Monday 21 November 2022

From Space Review (Steam)


Review by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

From Space is a rather enjoyable action game with some odd elements making it up. With a stylised visual presentation, a deeper-than-you’d-expect role-playing system, and a surprising linear nature, there are more hits than misses, but still definitely some rough edges and issues needing to be addressed. At this stage, however, From Space did keep me engaged and having fun.

It’s important that I really make clear how I couldn’t quite get what this game was until I was well on my way. The premise is a simple alien invasion story, there seemed to be some player roles that I could switch between on the fly, and the aliens were a blast to blast. So far, so good. Something just didn’t click into place for me in the first couple of hours of playing. You’re popped into this nicely presented world. Almost tilt-shift, diorama style overhead view, where you play a little bobble-headed “specialist”. You move through the areas in quite a linear way, clearing objectives that usually branch from a character you meet in a safe-zone, or hub area. I expected that I’d just sort of jog about, clear the aliens out of the ruined environments, and satisfy the needs of survivors.

The action is fun. A range of neon alien critters are poised to stop your objectives of saving people, finding objects, or getting access to important infrastructure to the survivors. That isn’t, however, all. There is a character perk system, an equipment upgrade system (paid for by little pink orbs you gain from dispatchin’ E.T.), inventory management, two different item slots to utilise, and four different specialists to choose from. Already I wondered the impact of choosing particular weapons to upgrade; would they carry on between specialists? Are there going to be enough uses for the environmental items like the barbed wire spools to justify taking up a space in my inventory? Why is there not a pause while I am single-player? I felt that as soon as I started a fun little action game, it had spread out into a buffet of different systems that I didn’t expect to keep track of, or maybe felt out of place in what seemed like an arcadey-blaster.

The missions often required me to clear an area, or deliver an NPC unharmed to the next safe-zone in the process. These layers provide an unexpected depth to the proceedings which on one hand really worked for me to make the combat more contemplative, but at the same time, sucked some of the fun out of it. Other issues, such as path-finding with NPCs (or them being equipped with suicide-inducing toxic-waste launching guns) made unwanted distractions. Simply, I could see there was a great alien shooter with some interesting role-playing mechanisms, but I was being asked to do things which compromised the action. Another example is the way that aliens sometimes spawn in at random as if air-dropped from the sky. While this sort of makes sense that aliens would “beam down” or some-such, it lost the infestation, Earth-occupation vibe.

The guns can sometimes feel really great. There are some superb feeling heavy weapons, a chunky gun turret deployable, some crazy spool-up lightning weapons, or (if you’re feeling dangerous) those toxic-goo launchers. Other weapons feel underwhelming, especially shotguns. There is a lack of effect in some areas, where the mobs feel like sponges that don’t react, or status effects such as shock seem not to matter. I guess I’m saying I felt I wasn’t getting enough information fed-back about the weapon choices. Throwables such as Molotov’s or grenades have an intuitive feel, and react nicely to the environment. Conversely, some vertical sections were troublesome for the projectile weapons as stairs would inhibit shots as height is awkwardly calculated into the shot.

The linear nature of the levels was a nice surprise as I could roam around and find all the hidden bits and scrounge all the alien gizzards for upgrading. There are optional side-quests, and even sort of fetch quests that take the form of that coke mission from Left 4 Dead 2. This is a strangely linear game, where you meet a lot of characters but get little sense of anything broadly important. I began also to question the “specialist” choice, as it felt worked at odds with a perk and upgrade system. Why not just let me find guns to work on the workbenches with and develop my own character? If I wanted a heavy gunner, let me pick stats, perks, and upgrade a heavy gun? So, I stuck with the heavy gunner and didn’t really try out the others after a while.

And after a while, I found I was having a good time! There is a good balance of the ammunition as I often found the aliens soaked up enough for me to run low, if not out and have to melee attack. The environments wind out in interesting and thoughtful ways; there are all manner of places decked out with loving detail. The aliens themselves are joyfully designed, boasting neon cartoony menace (this made up for a lot as I personally loathe the human character designs, especially the eyes). Moving into a slower, more considered action-RPG was the shift I needed to make to get into From Space.

There have been a lot of patches since I played it for review. These have addressed a great many things, and a great many things which are quite integral. With more work, more balance, From Space could be a fantastic group shooter, with an unexpected amount of depth. Despite a great number of issues left to address, it has charm and strong action in it’s current state. I hope the developers continue to improve and I’m sure they will find a loving audience for it.

Overall 6/10

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