A few years ago, I was introduced to The Cosmos, presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It was an incredibly easy show to watch, if a little patronising to its viewers. Although what it did have in abundance was spectacle. It was the kind of show that begged for a 4K viewing as Neil whizzed us around the universe in his fictional spaceship. The cosmos as he depicted it, was a place of visual splendour. Vast views of high definition planets, colourful rings around them and everything bathed in the light of a nearby star. Everspace is very similar to Neil’s cosmos in all its colourful glory. Although, its visuals are not all it has going for it. A fiendishly addictive gameplay loop props up the Everspace experience wonderfully, even if it does sometimes ask a lot from the player.
In Everspace, we’ll play as a cocky yet confused pilot with amnesia. The further we push through each sector of the galaxy, more will be revealed about the pilot’s past as his memories return to him. One of his earlier realisations is that he is in fact, a clone of his “original” – a man who seemingly did terrible things. The pilot’s talkative A.I computer sidekick makes a point of how it’s hardly a surprise that a majority of those he encounters want to kill him.
Frustrated and confused, the pilot pushes on through a post war universe to find answers about his “original” and clear his name. When all is said and done, Everspace’s story is a fairly simple fare and shouldn’t be the reason we play it. Although, the universe of Everspace hints at faction rivalries and the kind of politics one would expect as the dust settles after a furious war between between mankind and the Okkar. This sets the stage for plenty of intriguing, non-essential discoveries to be found in the many shipwrecks floating adrift.
It’s important to bear in mind that Everspace was developed by just twelve people and when we see the end result, that in itself is quite impressive. This game originally released on PC after a successful Kickstarter project and when it did, RockFish Studio was still working out how to deliver a story. The end result has been a kind of comic book set of images with backing dialogue and conversations with the ship computer. Don’t expect high end cutscenes or amazing voice over work. While Everspace’s story is nothing to write to home about, it does give the events within it an important anchor to take place from. Otherwise, Everspace would be a meaningless grind. A fun grind, all the same.
Where the story may be lacking in substance, Everspace’s gameplay most certainly is not. After a long day at work, sitting down to play Everspace may have been a bit of a mistake. In hindsight I was not mentally equipped at the time to deal with Everspace’s many upgrade options or complicated ship controls. To make matters worse, the tutorial was lengthy (as it rightly should be) but didn’t really sink in to my 9-5 addled brain.
That was my fault. What it really means is that it’s honestly impressive how much depth has been poured into Everspace’s gameplay, almost making it a kind of flight sim RPG. No one weapon is better or worse than the last. It’ll just have attributes that demand an understanding to be used effectively. Some rockets may only damage enemy shields; some may bypass shields and punch straight through to the hull with lower damage. On top of this, Everspace has a wide array of customisable ships. Each have a long list of base attributes. Each can be unlocked and upgraded over time. Cue the player grind. It’s an in-game system that cleverly encourages a long and bountiful road of gameplay yet to come.
In a lot of Everspace’s marketing material, we’re told that “death is just the beginning.” What this really means is that each time you load up Everspace, it’s all about travelling as far through space as you can before getting outgunned by the increasing pressure from enemy ships. After your ship explodes, it’s back to the hanger to use your ground out resources and credits to apply to upgrades, helping you to push that much further next time around. It’s a little like a free form wave survival. Each area is called a sector, with several sub-levels within it, offering varying levels of challenge. It’s up to the player to choose what kind of route to take through a sector. They’ll need to take into consideration their current ship capabilities and wrestle with their own greed for the better loot in tougher areas.
It’s a fantastically addictive formula. A kind of “I can do better next time” attitude that is instilled in the player. Despite this, it comes off as a little jarring to start with as we may push all the way to Sector 5 only to die and end up back to square one with a better ship. That’s right – if you want to unlock every part of Everspace’s story, you’ll need to get from one end of it to the other in one session. The kind of player smarts that Everspace demands in achieving this makes it a pretty difficult game. It doesn’t take long for Okkar fleets to ambush you en masse, overwhelming you with a barrage of green and blue lasers from every direction.
Each area we go to will have a kind of invisible timer before these fleets turn up, ramping up the pressure to constantly find fuel and disable jump suppressors in time to move on to the next area. Personally, I welcomed the challenge in forward planning Everspace demanded of me. Other players may not take so kindly to this kind of setup. In this way, as I much as I applaud the smart gameplay loop RockFish has implemented, Everspace may become a victim of its own success. For some players, there will be a question of just how long they’re prepared to be booted back to square one for the one hundredth time before giving up for good.
