Monday, July 23, 2012

Salvation Prophecy Review

Salvation Prophecy, developed and published by Firedance Games.
The Good: Large land and space battles, dynamic setting, faction command with colony and station development, competent AI
The Not So Good: No trade or mining activities for supplemental income, mid-game repetition, no multiplayer
What say you? This space adventure game brings impressive engagements in a living universe: 6/8

While the big publishers may be ignoring the space adventure genre, indie games are (as always) picking up the slack. Why, I have reviewed two of them this year alone. If that doesn’t say “trend”, then I don’t know what does! Next in line is Salvation Prophecy, a game that promises epic epicness in epic quantities. Featuring both land and space battles and a dynamic universe where battles happen without being scripted in a campaign, does Salvation Prophecy provide a satisfying space adventure?

Salvation Prophecy features pretty decent graphics for a $20 indie game. The ship models are detailed enough, although the texture work could have been better and less black. The weapons look great as colorful lasers fly across the screen during the game’s large-scale conflicts. The space backgrounds are colorful without being distracting, and the asteroids are appropriately rocky. On land, you get decent character models that make for easy identification in the heat of battle; they could have more varied animations, though. The various worlds you will assault (or defend) are varied with interesting terrain and scattered cover. The space station layout, though, is recycled over and over again (which does make it easy to find things). As for the sound design, results are typical: average effects during combat, canned voice acting snippets, and setting-appropriate music. Salvation Prophecy certainly is not the best looking (or sounding) space game, but it holds its own and the graphics never negatively impact the gameplay.

The universe of Salvation Prophecy is populated with four races, one of which you can lead towards ultimate victory: the slow but powerful Drones, well-rounded Free Nations, quick Salvation, and explosion-oriented Wyr. As you play, missions will pop-up that you can choose to join, and completing them will earn money for upgrades and experience points for new skills and abilities. There are five mission types in the game: a land-based planetary invasion, space battles, bounty missions against a team of pirates, investigating an unstable wormhole, or charting a new galaxy. In the first two types, it’s not just you and maybe one other ship up against waves of magically spawning enemies (*cough* *cough*). Rather, it’s twenty ships or soldiers against twenty enemy ships or soldiers, which tends to produce very exciting, chaotic battles. The battle size in Salvation Prophecy is something I tried to achieve in other games, but to no avail, and countless space adventure games feature your rogue pilot up against impossible, frustrating odds. It’s nice that Salvation Prophecy actually goes a more realistic route and gives you plenty of allies to help you along the way and balance out the odds. I am less of a fan of the later missions that are inherently unfair, where it is you against a team of enemy units. But, the game allows you to avoid these types of missions altogether and wait for the next group endeavor. Of course, with only five mission types, and the fact that the missions all play out the same, variety leaves a lot to be desired, until you earn the ability to guide your faction. You see, as you play the game, Salvation Prophecy gradually unlocks new things to do over time. When you start out, you can only complete land missions. Eventually, space battles, bounty missions, and solo planet invasions become available, ultimately culminating in the ability to command your entire faction. The faction commander can build new colonies and space stations, erecting buildings to extract resources, placing defensive structures, and establishing fighter wings. The commander can also coordinate attacks on enemy strongholds; it’s like a light strategy game that gives you greater variety in the late game. As you unlock new mission types, skill upgrades also become available, allowing for improved offense, defense, or new stims (items to use during land battles), plus a unique skill for each faction. In this sense, Salvation Prophecy allows you to slightly tweak your character towards your play style. There are some areas of Salvation Prophecy that could be enhanced. As I alluded to earlier, all you do is missions, as the game does not feature any trade or mining to earn extra money. This is disappointing for those who like those types of activities, and it would give you a break from the stern combat focus of the game. Salvation Prophecy also lacks multiplayer, which would have made the battles even more impressive. The tutorial covers the basic control schemes for the inexperienced computer gamer (and can be skipped over, thankfully).

The controls in Salvation Prophecy are typical for a space game and third person shooter, utilizing mouse aiming for the ship portions, number keys for weapons, and function keys for items. The HUD is informative, displaying data on armor, ammunition levels, current speed, and friendly troop status. You can also zoom in on an enemy unit to displays its health level, and a “target nearest enemy” button is available for quicker destruction. A rotary menu also gives easy access to mission briefings, equipment loadouts, ship attributes, a galaxy map, local sector scanner, and skill tree. Overall, I was pleased with the interface in Salvation Prophecy, as it presents most information on the main screen or in easily accessible displays.

