Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Arvoch Conflict Review

Arvoch Conflict, developed and published by Star Wraith 3D Games.
The Good: Above average mission variety for a combat-heavy space sim, medium-sized battles, multiplayer
The Not So Good: Limited scope, lack of a “living universe” hurts atmosphere and replay value, difficult
What say you? A reasonably entertaining, but antiquated, squad-based action space simulation: 5/8

I’ve received so many space simulations lately that I’m running out of things to say in the introduction, so I’ll keep it short. Independent developer Star Wraith 3D Games comes out with two types of games using their engine: trade simulations like Evochron Alliance and combat simulations like the Star Wraith series and this game, Arvoch Conflict. Insert semi-amusing joke, and continue to the next section.

Other than the new 3-D cockpit, the graphics and sound are identical to Evochron Alliance. The graphics don’t quite have the polish or pretty effects seen in bigger-budget space titles (such as DarkStar One) and Arvoch Conflict looks like it was released several years ago. The ship models are varied but the textures are less detailed that you would like. The explosions, while impressive, are canned and look the same for each death. The weapon effects are well done, however, and the sight of beams of light shooting across the screen, coupled with the trails of missiles, can be impressive. The backgrounds are devoid of the artistic license seen in most space games, as a majority of the game’s locations consist of a planet set against a plain backdrop of stars. The sound consists of basic weapon effects and repetitive voice acknowledgements by your squad members, in addition to a minor amount of background music. Although the graphics and sound of Arvoch Conflict are dated, they still hold up reasonably well if you accept that the game is developed by a small team.

Unlike the trade-oriented Evochron Alliance, Arvoch Conflict is almost exclusively combat. With a few variations, most of the missions revolve around destroying the enemy force. The game does offer some variety, such as constructing a defense network or escorting other ships, but in the end the gameplay is all the same. Whether going through the campaign or choosing a quick battle, you’ll be able to choose your ship and weapons along with those of your allies. There is a good variety of ships and weapons available in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, although the game does not clearly indicate these differences through a bar graph or comparison display. These ships are also available from the beginning of the game, so Arvoch Conflict does not restrict the new player on choosing better ships and weapons if they choose to use them. Not only can you engage the computer, but online multiplayer is available to dispense (or fight along side) your friends.

In every battle, you’ll start at one end of the map with the enemy at the other and headed straight towards each other; the mission ends when the enemy fleet is destroyed (or you die). You’ll always be given four wingmen that you can issue simple orders to, like forming up or attack. The “elements of real-time strategy” the official site claims are limited at best, as Arvoch Conflict is all about the shooting. Controlling your ship is easy, and can be done through the keyboard, joystick, or (my favorite) the mouse. Enemy units are automatically locked when they are within range, and a leading reticule indicates where to fire to take out enemy units. The only real strategy in the game consist of allocating your ship’s energy for shields or weapons; everything else in the game is standard space combat with the occasional building or mining operation before or after battle. All of the battles take place in static environments, which makes Arvoch Conflict seem more like a game and less like a simulation of a plausible future conflict. In games such as DarkStar One, there are other people going about their business in close proximity to your actions, but you feel quite isolated in Arvoch Conflict. This lack of a convincing setting, coupled with the repetitive missions, results in Arvoch Conflict becoming quite boring after a while, especially when compared against the hordes of space combat and trading simulations available on the market.

Arvoch Conflict works well as a simple combat simulation, but the bar has been raised in recent years and the game feels archaic. The game tries to bring some new concepts to the table of space simulation, but they are limited in scope and really just slightly accentuate the core combat. Unfortunately, the gameplay and the graphics of Arvoch Conflict just feels old. In addition, this is another game in the Star Wraith line and the changes of this version over previous offerings are minimal. There are some good points about the game: the combat is solid and I do like how the squads make you feel like more of a team rather than a loner fighting against evil on your own. But, the lack of a real storyline and a greater purpose makes Arvoch Conflict just another combat-oriented space simulation.