Impressions: The Wreckless

By Adam Smith on December 13th, 2011 at 4:35 pm.

I’ve been playing The Wreckless on and off throughout the day, and during that time there have been moments when I’ve thought – “holy crap, this is the answer to my TIE Fighter cravings”. Hopefully that’s enough to send plenty of people scurrying off to download the demo immediately. I’ll move onto my reservations later but I’ll leave them to one side for now because this is an honest-to-goodness space combat simulator, with simple controls, physics that allow for drifty dogfights and lasers that light up the dark void with their scorching fury. YES.

So why am I not currently atop the Great Mount TIEon, my lips pressed to the almighty sounding-horn, forged from the wreckage of an alien craft in a distant time (1994), which announces the arrival of a new epoch in spacefighting simularkey? Primarily it is because no such horn exists but it’s also because I’m too tired to climb a mountain even if it did. Oh, and I suppose The Wreckless does have problems that prevent me from declaring it the best thing since laser-sliced A-Wings.

Before I get into that though, let me just reiterate that this is a very good game, with plenty of variety in its missions and the capability to create many a memorable moment. Control is of the WASD variety but in space rather than in a corridor and with physics that require thruster readjustment to avoid interminable drift. There is a ‘brake’ button, which brings the ship to a standstill, but during a scrap, that’s a good way to colour the firmament with your exploded body parts. Outmaneuvering opponents is the way to survive and during squadron-on-squadron action, space can seem a crowded place as ships boost alongside each other seeking the killing angle.

The boosting mechanic deserves a mention. It allows a ship to redirect itself rapidly by charging the engines at the front, rear or sides and then releasing the pent-up energy in one blast, forcing the metal coffin onto a new course. It helps in tight spots without ever feeling powerful enough to override the feeling of helplessness that can result from an ill-thought out acceleration that sends you spinning toward oblivion.

There are large intimidating vessels and small nippy ones, new ships to research and wingmen to see shot to bits.

But here’s the rub. Being cocooned in your spacecraft is a great deal of fun, but there are several elements of the game that are lacking. There is a lack of atmosphere (ho ho!) and although the low budget indie nature of the game doesn’t trouble the core mechanics at all, the voiced mission instructions sound as if they were recorded in a bedroom rather than from the bridge of a space station. It’s a minor gripe but it’s something that runs through the design.

For a space sim to rise to the next level and join the true elites of the genre, it needs a compelling universe. It’s not that The Wreckless doesn’t give the player a reason to fight and I quite enjoyed the fragments of plot that tie the missions together, but there I was never fully invested in events or the design of the various crafts. Unfortunately, that can lead to a lack of involvement, despite how impressive the bulk of the game is. Despite that, perhaps because I found it without any preconceived ideas, this is probably the nicest surprise I’ll have all month. And this is the month with Christmas in it.

This is the first release from Duct Tape Games, a three man indie studio in Melbourne and, yes, there are problems but it does so much right in a genre that seems to have fallen out of favour somewhat. It’s on sale now for $9.99 and has a sizable demo, which includes the tutorial and should be enough to let you know if the controls and combat are to your liking. The full game has a sixteen mission campaign as well as a custom skirmish mode. Definitely worth a shot.

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49 Comments »

  1. deadly.by.design says:

    Looks (w)recklessly put together…

  2. Premium User Badge AmateurScience says:

    Sssshhhhhhhhh…

    Take my money.

    Edit: just played through the Tutorial. Combat very much brings iWar 2 and X3 to mind (well assuming you found any combat in X3 hidden behind all the spreadsheets). Very much Newtonian model ‘Space Jousting’*.

    It’s quite good fun. Still trying to decide if I like the cel shading or not though.

    * tm and patent pending, AmateurScience

  3. HoosTrax says:

    Looks a bit unpolished at the moment (graphically not quite up to par with Freelancer even), but still appreciate the indie devs picking up the slack as far as the abandoned space sim genre. With the exception of Egosoft’s X series, no other major developer seems interested in producing these types of games anymore.

    • Guvornator says:

      I have to say, as someone who was happily blasting tie fighters in X-wing* at an early age, the X series is, to me, the reason no one does space sims any more. It’s made it far more complicated than it worth. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a bit of deep space trading (I’m currently making my way through Dark Star One and have all the X2 expansions), but sometimes all you want is a decent story, lasers, planet sized capital ships and nothing but the cold vacuum of space to greet you if you fail, not repeat-a -thon bounty hunter jobs, crappy voice acting and fictional real estate ownership. There’s not been one worth talking about since Freespace 2**, and since that had the worlds worst ending it’s about time someone had a proper crack at it.

      * though that wasn’t the best bit – the best bit involved you, alone in space in an A wing, with only a couple of star destroyers for company. They don’t know you’re there. You better hope it stays that way. Magnificent!
      **Although I-war 2 was pretty decent.

    • Jekhar says:

      Yeah, once in a while i stumble upon the Starwraith site, begin to get interested about the games but can’t decide which one i should get. There are too many different versions and i can’t discern the differences (and the games are a bit pricey for blind shopping).

  4. Adam Smith says:

    It does feel a tad uninspired, which is a real shame because so much else works brilliantly. Some people won’t get past the design, which is understandable. It hammered home to me how much it actually matters to me in this kind of game.

  5. Premium User Badge Thirith says:

    For me, a large appeal of my favourite space shooters/sims (Wing Commander, Tie Fighter, Freespace) is the atmosphere that comes with the universes they evoke. Take that element away and I’m pretty indifferent. Wing Commander did a good job of creating a tangible world – yes, it was cliched, but the way they embraced that was part of the appeal. Tie Fighter and X-Wing had one of the most iconic fictional universes to play in, and Freespace was atmospheric as hell. This, as neat as it might be as a game, looks drab and uninspired.

    • Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

      Did you play Starlancer? If not do so, it was excellent for atmosphere.

  6. ThTa says:

    I’ll just go back to hoping Valve’s “all your favourite things” with “a three in it” announcement for E3 is Threelancer, the aptly named sequel to Freelancer and Starlancer.

    • MisterT says:

      X wing 3.
      XWA counts as sequel, TIE fighter is spinoff, XvT is too MP to count

  7. SurfinNoodles says:

    Cel-shaded ships against the black backdrop (blackdrop?) of space seems kind of… ineffective

  8. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    It’s not cel-shaded.

    The ships just have black outlines and bland textures.

  9. HoosTrax says:

    I’m not sure. The outlining of one of the structures as well makes me think it was an intentional attempt to create a cell shaded art style a la Borderlands, to compensate for / mask the rudimentary textures.

  10. MCM says:

    I agree that the art direction looks bad, but what really gets me anymore is that the entire idea of fighter combat in deep space makes very little sense at all.

    I understand that fighters and space combat is fun, I just wish someone would make a capital ship dueling game with relativistic physics and more sensible premises.

    The best thing about TIE Fighter and Wing Commander were the game universes – and if a low-budget indie game doesn’t have that, why am I playing it?

    • westyfield says:

      I like dogfights in space as much as the next man (assuming that the next man is Adam Smith), but even so the idea of a capital ship game with decent physics makes me drool a little. Maybe it’s just space generally that I like.

    • Sardaukar says:

      The game you want is Starshatter. It is pretty much exactly what you just asked for.

      Okay, maybe not the relativistic physics bit, but it does have great capital ship warfare. Managing energy, repairs, sensor signature, etc.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I would love to see a game where relativistic physics mattered in combat. Good to see I’m not alone.

      Game designers should read all the Alastair Reynolds books, as a crash course for how much fun it could be with big ships fighting each other with realistic constraints and relativistic effects. Things like being able to stealth by just being far enough away from the enemy ship, so lightspeed delay messes up their tracking. You’d still need some magic tricks to allow enough G’s for acceleration and maneuvering at those speeds, but I think it would be a blast to play. Authors like Reynolds provide plenty of gothic space opera background for the storylines. We don’t have to be stuck with endless repetition of Wing Commander or TIE fighter.