One notable aspect of Salvation Prophecy is the living universe it presents: it’s not just you checking off a series of scripted missions. Instead, the other factions (and your own, for that matter) complete missions without your direct intervention, creating a dynamic galaxy where colonies and space stations change hands after successful invasions. Other races will even attack your bases, so you’ll need to periodically jump into your fighter and join the defense. Each station features a hanger for ship storage and upgrades, a drop ship hanger where land battles are coordinated, an armory and medical lab for weapon and item enhancements, and mission control to get new missions. As you navigate between destinations, you’ll encounter two control-based minigames: during in-system jumps, you’ll have to avoid lightning bolts in a tube (this has been an entire game before), and you’ll have to carefully stay within a wormhole when shuttling off to distant worlds. These two minigames are both short and interesting enough diversions from the rest of the combat-heavy game.

In space, no one can hear you scream, but they can get shot by your lasers. The space battles feature physics that makes it feel like you are piloting a heavy ship: a lot of space adventure games allow you to turn on a dime and maneuver unreasonably quickly, but Salvation Prophecy requires skill and planning to successfully defeat those pesky enemy ships. Strafing is possible (using the “A” and “D”, naturally), which is an easy way to avoid oncoming enemy fire. The game uses a modest amount of auto-aim (if you enable it), which I found to be necessary to preserve any sense of accuracy, since Salvation Prophecy lacks a lead indicator for targeting assistance. There is also friendly fire, which can be a problem in the game’s massive battles; I have “accidentally” destroyed several friendly ships that got between me and my target. As you complete missions, you can spend money to upgrade several aspects to your ship: energy, weapons, and shields. It seems that the enemy ships also improve over time, so both sides become more deadly as the game progresses.

On land, Salvation Prophecy transitions to a third-person shooter. There is a small assortment of weapons to choose from: a ranged laser, a melee weapon, and a rocket launcher that’s meant for destroying buildings and groups of enemies. I would like to see more exotic options for weapons, considering the alien factions that are present in the universe. The land battle levels feature undulating terrain and plenty of objects behind which to take cover. You can equip yourself with items (called “stims”) that can heal, improve accuracy, enhance speed, or reduce damage. Just like in space, all weapons can cause friendly fire, although in the generally 2-D land battles, allied units are easier to keep track of. Taking an enemy planet involves destroying all of the buildings, and the battle continues until that happens or you die (which requires loading of a previous saved game).

I was quite satisfied with the AI in Salvation Prophecy. Your computer opponents (and allies) are competent pilots and ground troops. In space, AI fighters will engage nearby enemy units and fly in unpredictable patterns when under fire. On the ground, the computer uses special skills (shields, bombs), runs away to cover when healing, and engages nearby enemies. The AI has access to the same items you do, and it is adept at using them at appropriate times. I found both the land and space battles to be challenging without being unfairly so.

Salvation Prophecy knows its limits, and what it does it does well. The setting is compelling, with missions going on in the background and changing the dynamics of the world, with colonies and stations switching hands and news of unsuccessful invasions ticking across the screen. Instead of being the focal point of the game, and taking on countless enemies by yourself, you are an integral part of your faction’s success, present to break the stalemates between evenly-matched AI opponents. Both the land and space battles are chaotic, enjoyable messes of dangerous lasers darting across your display. Salvation Prophecy has some of the best non-scripted battles in any space adventure game: forty-ship (or –person (or –alien)) battles here seem more convincing than in some other space games where success is only up to you and your scripted mission objectives. The colonies and space stations provide these missions, and navigating between these waypoints involves non-annoying minigames performed during high-speed travel. Experienced earned by not dying is spent unlocking new skills and additional aspects to the game, as Salvation Prophecy opens up something new as you become more adept, ending with control of your entire faction. The game does get repetitive between the time when you unlock all of the mission types and before you can command the entire faction, as each basic mission type plays out the same (with some new wrinkles as new defenses are introduced) every time. The faction management aspect of Salvation Prophecy is certainly enticing, as you develop your colonies and send out attack orders on enemy space stations. I just wish it didn’t take so long to progress that far, as it feels like too much work to get to the strategic aspects of the game. The AI is thankfully intelligent and not a liability on either side of the battles, piloting and engaging in ground combat effectively. Besides the mid-game repetition, Salvation Prophecy also falls short in a couple of other areas: there is no optional mining or trade to supplement your mission income and experience, and multiplayer battles are not present. Still, Salvation Prophecy provides some successful space adventuring that fans of the genre will likely enjoy.