It's always refreshing to have a game come across the review desk that isn't just another clone of something we have seen a hundred times before, and Mothership fits into this category perfectly. It attempts to portray large-scale battles in space and allows the player to control the overall strategy of the battles by the timing of launching certain waves of ships, but also encourages player participation in these battles by giving enhanced battle power to specific ships that the player controls from a third-person perspective. Sounds like an absorbing title in theory, but does it deliver the goods in practice?
Sadly, Mothership fails to live up to expectations in a number of fields. Most importantly the presentation is just not up to par compared to similarly priced titles on the scene at the moment. Indeed the look and feel of the game are very retro (not in a particularly good way), equivalent to something that may have impressed in the early 90's. Graphics, sound, controls and interface would all need to be seriously modified for the game to present acceptably, and I can't help feeling that I'm testing a beta-build rather than a completed title.
I was dismayed to find no options to play the game in a full-screen mode and was stuck in low-resolution windowed display. The 3-D ship models have a very low polygon count, which helps the action to remain smooth even with lots of ships in battle, but does not appeal at all visually. The backgrounds are quite garish in colour and sometimes distinguishing friend from foe in the heat of the battle was difficult resulting in too many friendly fire accidents. The menu screens are poorly set out and aesthetically unpleasing.
Sound is very basic. Explosions and weapons fire effects are monotonous and there is no music at all except for a little snippet at the end of a battle that reminds me of something I'd hear on my old C-64.
The map screen is basically an 8x8 grid. Missions that need to be performed refer to certain sector numbers, but it is up to the player to have to count out the sectors in order to find the right one. Even so, the mission summary screen is a bit confusing, and leaves the player in a bit of a quandary as to what needs to be accomplished next. There's a weird glitch when you choose to repair your mothership with insufficient resources available and your stockpile can go infinitely negative! In a few hours of testing I received one exception error in Windows XP and an unrecoverable lock-up in Vista, however the game ran happily on both for most of the time.
Ships are controlled by the mouse while in the third person view, and this too needs a lot of work for the game to be playable. Control input is quite unintuitive with no option to reverse the mouse y-axis movement. After a bit of experimentation I have found that very gentle mouse movement actually increases the rate of turn of the ship, which frustrated me to no end. Even adjusting my strategy to accommodate this shortfall, I found that I could not hope to match the rate of turn on the AI ships, which detracted from the overall fun of the dogfights. The AI did seem reasonably good in attack and target selection, but oblivious to the enemy in defence. Some enemy ships would break off from the main group and attack my mothership, while others would pressure my forces in defensive positions, and that was pretty cool. The game suffers due to lack of a mini-map or some way of discerning where the bulk of the enemy and player forces are at any particular moment, and also commands such as "follow my lead","defend this position" or "attack my target" would give the player more control in missions and add to the enjoyment. Without either of those features, the outcome of the battles seems to be determined mainly on number and composition of the opposing forces.
There's a bit of a mish-mash storyline and some exploration involved, but the game is without doubt action orientated. As the different sectors are explored, minerals are added to the players stockpile and new ships can be produced. Existing designs can be upgraded using experience points gained in combat, but this also increases their base cost to produce. It's impossible to travel too far from home with limited numbers of the initial ship design, and levels will need to be replayed a lot in order to rack up the resource stockpile. There is just too much grinding involved and I did not progress very far through the plot before losing interest.
All of this honest criticism is very difficult for me to make because at a core level, Mothership is a game that I really want to like. It is conceptually solid, and very occasionally shows flashes of brilliance during an action sequence that gives me hope for it's future. With the already present resource collection, fleet maintenance and upgrade, exploration and combat elements combined with a modern graphics overhaul, revamped sound package and new control setup, the game could be a winner.
Afforded the right technology, budget and time, Mothership is potentially a genre-defining title, but whether it is salvageable in it's current form is unknown to me. What I do know is that at $15, Mothership won't be shifting too many copies as is.
Keywords: mothership review, ashford games reviews, ashford games games, mothership scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.