Review: SpaceHeist15 Aug 2016 1
Released 25 Jul 2016
Of all the genres that have made a resurgence as of late, rogue-likes sit atop the list of ones I’m glad to see back. Games like FTL, The Binding Of Isaac and even XCOM to an extent scratch an itch I didn't even really know I had until recently. So when SpaceHeist entered the fray touting co-op of all things I was interested to say the least.
In SpaceHeist, you and up to two friends captain a variety of ships through the cosmos whilst avoiding asteroids, enemy ships and solar flares that look more like miniature stars than anything else. It reminds me a lot of Pulsar: Lost Colony on the PC which shares a similar premise.
While you can play solo it’s really not advised, as even on the earlier levels you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of screens you have to jump between and the numerous problems flying (or floating) your way. There's little difference between the two and three player experience.
The game has three ships which can be earned by completing all the missions with the previous ship or by purchasing them via an IAP. Unfortunately only one of the ship's allows three people whilst the other two are affairs strictly for dynamic duos. The fact that the three player ship is one of the ones behind the £1.80/$2.13 paywall feels a little manipulative, but the flip-side is that only one person needs to own the ship for all three of you to play. You'll notice that ships also have more stations than there are people – four on a two-person ship, six on a three person. Simply put, staying at one station for the duration of a run can be rather boring so being able to switch between all of the stations helps alleviate that.
The gameplay itself is smooth if a bit simple. Going round all the stations on the first ship we have the laser station where you drag your two beams individually onto whichever target you please and they will do damage over time. Purple lightning bolts float by from time to time, nabbing and activating them overcharges your lasers allowing them to do extra damage for a short period. Next is shield control, which rather than having you manage energy bars, or something like that, has you spawn little shields in space that deflect dangers. You can deploy three at a time and they can only deflect one thing before disappearing so you have to use them wisely.
The repair station is undoubtedly my favourite of the bunch: you select a damaged section and then have to do a quick word puzzle to repair it. None of the puzzles I’ve encountered were very challenging but it’s still an interesting way to handle that mechanic. Lastly we have the pilot station which involves you tapping out a path on the map, trying your best to avoid obstacles and such. This is easily the most lacklustre of the lot and it only really needs a quick glance every now and then to make sure you haven’t bumbled into an asteroid field.
It’s quite apparent that SpaceHeist is a low key project. The the sound effects are well done, but the door noise every time you start a game is louder than everything else for no reason and the game is utterly devoid of music. I’m aware not every game requires heart-wrenchingly beautiful soundtracks that took the composer an eon to complete but even some generic background music would help the game feel less empty and dead.
The lack of story and context are things I think I’m going to bring up ad nauseam on this site but SpaceHeist doesn’t even pretend it’s got either of those at all. I only realised the reason for the game’s name when a friend pointed out that the enemy ships you fight are likely police ships and so you’re probably robbers or thieves. There's no intro sequence going over the story and the only character is a woman in the tutorial who teaches you the basics and then rides off on her proverbial space bike, never to be seen again.
Lastly we come to the weakness hidden within SpaceHeist’s strength - local co-op. Now I don't pretend to know a lot about net code or running servers, and I appreciate this can be a nightmare especially for less experienced devs or ones who only do it part time. But with all that being said I genuinely feel SpaceHeist would greatly benefit from proper online play. At the moment the game does allow you to play online by sharing your public IP address with friends but this systems seems a bit unruly and is also not even mentioned on the store page. As it is the only time I could see myself and some friends playing this game casually would be when we’re out and waiting for someone to arrive or when we’re on a train/bus journey which isn’t all that often in my case. I am glad to report the game does allow android and IOS uses to play together though, which is something.
At the end of the day even if you’re vehemently disagreeing with everything I’ve just said about the game the one thing I want you to take away from this review is to give the game a shot. It’s free and a miniscule download so anyone can play it. Pockethop’s rather spartan site still says they are working on SpaceHeist and I hope that means they plan on supporting it for a while as I believe with a bit of elbow grease and love this it could turn into a nice little gem.