Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Parkan II Review

Parkan II, developed by Nikita and published by 1C Company on GamersGate.
The Good: Great user interface makes it easy to learn, two-phase combat, large universe, mechanics beget some unique missions, ability to capture colonies and stations, bots and drones can be used to complete tasks
The Not So Good: FPS elements could be better, needs clearer objectives, more linear than other games, universe is sparsely populated, starts slowly, rudimentary AI, poor voice acting
What say you? An enjoyable space adventure game that’s a bit rough around the edges: 6/8

So this is the second space adventure game I’ve done in two weeks (and the fourth game set in space); because of this, I am starting to run out of things to say in my introduction. Thankfully, Parkan II has some parallels to a quite infamous game: Battlecruiser Millennium. All of the trials and tribulations surrounding that particular product are too many to list here, but it can be summed thusly: a game promised to have a whole bunch of great features that actually sucked in each of those areas (Derek Smart, please direct your hate mail to the address on the left). Parkan II is a three year old Russian product that is just now released on GamersGate and available to us in the U.S. Does Parkan II combine spaceship and first person shooting effectively and will these two flow together and result in a compelling game?

For a game that’s nearly three years old, Parkan II looks really good. As I’ve mentioned before, space game are notorious for featuring spectacular graphics, and Parkan II is no slouch. The ship models are very nice and there are some excellent lighting effects in the game: you won’t see anything on the night side of planets, something that gets ignored in most space games. Parkan II also has a great sense of scale: planets are huge and ships are appropriately big when you are walking towards and under them on a planet. The ship interiors suffer from a lot of the same structure and textures, but they do look futuristic. The sound in the game is OK; since the game was originally done in Russian, the English voice acting is poor at best. Thankfully, most of the other characters in the game are robots, so some of the monotony in the delivery is on purpose. The effects in the game are pretty good, but the background music loops too often as each song selection is too short. I did have some initial problems playing the game: I had to turn sound acceleration to “basic” with my on-board sound in order to get the game to work, so beware. Parkan II continues the strong tradition of graphics in space games.

Parkan II is a single-player only space adventure game that follows this guy and his ship, the Parkan. Although the campaign is linear, the game comes with a decent tutorial and the it’s easy to learn. The universe of Parkan II is quite large and it appears to be randomly generated each time you play, although the names and placement of the planets don’t really matter. The user interface in the game is really well designed, as everything is accessible by one keyboard button and/or one mouse click and the informational windows take up a small portion of the screen. Parkan II shows how a streamlined interface can make a game very easy to play and handle for beginners and veterans alike. Navigation in the game is painless, as everything can be flown to be selecting it on the map. Missions are displayed in one of the lists; the directions could be a little bit clearer and the game needs to show the objective locations on the minimap, but once you play a couple of missions you’ll get the hang of it. The game features diplomacy with all of the clans in the game; angry clans will attack you on sight, both in space and on their planets. Controlling your inventory is straightforward, and good will automatically show the appropriate area to load them on your battle suit or ship. Other than generic goods, you will collect reactors, engines, shields, sensors, and weapons for both your ship and suit. The game could show whether a particular item is for your ship or suit more clearly, though, and comparing items requires clicking back and forth. The only currency in the game is fuel: it is used to trade and to fly to different systems. The diplomacy with each of the clans in the game leads to some random encounters while moving between planets (much like Freelancer). The universe of Parkan II needs to be more dynamic: you hardly run into any other ships in flight other than those there for a mission. Apparently, you are flying around on everyone’s off day. But just having important ships in flight does make completing missions easier.

There are a lot of parallels between space and land combat, which makes it a lot easier to play the game. Space combat contains no real physics so control is simple. Your main decision is the distribution of energy between four systems: sensors, engine, weapons, and shield. The game comes with a number of pre-sets that focuses on two of the systems for different activities, like searching or hunting. You are also given the opportunity to construct drones to act as wingmen during combat. Before you get these, the space combat of Parkan II is a lot like the long combat of SpaceForce: shooting enemy ships with your lasers and missiles results in negligible damage. Thankfully Parkan II emphasizes boarding ships rather than destroying them. The first person shooting aspect of the game is not very sophisticated: there isn’t much cover on the ships or the planets, so it’s a lot of holding down fire and charging towards the enemy. The AI is not very good (move towards you and shoot) so the only challenge in the game comes from large numbers of enemies. You need to defeat all of the AI robots to load a virus or whatever the mission requires (all of the objectives are pretty much the same), so there is no stealth in the game. Unfortunately, defeating all of the AI robots on a ship triggers the self-destruct, but why? Someone steals your ship early in the campaign, why can’t you steal someone else’s ship? Like drones in space, warbots can be built to help you with ground missions; you will need them if you intend to capture planets and stations and defeat all of the enemies. Trade, repair, and missions are all gained on planets, and once you have friendly relations with the owner you can conduct all of your business without having to leave your ship (although you can walk around if you want).

Parkan II effectively combines two genres into one game, and if the other features were more polished, the game would be a complete success. By themselves, the space or land combat would be disappointing, but together they produce a fairly entertaining game. Even though the missions are repetitive (destroy everything and find the command center and press “X”) and the universe is not that dynamic, space adventure fans will find enough to keep them occupied in the game, especially for the lowered price. The game is easy to learn with its great user interface and it’s probably one of the more user friendly space adventure games. The AI needs to be a lot better and the objectives need to be clearer, but I had fun while playing the game and it wasn’t filled with too many annoyances. If you like the genre, it’s an interesting game for the price and shows how first person shooting and space combat can be combined effectively.