Survive in Space – What We Think:
Survive in Space is an old school arcade shoot-’em-up livened up – and overly complicated by – story-driven elements and RPG-influenced advancement and customization. It’s compelling in places; the storyline is interesting if not particularly innovative, and the shooting action is solid if repetitive. Overall, though, its extensive customization options aren’t enough to distinguish it from the numerous space shooters already on the market.
Let the Hate Flow Through You
Despite its generic title, Survive in Space is surprisingly story-driven. Sasaki, our protagonist, is a soldier for the evil aliens that have enslaved the universe. Turning against his master, he discovers an ancient intelligence in an abandoned temple that empowers him with what amounts to the Dark Side of the Force: the more he embraces his rage and hatred, the more powerful he becomes. Then, of course, he wages a one-man, one-spaceship war against an entire empire.
Told in cut scenes between levels, the story is compelling largely because of voice actress Kymmie Pops, who does an incredible job voicing the narration. The protagonist’s voice, on the other hand, is petulant and grating. It reminded me of a cheaply made cartoon – the kind they used to run on Saturday mornings that basically amounted to half-hour commercials for action figures. The art was similarly off-putting, a painfully amateurish, anime-inspired collection of mostly still figures.
Rage Against the Machines
Anime inspirations aside, Survive in Space owes more to classic arcade games than contemporary Japanese bullet hells. The brightly colored and coolly insectoid ship designs recall a more contemporary take on Galaga. Another apparent influence is Defender, since enemies come from all directions, requiring you to rapidly switch between left and right for proper targeting.
While the action itself is retro and maybe a bit sluggish, the accoutrements add tons of complexity. In addition to your standard gun, each ship is equipped with guided missiles and a laser, each of which is subject to a cool-down period. There’s also a “rage attack” that increases your damage for a period and changes your ship’s animations from blue to red.
Too Late to Turn Back Now
Adding to the complexity is an RPG-style system of progression. Experience earned between levels applies to multiple categories, each of which can be leveled up. All of your ship’s weapons have their own extensive upgrade systems, as does your character himself. Shields, speed, damage and special attacks can all be improved over time.
If that’s not enough, there are a number of different ships to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and the more time spent piloting a particular ship unlocks additional bonuses.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way of reversing any of these decisions once you’ve made them. At one point I upgraded my main weapon with a split shot. This divides each shot into two, fired at opposing angles, but sacrifices the straight line of the original gun. This made it a lot harder for me to aim, but I didn’t know how to get rid of it without starting over and losing all my progress.
Try, Try Again
In an attempt to add more replay value, each level, once unlocked, can be replayed endlessly, with more experience earned each time. You can also customize the number of enemy waves and add extra hazards like asteroids to increase the experience earned.
Unfortunately, none of this adds much appeal. The accumulation of bonuses by fractions of percentage points is so slow that it seems like an interminable wait for them to noticeably affect gameplay. The levels themselves are repetitive, as well. Too few enemy types appear, and the more interesting ones show up early enough that the whole game just feels like a slog.
Pew-Pew Meets Wub-Wub-Wub
The soundtrack, at least, is decent. It’s a collection of Creative Common-licensed dubstep, trap and deep house. While the presence of some tracks with vocals is a bit of a misstep – you can’t make out lyrics over the constant beeps and blasts of lasers, missile and the like in the game itself – it does give some contemporary flavor to what is otherwise a mostly retro exercise. RAAL’s “Dimah” was a personal favorite.
On the downside, the protagonist’s voice shows back up to interrupt the game itself, dropping random catch-phrases into the mix. At first, I tried to amuse myself by talking back to the screen, but there are only so many clever replies to phrases as trite as “There will be no retreat” and “Beware a man with nothing to lose.”
Space Insects and Bugs
A further annoyance: Survive in Space has some pretty major display bugs. Notably, none of the cut scenes actually displayed for me – they were just voice-overs against a black background. I had to go on YouTube to actually judge the art. More troubling: the tutorial on controls at the beginning of the game didn’t display, either (luckily, the controls aren’t that complicated).
Survive in Space isn’t terrible, but the uneven presentation and needless array of customization options aren’t enough to make it stand out. Even if all you’re looking for is a generic retro space shooter, there are better options available than this one.
Survive in Space is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Survive in Space below: