As was explicitly stated to us, Ancient Space: not a deeply narrative space opera or a high budget science fiction extravaganza, but simply new strategy game by Creative Forge Games and published by Paradox. There have been many comparisons made between it and the Homeworld series, but other than both taking place in space and having a carrier that spawns units, they don’t have much in common. It’s also not, as has been suggested, a 4x game. Ancient Space bears the greatest similarity to Command and Conquer, Starcraft and other real time tactical games and the most direct comparison would be to one of the space levels in Starcraft 2 or the Star Trek: Armada series. The story is more than a bit convoluted (and from what I can work out, superficial) and mostly consists on a series of voice-overs between missions rather than something that integrates into the missions and keeps one’s interest.
Ancient Space is attractive — particularly in the beginning. This region of “Ancient Space” is home to massive asteroids and space stations on a grand scale. It’s clear that much of the effort went into building these lovely maps. Every area is incredibly detailed and merits some time just looking at. This level of detail can sometimes get confusing especially with the top down view that allows for the best control, but overall it looks great. The ships, however, aren’t particularly good looking and in the view that you’d almost assuredly want to play the game in, they are largely obfuscated by icons representing the ship. Like certain other games the battles could possibly look great if you zoomed in all the way but you need to micromanage your units and keep track of what’s happening so a ringside seat of the battle is suicide. During the actual game these detailed maps don’t have much in the way of collision detection, often with illusion shattering results.
Gameplay is rather straightforward. Enemies will continuously spawn and attack you while you grind through the level, capturing strategic points and building up your force limit and fleet. The game is highly linear, offering the player a few discrete choices as to how to proceed. The key to winning battles is to pause the game and issue orders to individual units rather than choosing where and how to attack. Having the right mix of units is very important, but like in many RTT games rather self explanatory especially with a little bit of scouting. Being able to concentrate large amounts of firepower in each battle is essential with the low unit caps so the best place for each unit is on the front line engaging the enemy. The areas tend to be relatively cramped and the 3rd dimensional aspect seems like an afterthought as if they created a 2-D map and then assigned z-axis values later.
Ancient Space uses both upgrades between missions for your units, like in Starcraft 2, and you choose officers who give you some sort of fleet-wide bonus for a time. The scripting and gameplay often exhibit glitches and laziness. After moving to a new sector, I thought the game had crashed until I realized that it had placed the camera inside I building so I couldn’t see anything. The enemy AI seems extremely rudimentary and often doesn’t do what it is supposed to, forcing the player to make suicidal attacks on heavily defended areas because the last enemy fighter was stuck and couldn’t attack you as it was supposed to.
Ancient Space is worth a look for those who enjoy linear real time tactical games, but isn’t going to be remembered with the same fondness as the games it has been compared to. While the levels look great up close, there’s few other redeeming or original qualities. It’s a mediocre offering in a genre that demands great games that draw us in, challenge us and force us to think in three dimensions. Ancient Space doesn’t live up to its marketing and could’ve benefited from some additional time and testing; it is, however, playable and cheap.
Version Reviewed: PC