To help them stick with the push, Everspace boasts a very flexible ship loadout. There’s no need to wait for death to equip new things on your ship. Enemy weapons can be harvested after combat if, luckily, one drops. The player can switch weapons out on the fly or if they have enough loot, can build new ones mid-level. It’s a lot of flexibility that certainly takes some getting used to and compliments a kind of gadgets system to give the pilot an edge. This may be a temporary ship disabling EMP blast or an override to turn enemy turrets against one another. After climbing the steep learning curve from the outset, the player will have a grasp on acceleration in space, ship manoeuvres and combining their primary and secondary weapons with gadgets to become a truly capable pilot. It takes a while. Getting there can be frustrating as I discovered some thing were possible only by directly going to the controls mapping in the options. Once you’re there however, you have a satisfying flight experience ahead of you.
Everspace’s gameplay loop may be confusing to some when starting out. The narrative kicks off to get us started then won’t make another appearance until the pilot beats his last distance limit. In that way, Everspace’s story moves forward solely on the progress of the player grind. It can be a little jarring but the moment to moment gameplay, that being – fight, exploration, looting, discovery, move on – is very satisfying. Once the player has a grip on Everspace’s initial learning curve, they’ll be in for the long haul.
Graphics & Sound
Like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Cosmos, Everspace is a pretty set of space related environs to look at it. It’s for that reason alone, I’m sure the devs popped in a photo mode (some of the shots you see in this review are thanks to that). With the aforementioned grindy gameplay loop, these massive explorable skyboxes would run the risk of getting stale through force of repetition. Thankfully, this is not the case with Everspace. Every run will reward your eyes with some kind of spacey variation. Asteroid fields, offset by the blue light of a distant star. Perhaps you’ll explore post war wreckage above the ring of planet or avoid interstellar lightning that pulsates red and white (I know, dumb. But it looks great). The trusty ol’ Unreal 4 Engine has done right by RockFish and it’ll do right by your eyes too.
This being a port to PS4 however, there are a few performance issues when things get a little too flashy for Eversapace’s own good. Fun as Everspace is; wicked fast as its load times are – it suffers from god awful frame rate drops. Those evil Okkar fleets that drop in on you after so long in each area? It’s like they’re fleets of system killers, here to gobble up your frame rate. That’s a heck of a lot of ships flying about and a heck of lot lasers. While that may be sweet fodder for the photo mode, live gameplay suffers so badly that you’ll want to fly away from the action just to be able to claw back a frame rate that lets you fight back.
The soundscape of Everspace is an interesting one. To start with, I had mistakenly judged its soundtrack as cheap trash. Complimented in trashiness yet further by the old school plinky plonky noises of collecting things. An arcade style you’d expect to hear at an arcade box in a bowling alley somewhere. In this sentiment, I was most certainly mistaken.
The more I played through Everspace, the more I realised how its music and overall sound effects complimented the game’s roots. Everspace is a true underdog rising from the ashes kind of development story and as I played on, I understood the sound design of this game reflect that. It knows it’s a mid-range game, at mid-range price and owns a kind of arcade feel, despite its deep RPG elements. It’s a kind of contrast that just works. The more I played, the more I realised just how much music was on offer, here. The further through space I pushed, the more I’d discover delightful melodies ranging from poignant piano work, to nu age synths, to mad action guitar blasts. Students of all things music tech, be sure to plug in some earphones and enjoy that bass warmth.
Everspace is fun and addictive. By that fact alone, it serves its purpose as an entertainment product. It now stands proudly alongside the likes of Echo and Hellblade as a mid range game, dressed in AAA clothes. The gameplay loop will absolutely keep you invested in the game, what to do next and how you want to prioritise your upgrades for the next big push through space. Frankly, the story is secondary at this rate as Everspace plays more on that grind hunger all gamers have within them. Get past that initial janky learning curve and you’ll spend a lot of time while not playing Everspace, thinking about Everspace. Thinking about what you’ll do next to push onto the next part of the soundtrack and the next beautiful segment of space RockFish had waiting for you all that time.
|+ Fun gameplay loop||– Lacklustre story|
|+ Deep system to get to grips with||– Risks burning the player out|
|+ Long grind for extra value||– Tough initial learning curve|