You play the role of Keith T. Maxwell, a daredevil space adventurer and mercenary, who is catapulted through space and time by a malfunction of his ship’s hyperdrive and awakens at the far end of the known galaxy. It is here that he finds himself confronted by a mysterious alien armada known as Voids, who are set to enslave all other species. In order to find his way home, Keith must prevail an extensive number of story-bound and freelance missions and ultimately find a way to defeat this new devious and seemingly unstoppable enemy.
What We Think:
If you don’t have the time to read a lengthy review, I understand. You’re busy. You’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re a man or woman on the go. Skip to the last paragraph.
But if you want to get into the details about how to spend your cash and are considering a game that can’t be decided upon from a couple of hours of gameplay, read on.
Still with me? Good. First, let me give you a bit of background.
I grew up with Star Wars and like many of my generation, I became obsessed with space games, especially those wherein you got to be the fighter-pilot badass who took on hordes of aliens/fascist Imperials/robots/pirates and won by the skin of your teeth. But, I’d also take the games where you were the leader of a plucky band of intrepid explorers navigating a vast universe and establishing outposts for your people through diplomacy, trade, and the occasional bit of derring-do.
Then Privateer came out, and blew my mind. Here was a game that was everything I loved about RPGs, but with a more-or-less open-ended space combat setting. You could be a fighter ace, a hardened trader, or a heavily-armed tugboat captain, and make your way through the universe more or less as you pleased. It revolutionized my expectations of the genre.
This was followed by Descent, Freespace and then…a great, expansive void. Thus I gave up on space for a good long time.
Then, not too long ago, I discovered the X series, admittedly after a brief stint with Eve Online. It was amazing. My Steam stats inform me that I’ve spent some five-hundred hours playing X3: Terran Conflict. That’s about twenty days — days! — of play time.
X3 has a learning curve like a brick wall, but it lets you do seemingly anything you could want in the far reaches of space. Anything. Want to spend your time trading? No problem, knock yourself out – establish a universe-spanning trade network and watch the money roll in. Combat’s your thing? Cool, grab a wee little fighter and work your way up to a cruiser of terrifying capabilities, then build a fleet of ships to dominate the universe. A bit of a DIY-er? Build a series of factories and stations, hire pilots to fly combat patrols and transport materials between your properties and create your very own self-sufficient base.
If it sounds complicated, it is. Those five-hundred hours got me about one-third of the way through the main plot (insofar as there is one) and I never did quite get any of my plans all the way off the ground. In a sense, that’s the point of the game; you’re not supposed to win, and it’s never supposed to end. It’s as sandbox as you can get. And that’s fine, but some of us have other things to do.
Things to Do
So then I got assigned Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD. What happened to Galaxy on Fire “1”, and “SD” at that, you might ask? It was an iOS app. Then came Galaxy of Fire 2 Apps, an HD version for iPads and finally the version being reviewed here – “Full HD”. (You can find the complete release rubric at the official site, listed below).
So by the time it reaches the PC port, it has seen much user-feedback and tweaking, all 3D models have been rebuilt from scratch with four times the resolution and many additional textures and much improved explosions and other particle effects.
I had very high expectations, and was immediately disappointed by questionable voice acting and what appeared comically easy combat. Sure, the graphics were attractive, especially at the highest resolution on a widescreen. Yeah, the mouse and keyboard controls were tight enough that I didn’t bother dusting off my flight stick. But I was pretty sure I was looking at a cheap copy of X3. I was persuaded to stick with it, and I gave it a few extra hours of my time.
I’m not sure exactly when I came to love the game. It might have been when I realized that I’d learned everything I needed to know to play the game through the beginning of the main plot missions. Then again, it could have been when I realized that the shop interface gave you all of the relevant stats about ships, weapons, and gear, including how those stats compared to what you currently have. Oh, there was also the part where I noticed that every single item showed the lowest and highest prices for that item from places you’d visited already. Heck, if you’re a mining aficionado, there’s even a sort of mini-game that determines the success of each haul. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
At a certain point, and I’m not really sure when it happened, I realized that the beauty of Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD is that it takes all of the sandbox aspects of games like X and simplifies them. It doesn’t make it easier, although it might make it a little smaller. It just makes it smoother, more streamlined.
