Ever since I was young I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of war rooms: large rooms with maps showing troop placements on battlefields, projected enemy movements, counter-maneuvers, and such. My father, being a veteran of the US Air Force would always describe (as much as he would be allowed) the room he worked in for years here at Nellis. He mentioned it being a lot like what we saw in War Games, or the large room near the end of Goldeneye. SpaceCom means to put you into the captain’s chair to plot, strategize and out-maneuver your opponent from this perspective.
Addicting and easy to get into — yet surprisingly deep — SpaceCom has a simplistic look that works for the game. In a world where triple-A graphics and massive effects are the norm, it is refreshing to see a game really shine based on it’s core gameplay mechanics, and not the quality of the game’s anti-aliasing. The map is easy to read with all of your star systems, Shipyards, Resource systems and capitals clearly marked. Additionally, identifying enemy systems and neutral targets is just as simple. In a game where all of the graphics simply consist of lines, triangles and circles, you’re never at a loss as a result. In fact, I would argue that this simplistic look really allows you to focus on what matters in SpaceCom: tactics and strategy.
Take your seat, Captain
As Captain, you command three different styles of fleets: Battle, Siege and Invasion. Battle is obviously most suited to engage your enemy fleets, while siege and invasion do as they are named. Lay a siege on a star system to destroy any enemy’s (or your) ability to capture that territory. Invasion fleets claim systems for your side, increasing your fleet limit and hopefully giving you more resources to make your side all the stronger. In addition to the resource and shipyards, there are also systems that house repair yards which allow you to replenish your fleet’s strength before committing them once again to battle.
11bit Launchpad does a great job in helping you learn the game through the campaign missions. While the story that goes along with these missions is not all that intriguing: you play the role of a captain trying to quell a rebellion; I would say it is worth playing through to get a feel for the game. Also, the game boasts a great number of maps for you to test your strategies and tactics against varying levels of AI, but where the game’s meat and potatoes really lie is within its multiplayer mode. Up to 5 people can vie for control over the multitude of systems sprawled before you with one goal in mind: destroy or occupy your enemy’s home world. Playing a game with less opponents than the map calls for will leave rebels guarding the unoccupied capital systems, though you can simply pass over them. Other than the increase to fleet limit, these systems are guarded and offer no value as it doesn’t act as a second capital incase your first is lost. I personally didn’t see the need to waste ships occupying these systems, as the AI ships never leave and threaten occupied territory around them.
The beauty of SpaceCom is in it’s simplistic, yet powerful, interface: everything is laid out easily and you’re forge your destiny rather than figure out what each icon and graphic mean. I especially appreciate that the popup menus are able to be moved, making is so you’re view of the map is never obscured for long. In addition, the simple point-and-click nature of SpaceCom makes it so you needn’t remember complicated hotkeys to get into the action. As a result, the learning curve is lower, allowing for players to quickly get into the strategical side of the game.
Strategy, not fast clicking, will win the day
A lot of strategy games, and games nowadays in general, rely on the speed of your mouse button more than the actual tactics and strategy you implement. SpaceCom is not one of those games. True strategy will win you the day, and mistakes can come back to bite you pretty easily. Move a fleet to the wrong system and you’ll be waiting till it arrives there before it can return. Split your forces too quickly to launch a pincer move and you might be subject to a larger fleet barreling through your now-weaker fleet. Scout too close to your enemy system and you might give away what side of the map you’re making your assault. Careful planning and execution are what wins in SpaceCom, for the most part. Unfortunately all of the strategy in the world may not be able to help against a powerful Zerg fleet coming your way. Battlestations and Kinetic Shields (defenses you can build for your systems) can only hold back so much, and if you spread yourself too thin you might not be able withstand your enemy’s focused attack.
This is most felt during online play. While playing against even hard AI opponents, there is value in all three types of fleets. Siege fleets prove to be great assets in causing panic among your enemy. Nothing like the threat of losing a system entirely to cause them to shift their focus. In multiplayer, however, I learned to my woe that these ships are too costly and time consuming to make, and if your opponent creates 20-ship strong force of Battle fleets, your Siege fleets are woefully over-matched.
In one match in particular this was felt. Myself and my opponent were playing each other cautiously. It was a 1v1 on a 4-person map, so we had plenty of room to maneuver behind the fog of war. I ventured first into the middle of the map and started to raze his outlying systems with a couple of siege fleets. I had spent most of my resource power up to that point to create those fleets, and while I had a small force of Battle fleets at my call, it was not near as much as my enemy. After losing my Siege fleets to his scouting raids, he played it safe, not knowing how large of a force I had built up behind this raiding party. About fifteen minutes later we met up again near the northern end of the map, vying for the resource systems there. I moved a force of six battleships and seven invasion fleets to occupy a large system to prevent an invasion from the other player. He saw this, thanks to him owning a system within the line-of-sight and countered with a force thirty ships strong. After obliterating my fleet, he then continued in a straight line towards my Home System, not even bothering to take control of my systems along the way. Even with the attrition taking down some of his force, the party that arrived was still twenty-five strong. Needless to say, my other fleets did not make it in time.
While this tactic of overpowering your enemy by sheer numbers seems to be the norm in online games, the AI-games can be more interesting as you test out strategies to implement against human opponents. Had I held a larger fleet towards the bottom of the map, I could have countered his assault with one of my own causing him to either push forward and hope his force reaches my territory faster, or break off the attack to protect his systems from take over. SpaceCom really makes you live with every decision you make in this respect. My inability to create a larger fleet, or my decision to focus on the larger, costlier fleets was my undoing.
SpaceCom is proof that tight gameplay mechanics and a tight, easy to read UI will make a game fun. While the campaign may lack substance in its story, it does a great job of teaching the player how to play the game. The Skirmish mode allows the player the test strategy and tactics before implementing them against real opponents, as well as providing a battleground of endless results. The multiplayer mode is fun and definitely worth the games asking price. Unfortunately, some matches can’t escape the simple Zerg-tactics that seem to plague most strategy games on the market today. Well laid plans and strategies can be foiled simply by an enemy overpowering your forces, and not all of the fleets have value in this mode. In the end, SpaceCom is an addicting game that will have strategy fans enthralled for hours, and one whose endless replayability will always make that “one-more-game” mentality fresh with each playthrough.