When I first previewed Everspace last year, I went into the early-access build flying blind. The only thing I knew about the game was that it involved piloting a ship through space. Moments after firing it up for the first time, my foray into the great unknown ended in a catastrophic ball of fire. I understood from that moment on: Everspace is a rougelike title.
My time with the game’s preview left me optimistic about what was to come, with the early build showing a platform of immense potential that could be fleshed out into something unique in the rougelike subgenre. Despite some notable flaws, the preview promised exciting new features, different ships to fly and what I assumed would be a better interface.
After playing the full launch, it appears much of that potential never game to fruition. The game starts off with players launching into space in the default ship. Randomly generated levels populate with debris, potential enemies and various resources, offering the chance to collect crafting material, gather credits and warp to the next.
Being a rougelike, Everspace expects you to die, particularly in the early going. Beginning with barebones weaponry and no upgrades, as in most rougelikes, you collect what you can through the first run and select permanent improvements to your ship before setting out and repeating the process.
[amazon asin=B01LYYTOSR&text=Pilots, pick up some cool Everspace swag from Amazon!]
It’s standard fare for a rougelike, and it’s also Everspace’s greatest flaw. The game forces you to spend all of your hard-earned credits immediately before the very next run. If you don’t, they’re lost for good. Early on, it’s fine, but as upgrades become increasingly expensive, the system prevents you from saving the earnings from prior attempts to buy higher-tier upgrades.
What’s worse, the other two ship classes each cost 10,000 credits, which requires a relatively high degree of skill and greatly improved ship to get close to. As a point of reference, my best run netted around 5,000 credits, and I never came anywhere close after that. The worst part is that the game never explains this process to you. Thinking I could save my winnings, I launched into space, only to find they were all gone on my next attempt.
Frustrating progression system aside, there’s another issue that hamstrings Everspace, and it’s equally cumbersome: the controls. By default, your ship sits still while you aren’t actively pressing the thrusters. On a controller, that means you have to hold the left trigger to move forward, click the left analog stick to boost to a higher speed, press right trigger to fire your equipped weapons, and use the D-pad to cycle through your different armaments. And if you’re so inclined, clicking the right analog stick gives you a lock on your enemy, while pressing the right bumper fires off a missile.
The control scheme is asinine. Bear in mind that if you forget to continue holding down left trigger while going through the Guitar Hero-like button pressing sequence, you stop and become a sitting duck, which the constantly respawning enemy AI is all too happy to punish you for.
To round out the triumvirate of aggravation, Everspace’s interface spends as much time fighting you as the controls and enemies do. It’s nearly impossible to tell what menu item you have selected because the white text is highlighted by a slightly brighter white outline. Attempting to salvage gear brings about the same frustrations, and the menu options are printed in such small text that you practically need a magnifying glass to read them.
To make it more difficult, taking damage to your ship can randomly break a component, which can lead to a variety of effects, which leads to a brand-new set of menu options. Sometimes an attack causes your ship to seep oxygen, slowly sapping your health. Other times, your targeting system gets zapped, leaving you without a HUD. And while nanobots, one of the gatherable resources, repair your damaged ship, they can’t be used to fix a broken component, so you have to find different crafting materials to correct the damage — which may or may not be available in the sector you’re currently in.
Everspace is one frustration after another, and despite the game’s extraterrestrial environments being worthy of hanging in an abstract art museum, the game feels lifeless. There are some neutral NPC ships flying around, but they don’t actively do anything to help you, nor will they attack unless provoked.
Enemy ships zip around in varying quantities, ranging from cannon fodder to nigh-unkillable death machines from Space Hell. In game terminology, they’re known as the Okkar, and they typically show up after you’ve been in an area for a set amount of time. When the monotone AI that sarcastically taunts you tells you they’re coming, it’s time to warp out of the area or be shredded. Staying to fight without being well-equipped leads to a certain game-over screen.
The taunting ship AI represents the best and worst Everspace has to offer. Delivering helpful tips throughout, its ever-present droning acts as a tutorial as you come across new game mechanics. It also provides other helpful information, such as when you’re under attack, usually informing you once half your health is gone. (That was sarcasm, in case you didn’t know.)
There’s a minimalist story that’s told through the voiceover of your pilot as you complete sets of interconnected areas, but it feels more like a tacked-on element than something ingrained in Everspace’s overall atmosphere.
Simply put, Everspace is a great concept that’s severely lacking polish. Diehard fans of the rougelike genre may love it, and there’s certainly a foundation here to build on, but it never feels like the game progressed from the beta stage. There’s just more content than the early build.
Everspace hits smack-dab in the middle of the scale with 2.5 GiN Gems out of 5.