Overall Score 63%
This is by far and away the most frustrating game I've played all year. It frustrates me because I know that there's a tried and true formula here for a great game. Just like many similar titles that have come before, Galaxias is an open-ended space trading/combat game played from a first person perspective (cockpit) viewpoint. There's a massive open galaxy to explore and multiple commodities to trade in. I read in the manual that ships can be bought and upgraded, and various accessories are available on stations that orbit inhabited planets all over the galaxy. I'm a fan of this style of free-form gameplay and love titles like those in the Evochron series and the Flatspace games, but Galaxias has some serious issues that won't allow me to enjoy it at all.
Most importantly, players need to know that this game is old-school. That's not a bad thing generally speaking - but if you're looking for insane graphics, amazing sound effects, in-game tutorials, mouse-over tooltips, a modern and informative heads up display, or a simple and accessible control scheme, then this isn't the game that you've been looking for. You'd better get that pdf manual up and be ready to read it. Print out the list of keyboard shortcuts and have it ready by your side for frequent reference. Start a few games and just get a hang of how the ship handles and all the controls function. There will be quite a bit of trial and error. I was bought up on games like this in the 80's. My Commodore 64 had numerous keyboard overlays and many games came with massive 100+ page printed manuals so I don't really object to having to put in a bit of groundwork in order to enjoy a game. This is what I did with Galaxias, but as a contemporary game, disappointingly I still find it an unrewarding experience. I'll try to explain why.
It's very difficult to become immersed in the game for a few reasons. The difficulty level for me even when playing on easy mode was quite high. This results in death being extremely frequent. Repeated reloading from saves is a killer of the immersion factor for me, and I found myself doing it in Galaxias every few minutes. Frequently I could win one fight against a pirate on a one-on-one basis (the dogfighting AI is reasonable) but when outnumbered or when enemies appeared one after the other I would usually not have enough shield strength to hold out. Shields can be topped up from energy reserves but energy reserves are finite, and once depleted need to be replenished at a station or by using solar panels near a star. In the early game, most pirates have ships that are faster than yours and ironically the early game is really when you need to run from confrontations like this. There's nothing to stop you from warping out of a dogfight, but doing this also uses energy, and quite a lot of it. In a situation where you're low on energy and can neither fire weapons or get close to a station, then you'll need to reload a previous savegame.
I get the feeling that in the early game, the player is supposed to attempt to carve out a bit of a living trading goods from planet to planet, but the constant and relentless attacks from pirates just make this nigh impossible for me. Even using prodigious use of the save game function (which can only be activated outside of combat and when not in close proximity to a significant feature) making one trade of 30 units of metal ores took me well over an hour in real time and many, many deaths in game.
Let me reel off a few more gripes (in no particular order of annoyance). Hostile ships and non-hostiles both appear as white on the radar making it difficult to know who's shooting you and who you're shooting at. Docking at space stations is far too time consuming and a tedious process that requires the player to run a series of checkpoints before being allowed to dock. Landing on planets is not allowed. Strafing enemies is impossible, due to the fact that once thrust is cancelled, inertia does not keep your ship moving in deep space; your ships lasers and cannons only fire directly ahead of your ship into a fixed point (Evochron does this very well, and the dogfights are amazing because of it). The escape key will dump you at the Windows desktop without confirmation prompt or warning (a pet hate of mine). During play and somewhat randomly, often the x and y axes on my gamepad stick will become reversed. Ship control is purely digital making fine control quite difficult even when playing the game with an analogue input device. There is a “dampener” modifier button that goes somewhat towards remedying this but it's an unwieldy solution. There is no way to scan or communicate with other ships (that I have encountered). There are 4 switchable fixed views from the cockpit, but no way to smoothly pan your view around. This makes it awkward when attempting to navigate station approaches in close proximity to other ships especially since the ship control only allows rotation on two axes (roll and pitch).
I can think of many ways that the game could be improved, but it really feels like it's just lacking a lot of flavour features more than anything else. Being able to interact with other characters at stations, or being able to get a news feed of various activities happening around the galaxy would be the one that I'd most happily see implemented. The mechanics of a good game are in place, but the whole galaxy has a sterile and characterless feel with one station just blending into the next. A trading computer that noted how much you paid for a particular commodity and how that price compares with the average price that the player has observed would be very helpful too. As it is, there's nothing but to sit down with some notepaper and a pencil and write everything down longhand. Considering that the average player would have to visit a dozen or so stations in various systems to get a good feel for the prices, I wonder whether players are going to have the patience to stick with the game. I certainly wouldn't.
The galaxy is a vast and expansive place to explore. I really like the way that the developer has not opted for the cheesy wormhole concept to link one system to another. Navigation is simple but there's an onus on the player to be extremely careful where they warp to. A slight error of judgement can see you come out of warp next to a star or even worse, deep in the uncharted areas of open space. Strangely though, other ships will just spawn around you from time to time, regardless of where you are. Annoying because if they are pirates then you're going to have to fight them, and even if they aren't the time compression feature maxes out at 2x meaning that the short trip to the planet that you were targeting is now going to take 15 minutes instead of 2.
Graphics and sounds are extremely retro (as in the style of the early 90's). Again, not a bad choice for a game that borrows quite heavily from games like Elite (which was the game that made the genre famous), but without some kind of concession to the modern gamer Galaxias will struggle to sell. There is a high resolution texture pack that is available as a separate and free download which makes the planets look more detailed at closer ranges and this comes highly recommended. Longevity in terms of replay value would be quite high if the game were not so tedious to slog through. I just wish that there was a bit more meat on the bone, but the feature list just isn't long enough to pull me away from such games as Evochron or Space Rangers 2. There's some nostalgia value here for long time gamers but you'll need to have a lot more patience and perseverance for Galaxias than I'm prepared to give it.
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