Spacecom – Preview

Title   Spacecom
Developer  Flow Combine
Publisher  11 bit launchpad
Platform  Windows PC, OS X, Linux (iOS and Android to follow)
Genre  Space strategy
Release Date  TBA 2014
Official Site

There are a great many variations of strategy game in the world, from the city builder to the historically accurate war simulator, all of which are presented in their own unique way with mechanics ranging from the incredibly simple to the immeasurably deep. However, at the core of this wide-ranging genre is one simple goal – the joy of outthinking your opponent and watching them crumble. To a strategy fan it doesn’t matter if you’re playing the latest epic in the Total War series, a 300-turn session of Civilization, or a simple game of chess with an old guy in the park, the need to outmanoeuvre your opponent is what drives you on and keeps you coming back for more.

Spacecom, from Flow Combine and 11 bit launchpad, attempts to do away with everything superfluous to that goal, stripping away the shiny visuals and unnecessary gameplay mechanics to deliver a pure strategy experience. As a Spacecom commander, players are tasked with directing fleets of ships as they battle rebel fleets and conquer sectors of space. The storyline is fairly limited, taking place through a series of fourteen missions which serve as the tutorial and single player campaign. There is also a skirmish mode which allows players to battle against a number of AI opponents of varying difficulty. However, as the developers point out, the real focus lies in the multiplayer and in the process of trying to outwit human opponents through the game’s fairly simple set of mechanics.

Depending on the map selected, each game begins with the player at their home star system with a small taskforce made up of a number of fleets. There are three very distinct types of fleet, each with their own specific role in the game. The battle fleet focuses on ship-to-ship combat, protecting other fleets from attack and defending systems, while the siege fleet is used to destroy star systems, denying their use to an opponent. Finally,  invasion fleets are used to capture other systems but are incredibly weak in space combat.

This very simple mix of three fleet types leads to a rock, paper, scissors style of combat where sending the wrong type of fleet to defend or attack a system can lead to disaster. It requires you to plan ahead, putting together task forces of complimentary units in order to advance, and also completely removes the idea of randomly generated damage or just sheer luck messing up your creative tactics. Each fleet has a certain number of hit points, does a fixed amount of damage, and  takes a set amount of time to fire; the only variable comes in the form of a reduction in the time to fire when a fleet gains experience. With each kill, a fleet moves up a rank, and each rank reduces the time it takes to fire, meaning there’s a real benefit in keeping your ships alive and falling back when things get a bit hairy.

Star systems also have a number of unique functions: some produce resources, while others construct or repair ships. They can also be upgraded with additional defences in the form of a system shield which attackers have to break down before they can invade and an expensive battle station which will defend the system from attackers with some good old fashioned deadly lasers.

What really strikes me is that all of this is presented in an incredibly minimalistic style. The visuals are something akin to what you’d expect a sci-fi version of a World War II bomber command map to look like. Triangular icons depict fleet formations of various types, solar systems appear as simplified top-down orbital maps with small text windows providing further details on what is going on. There is none of the distraction of flashy visual effects or incredibly rendered environments, this is pure strategy.

Spacecom is one of those titles which, and I hate this phrase, will be a bit like Marmite for many strategy fans.  From what I’ve played so far, there is definite quality here but without the flashy visuals and the massive 3D spaceships many gamers might find it a little dry. For me, an advocate of game mechanics above all else, this is as close to pure space strategy as I’ve seen and I’m really looking forward to the finished product.

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