Review: Panthera Frontier19 Jul 2017 1
Review: Panthera Frontier
Released 21 Jun 2017
Are you one of those people who found Subset Games’ spaceship management game FTL a little too stressful? It’s quite understandable since you spend all of your time dashing around repairing damage and yelling “the engines cannae take it!” Then, as FTL was a rogue-like game, there was the constant threat of permanent death and the task of having to start all over again. Did you ever think, “Golly, I wish there was a similar game that wasn’t quite so difficult and included cats?”
Well, Panthera Frontier is here to make your dreams come true. It should be noted from the start that these aren’t the kind of cats that curl up on your lap whilst purring like a pneumatic drill. No, these are Starfox style cartoon animals with human traits. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about providing litter trays or coping with other questionable feline personal hygiene routines. Nor do you have to concern yourself with the smuggling of contraband catmint.
You take on the role of the commander of a feline spaceship and have to plot journeys, manage your crew and deal with a range of hostile situations. Your ship is viewed from a side-on perspective and is divided into different modules, each with its own specific function. You assign crew members to each module. They will then undertake such duties as managing your shields, firing weapons and navigating. Each crewmember has a set of skills, which will improve with experience. You may also get the opportunity to enlist exceptional crewmembers who have their own unique expertise, such as repairing your ship at a faster rate.
Throughout the adventure you will complete missions, salvage equipment and earn money to purchase upgrades. Sooner rather than later, you will encounter hostile craft, sometimes pirates and sometimes ships from the tyrannical Wolf Empire. Now is the time to put your skills of command to the test. The screen depicts a cross-sectional view of the two ships involved. You can direct fire at any part of the enemy vessel; you could focus on knocking out their shields or disarming weapon systems. Some enemy ships are not only protected with shields but also have cloaking devices. In these situations, you need to time your attacks so that they hit when your opponent’s cloaking system is recharging. The crew is in constant danger of taking damage, so you may need to direct them to the infirmary for treatment by a doctor - or a vet.
This all sounds very much like FTL, there are the same real-time galactic dogfights and the same crises management as you issue orders to extinguish fires and make repairs. However, the level of stress never reaches the heart-attack inducing heights of FTL. You do not for instance have to worry about sealing doors to protect your diminishing oxygen levels. Nor do you have to concern yourself with distributing power to your various systems.
Combat may not be as involving or as tense as FTL, but it does make the game much more approachable. Furthermore, the excellent tutorial does a sound job of guiding you through the initial encounters. However, the constant need to keep flicking between your ship and the enemy vessel does feel a little cumbersome, especially in the heat of battle. More worrying, on a couple of occasions the game froze completely. No progress was lost.
Sadly, the missions tend to be repetitive and uninspiring. Usually, you just travel from one place to another and if you are lucky you might get to have a fight in-between. Hopping from planet to planet soon becomes a test of patience as your ship has a very limited travel radius. Each time that you travel you are forced to watch the same sequence as your ship jumps into hyperspace and then your communication officer reports back.
The same is true of combat itself as there are annoying sequences before each battle commences. I also found that there is a distinct lack of tactical decision-making. It doesn’t really seem to matter where you focus attacks and the different classes of enemy ships are not that distinctive. If you bring bigger guns to the party then you are virtually assured victory. Even when things are going badly you can usually run away... as long as your engines are still working.
This brings us onto the unfortunate subject of Catmium. It may sound like a brand of tinned pet food, but Catmium is actually a form of currency – although it certainly does smell a bit fishy. There are two financial resources in the game; missions reward you with gold and daily achievements award a small amount of Catmium. You can also acquire Catmium by spending gold or by making an in-app purchase. Catmium is certainly worth having, it can be used to expand your hanger’s cargo, crew and ship space, to enlist improved crew members and, most annoyingly, to cheat death. When your ship is destroyed you normally have to forfeit gold and crew experience points. Some members of your crew may even die. However, by spending the wondrous Catmium you can be spared these penalties. It feels rather cheap that the developers try to induce you to spend more cash in this fashion.
Panthera Frontier does have some interesting ideas and feels quite polished. There are even arenas where you can test your combat skills against other player’s ships. You can visit an arena once each day, and thankfully defeat does not result in the usual penalties. However, maybe I’m just rubbish, but I found these battles really tough. If you are unlucky then combat can quite literally be over in a single blast.
There is certainly room on the market for a streamlined spaceship management game. Unfortunately, in the process of making a more approachable game, the developers have not only rationalised the idea but also oversimplified it. The result is a rather repetitive and directionless experience. It is sad that the legacy of Panthera Frontier’s initial freemium release is still present. The considerable expense of decent upgrades and the ability to cheat death feel unbalanced and make the game too much of a slog unless you are prepared to spend extra cash.