Line Space Wars
Sometimes, in our craze for the latest technology, we forget that a game doesn't need to be flashy to be fun. Remember the early days, when sixteen colours were all you could use at a time and a low screen resolution meant 40x24? Perhaps our younger readers do not - look up the Atari 2600 and the ZX Spectrum, kids. Those graphics used to be cutting edge! Highly limited graphics, sound that was little more than bleeps and bloops... these games hooked you by the simplest of things. They were immense fun. Line Space Wars is an attempt to do much the same thing. No rendered graphics here, no ray-traced 3D mapping. Just a free-scrolling screen filled with outline spaceships and some nice, simple controls. Go out, blast stuff, enjoy!
There's a basic, optional tutorial at the start of a game that covers controls and your main mission. I can probably do the same in a couple of paragraphs! Basically, you move your ship with the arrow keys (left, right, up for thrust) and shoot your primary weapons with S and any secondary weapons (rockets, turrets) with D. Dock with nearby space stations with Enter. The place is filled with asteroids that get in the way and can be blasted apart, and ships - blue ships are friendly, red ones are enemy ships and green ones are independent. Accidentally (or deliberately) shooting independent ships will see them attack you, and in this game collateral damage is rife. Shoot red and green ships to score gold, the amount varying depending on the value of the other ship. You also have a mission indicator, which gives a direction and distance to the next mission target. Destroying these targets will net you a reward of anything from 100 gold upwards, increasing as you complete more missions.
There is a wealth of ship types in LSW. Your basic runabout is pretty feeble, and always available should you be killed (there are no lives in LSW - you simply restart back at your own space station with a basic ship). You can, however, buy new ships in the various other space stations. Some of these are friendly and some are independent - beware these latter as they may try to rip you off. As well as new ships for sale, you can also repair your current ship here. Note that losing a new ship is forever - you'll have to buy another one. Watch out in particular for the Millennium Falcon and the Star Destroyer. It's well worth saving up for a battlestation with turrets and attitude - they plow through enemies like they were hot butter!
Graphics are, well, line drawings. Everything in this game is made up of lines - there are no solid structures anywhere. This makes for an unusual and effective style in which ships and asteroids can be blown apart piece by piece - you can certainly cripple a ship by, say, taking out the weapon and engine modules. Destroying the command module takes out the entire ship. Asteroids are particularly good here - blasting them can make them split into smaller, irregular chunks. Weapons fire consists of missiles, blaster rounds (like little asterisks!) and lasers (blue beams). Weapons can damage anything except space stations, though ships vary in their shielding. The overall effect of the graphical style is striking and effective, though the high contrast was a little difficult to get used to at first and I'm not sure these screenshots do it justice.
Sound is varied and similarly simplistic. Background music is present for the title screen, the onset of battle with mission targets and your eventual victory (should you achieve this feat). Lasers, rockets and blasters all make suitable sounds, as do hits against hulls and the disintegration of targets. Volume for both music and sound effects can be independently adjusted. All this said, it can be a noisy game and I muted my speakers for much of the review for fear of disturbing my partner.
LSW is a very easy game to get into. Death is not the end - if you are killed (a common occurence, especially when battlestations - including those on 'our' side! - let rip with all those turrets) you simply restart at your own space station. While any ship you were flying will be lost, your station can always provide you with a basic fighter, and you can store newly purchased ships at your station and switch between them. Ships can be repaired, generally very cheaply, at any friendly or independent station, and money is seldom a problem - blast a few smaller enemy ships and the cash will soon build up again. Bigger ships generate more cash but are more dangerous. Weapons fall into three broad categories (blasters, lasers, rockets) and all have their advantages and disadvantages, but all are much alike in terms of how easily they destroy enemies.
Broadly LSW gets the playability level right, but there are some downsides. Damage seems a little arbitrary at times - I had to run from battle with one ship on several occasions because the front guns were shot off, leaving me unarmed until I got the ship repaired. Turrets can be blasted off, and ships can be destroyed completely if you take out their central module - but only if the rest of the ship is attached. I have often ended up "splitting" battlestations into pieces and having them carry on independently (strangely, while weapons only fire from parts of ship that have them fitted, they all seem to be able to fly irrespective of engines). Friendly fire is rife, and I've managed to destroy allies (and been destroyed by allies) an embarrassing number of times - particularly when battlestations are involved. Collisions with asteroids and other ships do no damage but stop your ship dead - this is a pain with the larger ships, which can be so big there is little room left on the screen to see where they're going, and smaller ships often get "stuck" trying to fly through you. Shooting enemies with these big ships is practically blind too. We can adjust the scope of the map with the mouse wheel - I'd rather like something similar for the main game.
I was convinced up until recently that there was no end to LSW - that you could never "win". True, each mission grew tougher and paid better, but after a while it seemed each mission merely involved greater numbers of battlestations. My own battlestation would enter the fray, blast them all to pieces (which took a while) and then I'd go on to the next. Just a few days ago I continued playing and discovered that my next mission was the last one - cue the "Well Done" screen and victory music! It then took me a minute to figure out that I had to press Esc to return to the game (!) - you CAN play forever if you wish. But having vanquished the empire, obtained the strongest ship and earned enough money to buy Pluto, I didn't really see much point.
As a quick blast, Line Space Wars is great. It's well worth the low price and should keep you going for a while, even if the long-term appeal may be limited. I had fun playing it, and that's the most important aspect of what is a simple and effective game.
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