Review: Spacecraft: The Printing Age

By Dick Page 31 May 2018 0

Review: Spacecraft: The Printing Age

Released 06 Apr 2018

Developer: Dunbar Howar
Genre: Simulation
Available from:
App Store
Reviewed on: iPhone SE

If you are confused about why a game about spaceships takes place during the so-called 'printing age', the first thing you probably want to know is that the title of this game is referring to 3D printing, which you use to 'craft' in 'space'. Imagine the core mechanics of any number of space simulators, strip out anything interesting from them, and make a simplified version of them you can play on your phone, and you're about at Spacecraft.

Missions are rigidly divided into three types. In mining missions, you'll jump to a random spot and blast random asteroids until you fill your storage boxes. In transport missions, you'll buy a pile of one of a handful of commodities at a central station and then deliver them to the target for a slightly better price. In combat missions, you'll fly to a spot and kill everything that moves. The missions are randomly generated over time, replaced roughly every fifteen real-time minutes with new variations of the same themes. Missions are randomly scattered around the base and once you warp in they are encircled with convenient asteroid belts to prevent you from wandering too far.

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It should clear from the above descriptions that only one kind of mission holds a modicum of interest. Combat missions are your only chance to do something requiring danger or skill, so they really represent the meat of the game. If you want to take notes on the variations in commodity prices to make the best deals possible trading virtual livestock, you could play that game too, but I'm not sure why you'd want to.

Basic twin-stick controls let you fly your ship. They're virtual sticks, not swipe-anywhere controls, so if you lose your muscle-memory for where the center of the stick is you may find yourself unexpectedly coming to a halt or ceasing fire. The controls are floaty too, and your turrets take some time to spin around, so you may frequently be left wondering why your lasers aren't blasting that enemy fleet at once.

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Because of the limited controls, space combat is mostly a matter of circling around your opponents, trying to dodge their projectiles, and being careful not to drain your ship's battery too much so your shields drop. With balanced armor, shields, engines, and guns you'll run circles around most baddies, literally.

Your punishment for failure is boredom. Get your ship blown up and you'll jump back to your most recent station to recover--but the ship is lost. No problem, you may think, I will easily build a new one. But first, you need the materials. That means piles and piles of crystals, which means flying around shooting stationary targets until they break apart. There must be a way to make mining in video games interesting. Surely actually digging valuable things out of the earth is more involved than pointing a laser (or a pickaxe) at it until it flies into your holding sack. Can there be a way for in-game resources to be more than just the limits on your ability to have fun? Woe is you if you already used up your given mining missions and have to wait for new ones to spawn.

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The key feature is the ability to design your own ships with pieces of armor and components that snap on top. Because your control of your own ship is so limited, ninety percent of winning in combat is about bringing the right tools. This can lead to some frustrating trial-and-error (punctuated by interminable periods of lasering asteroids) especially since the construction screen does a really poor job of telling you what your ship can do. There's a lot of data, yes, but it's presented so arcanely its really difficult to guess how effective your design will be. How fast will you run out of power, for instance? Furthermore, the construction screen doesn't show your current reserves of raw materials, so it’s impossible to keep track of how much you are using until the game dings and tells you they are all used up!

There's a bit of progression as you gradually pick up new blueprints for ship elements from defeated enemies. It's disappointing when its 'Light Armor #XX' which is really just a different-sized triangle for building your fantasy ships, but it's exciting to pick up the new weapons or tools, at least briefly, until you realize that they are just going to let you do the same things at a slightly faster pace.

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The graphics are adorably amateur and perfectly functional. I have no complaints, but this is certainly not a game that you would use to show off the power of your iDevice. There's tasteful use of bloom and I like the way the planets slowly slip from view when you jump away, giving a great sense of scale to the whole map. The translation is not good, but there's no story you would want to pay attention to anyway.

There's just not much to do in Spacecraft, and no really compelling reason to push forward with what is there. You can acquire more advanced parts, but nothing that would really fundamentally transform the gameplay. You can travel to new planets that are identical to the ones you just left. There are endless missions, but they are all the same. The game is cheap and bug-free, so if you fancy a single-player pocket version of a space sim you could try it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

A simple and functional design with no new ideas.

Review: Spacecraft: The Printing Age

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