If you want to be a galactic mercenary-admiral or an industrial magnate, you might be disappointed. But, if you want to trade across the stars, braving pirate raids in a sturdy cargo ship, you can get there in a few hours. You can eve hire a couple of mercenaries to accompany you as wingmen for the span of a contract.
If you want to be a pirate (and who doesn’t?) it’s shockingly easy: Grab a decent ship with a bit of a cargo hold, equip some EMP weapons, a scanner, and a tractor beam, and paralyze some ships. While your scanner has them locked, you’ll suck out cargo. If you find yourself mocking the impotent victim while crates of their goods fly into your hold, don’t feel too bad; I sure as hell didn’t.
What I loved (and still love) most about the game is how easy it is to get to the good part. I like shooting stuff, frankly, and I was able to acquire a pretty ridiculous heavy fighter outfitted with some shockingly damaging weapons within a few hours of play. Mind you, this didn’t make combat a push-over as I’d feared. The difficulty scales nicely, and I still find combat challenging enough to be interesting despite my scary death-machine. Granted, it does mean that when I inevitably shoot neutrals or friendlies, my relations with that faction drop pretty fast. Still, there are only four, and you can recover pretty quickly by flying missions for the offended party.
How Do You Work This Thing?
Some extra little touches I appreciated have to do with controls:
Once you have selected a destination (either via Q key or Maps or by holding your reticle over the target until it completes a circuit to lock-on to the target) you can use TAB to fast forward to the location which is especially merciful when traversing the great spans between planets in your first hours of gameplay where you are equipped with an under-powered, taped-together scout ship.
Another nice little touch is available from the Game Menu (accessed with the Escape key), where you can select “Action Freeze” to stop time and get a fully-navigable 3D snapshot of the moment, even in the middle of combat. It’s great for setting up a screenshot or simply admiring just how spectacular this game looks. Especially in full 1920×1080 (or even higher!)
The ‘M’ key opens a little control HUD on the bottom-right of the screen that lets you send commands to your wingmen, navigate your ship, fire and other options, while toggling it off lets you go into free move/look mode which I preferred.
I feel I barely scraped the tip of the iceberg, and yet I don’t feel like I have to work my way up to the real action. That’s a huge draw. Of course, it could also mean that all of the above comprises the majority options the game has on offer, short of scaling difficulty and adding variation. But again, I love complex, open-world games and find it entertaining in its own right to take notes on what goods are selling for in one system this week versus another. I dig setting up factories to build scout ships for my fleet, even if it takes me a week of real time. But sometimes I just want to get to the part where I cruise through the galaxy taking on all comers and emerging bruised but victorious.
Permission to Dock
While Galaxy on Fire 2 doesn’t delve into the same level of depth as some of the titles I have mentioned in the genre, it offers enough of them, in tandem with solid core gameplay and jaw-dropping, sometimes cinematic-level visuals to fire the imagination for a good many hours.
So, if you’ve just gotten to this part of the review, or if you’ve slogged through and done it the hard way, the message is the same. I am a huge, huge fan of this genre, and have played some of its finest offerings. Galaxy on Fire 2 Full HD stands up to any of them with ease and I would be hard pressed to find a better offering of its ilk on mobile devices, especially for a retina-display iPad. (A standard definition version is also available for Android).
With two full expansions already available for iOS devices, its hopefully only a matter of time until they port the DLCs to Windows PC, as they add at least another 10 hours of gameplay, new ships and more.
I recommend this game to anyone who likes space combat and/or simulators, sandbox games, and – due to its pick-up-and-play nature – anyone who wants to get into either for the first time.
This review is based on the “Full HD” Steam version for Windows PC for which there are 92 achievements.