, I was largely surprised to be hit by another one of these games.
SPACECOM is a new-ish tactical/strategical multi-player strategy game developed by Marek Ziemak of Flow Combine. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, it should. Marek has worked on games such as The Witcher in the past. The publisher is 11-bit studios, who should also sound familiar since they published the Anamoly game series. The game was Green-lit on Steam, and will be available to play this month (September 17th). I was given a press pass to play the final version of the game.
One thing you’ll immediately notice is the game is not one of intense graphics. The entire premise of the game is to create a strategic game with tactical elements but using simplistic visual cues to tell you everything that’s going on in the game. There’s some amazing depth for having such a basic graphical interface – everything you represents something you must take account of when trying to win. You aren’t distracted by flashy space battles or crowded, bloated ground combat. Instead, you watch things unfold in real time by clicking on systems and viewing data.
While that may not sound interesting at first, it becomes strangely addictive. And I think it’s important not to get bogged down in watching battles, because after a few minutes after the game starts, you’ll have up to seven or eight battles going on at once. You’ll need to click back and forth to monitor the progress of everything going on. If your fleet starts to lose, for example, you may want to make it withdraw before all the ships are lost. Ships are expensive and take time to build, so to lose an entire fleet can put you at great disadvantage in that area of the map.
The music and sounds floating around in the background are nice – they give off a feeling of floating in space, listening to radio traffic. The music is standard for a space game, with ethereal haunting notes that seem to echo around your speakers or headphones. I’m reminded of regular 4X games when I listen to SPACECOM music, and it never really gets old.
SPACECOM keeps things relatively simple. No tech trees, no ship modification, no complex planet management. Instead, you have three fleet types – Battle, Invasion and Siege. How you use the fleets you build to control systems is important, since your opponent is working against you every second of the game. You’ll also be able to build things like a Kinetic Shield to slow the enemy from controlling a system (and it makes a huge difference during space battles, since enemy fleets may focus their fire on the shield instead of your fleet), Battle Stations to fight back, and Ground troops to slow enemy invaders from conquering the planets. The fleets are were it counts, though.
As I mentioned, the fleets come in three types. The first type is Battle. These fleets are strongest when attacking other fleets in space. They attack more often per round, doing more damage per 15 seconds than the other two fleets. Battle fleets are recognized by the top third of the fleet icon being colored in. You’ll probably build more Battle fleets than the other types, since they are how you control the space around systems.
The next type is Siege. Siege plays a very specific role in the game, one that you might use too often. Siege fleets bombard planets from above, slowly rendering the planet unfit for future occupation. If you want to deny your enemy the use of a system, you siege it until it’s completely obliterated (the entire system turns red). Siege fleets are recognized by the second third of the fleet icon being colored in.
The last type is Invasion, which are used to capture systems. They represent one ground troop that can land and attack other ground troops. When all the opposing ground troops in a system are dead and you have at least one surviving Invasion fleet, you win the system. You can tell the Invasion fleet to land and become an occupying ground troop, if you want. It’s the only way to leave troops behind in systems that can’t build Ground troops. Invasion fleets are recognized by the bottom third of the fleet icon being colored in.
Fleets also level up as they win battles, so you may want to use the experienced units in vital battles to win. Levels mean faster attacks, which means more damage per 15 seconds. Which can be the single most important factor in a decisive battle for a powerful system in the middle of the map, or in your home system. Levels are symbolized by little gold chevrons next to your fleet icons.
Positioning fleets also has an added benefit – you can see what is going on in systems adjacent to any system you have a fleet in. So you may want to place expendable fleets on the front line, occasionally bolstering them, just so you can spy on your opponent’s fleets in the neighboring systems. I found it is absolutely vital to know what your opponent is doing when you finally meet in the middle, so I gave up single fleets here and there to keep an eye his/her activities.
You can play a series of missions and/or Skirmish games against the CPU to practice. This is nice, because if you don’t have a good grasp of how things work, the CPU will adequately school you. In Skirmish, trivial AIs are easy to smash, while the Expert AI will hit you smartly with everything it has constantly. Which is good practice, because when you finally play another real player (or several live opponents at once), that’s exactly how every game goes. Since the game is real player, you will have to be prepared to react to everything going on in real time. Reminds me of playing a MOBA like League of Legends. Or playing Starcraft II multi-player. It is not easy to win by any means, and things shift quickly enough that you may feel a little overwhelmed at first.
The fun comes in snatching systems away from your opponent(s) while solidifying your own power base, trying to get fleets built with limited resources. Denying the critical system within enemy territory by using siege fleets to pummel it into non-existence, sneak attacking a small fleet being built deep in enemy territory or ramming a dozen ships into the maw of battle is all equally satisfying. Having a system conquered in a weak spot in your line; losing a system you bulked up with a Shield, Station and Ground troops; or having an entire fleet crushed by a fleet that suddenly gets reinforced from all directions … can be equally heart-breaking. There were times I wanted to rage-quit, but I hung in there and squeaked out a win because I found a hole in the opponent’s strategy.
All in all, SPACECOM is a game that will have strategical/tactical gamers coming back. Why? Because it’s deceptively easy and fun, and games don’t take hours to play. The longest game I played was 35 minutes long tops. Much faster than most of my Civilization type game matches. You have a rating, as well, to tell you how well or bad you’re doing, but don’t let that get you down. You can win games just by being persistent.
So to sum up SPACECOM –
It’s a strategy/tactical game that uses minimal graphics, simplistic units and easy to learn. If you like games with depth that don’t involve hours of research and detailed space battles, then you’ll like SPACECOM. If you like fast, real-time strategy with tense moments, you’ll like SPACECOM. If you want to fly a ship around space, track every little detail about every battle, micromanage planets down to the individual citizens … well, SPACECOM may not be your thing. If you like story and RPGs, don’t get SPACECOM.
It is a good game, though, that will most likely have a following similar to the one that DEFCON still has 8 years later (I kid you not – there are still thousands of people playing DEFCON today). There is a thrill in simplistic space domination, and this game has it.