Element Space was a big indie draw for me at PAXAus last year, sadly it didn’t make the show.
The Element Space attraction?
Well, an isometric turn based strategy game always goes down very well. The closer you are to Laser Squad, Enemy Unknown, XCOM the better. At the outset Element Space promised exactly some of that.
The team at Sixth Vowel have delivered on the strategy side of it for sure. It works in a similar vein to early turn based favourites. Move your team around a battlefield, using actions and making choices between skills or attacks or reloads, etc. It works and is delivered competently, but the feeling of being Lite XCOM can’t be shaken off. That said, even with the tools on offer I have enjoyed a few tense encounters. Flanking is essential, as is the timing of when and where to use your skills.
Levels are broken up into battles around a larger map. Your team traverses this map by clicking along a route and dropping in narrative exposition. It’s a nice way to show off the skill and design, but these bigger areas feel wasted.
Bugs, in Space?
At present I have barely made the halfway point in the game, due to fatal crashes. The first time I Tweeted the developers and the fix was pushed out the next day. The second and third time I have encountered crashes to desktop during the start of later missions. I assume they know and will be working to fix it, but knowing the game will probably kick you off takes away momentum. There have been a few glitchy errors that often cause me to lose control, a character sliding off into the corner of the map mid-move for example.
These issues aside, the combat side of the game is great and in the absence of a bigger game it will do nicely. It’s also worth noting that Element Space would and should have been available on the PS Vita, simply the best platform for it.
What’s the wider picture?
Your roster is be added to via character recruitment through story events. Buffs and skills can be earned and unlocked, which is nice. Characters are on the safe side and the whole Space Opera feels like idea notes in a pre-Mass Effect world. Playing side missions and completing their mission goals will reward you with weapons to chose from too. This can enhance your loadout significantly and give you the edge.
However wrapped around these mechanics is the overarching sci-fi melodrama that I am not following. Static and to be brutal, not very good images of the crew stand around between missions. Their dialogue text is played out before their mute faces. I know we are in Indie Country, but this is 2020 – please let me skip this stuff. A lot of work has also gone into the relationships between characters, and their politics.
Controlling their trust of the Captain Kirk alike (Captain Christopher Pietham) leading the team. It feels like padding, especially being forced down dull conversation routes just to make a bar chart go up. The ambition is commendable to offer up an arching narrative with various outcomes. However when the game isn’t robust most players won’t get that far until its fixed.
Element Space in conclusion.
If the team had gone all in on the strategical map, added some verticality and destructible environments it would have been a no brainer. I love the action side of the game. I have to wait for the bugs to be patched out before I go further. While I hope with fingers crossed that skippable dialogue comes with one of those patches.
Element Space will be worth a pickup after a few fixes, I’m sure Blowfish will see it right.