      Game devs — please read more books! Spend less time playing earlier computer games as a model for what can be done. And realize how some of the tropes you’re taking for granted, like “space fighter combat” are based on the whims of directors like George Lucas, who was a fan of WWII air combat. That’s why Star Wars space combat looks and feels the way it does. We already have good WWI and WWII air combat games. Quit trying to shove those ideas into space games.

    • bronze says:

      Also take a look at Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (available on steam) its all capital ships combat with good graphics and systems management. Sounds like something your style.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Thanks for the reminder about Nexus. I keep meaning to check that out, but just never got around to it. It’s $9.99 USD on Steam now, so I guess it goes in the Xmas pile!

  11. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    But is it an excuse to dust off the old joystick (ooh err!), that’s the important question.

  12. wodin says:

    Freespace 2 with SCP…no more needs to be said.

  13. arccos says:

    I’ve been really hankering for a space combat sim lately, so this is perfect!

    Does anyone else have some recommendations, maybe a webpage, about the best space combat sims? Mine would be:
    Freespace 2 (plus some of the SCP mods)
    Freespce 1
    I-War 2
    X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter
    Tie Fighter
    Wing Commander Series

    What am I missing?

    • Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

      Starlancer.

      Don’t judge it on Freelancer (which I thought was a bit rubbish really).

      It has a great campaign, some excellent characters in your supporting pilots, nicely conveys the feeling of being part of a war effort (even if it’s choc full of ridiculous cliches) but most importantly it’s a fun arcadey dogfighter, with a nice variety of missions.

      Just don’t play it directly after Freespace 2 as you’ll find yourself missing the mechanical things that Freespace does slightly better.

    • ulix says:

      Just wanted to add Starlancer, too. Not on the Hardcore Simulation side of things, but still very enjoyable.

    • ThTa says:

      Starlancer is great, yeah.
      And Freelancer is ultimately an entirely different game, but one I ended up enjoying even more. Mainly due to the tremendous modding efforts and terrific multiplayer. The singleplayer was pretty neat, too. (And it’s got a great atmosphere, due to an amazing ambient soundtrack along with some gorgeous backdrops)

    • The Tupper says:

      For me, these two freeware beauties always get a play around this time of year.

    • Jabberwocky says:

      There’s a great site purely devoted to space sims called spacesimcentral.com
      There’s actually more going on in the space sim genre than you might know about, although it’s mostly the work of indie devs these days.

  14. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    With the game looking like it does, seems to me I might as well save me a few coin and dig up my old X-Wing instead.
    I have some forgiveness for low budget indie graphics, but this one would require sainthood levels of forgiveness.

  15. JackDandy says:

    I’ll give it a try- but holy DAMN this looks fugly. The Starwraith games look better and they’re made by just one dude, so manpower shouldn’t come into the equation here.

  16. rustybroomhandle says:

    “join the true elites of the genre”

    Fnarr!

  17. B0GiE-uk- says:

    Another good Star Wars Space Shooter is inbound in the Spring:

    http://www.freeworlds-tow.net/dev/

    http://www.youtube.com/user/freeworldstidesofwar

    You need a copy of Freelancer though as its a mod for it.

    • mondomau says:

      That star wars mod looks stunning. I still don’t understand why Lucas Arts have never updated the xwing / tie fighter series. The fanboys alone would support it, surely?

      P.S. you can get freelancer from GOG.com, for those interested.

    • Premium User Badge Faldrath says:

      Not Freelancer, you probably mean Freespace.

    • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

      Actually no, it IS Freelancer. Freelancer is a bastion of modding, and a criminally underrated one at that.

      EDIT: Or wait, do you mean you can get Freespace on GOG? Because yeah, Freelancer’s not on it despite the community’s best attempts for it to be.

  18. Guvornator says:

    Having played the demo I can confirm that it’s cel shaded and doesn’t actually look quite as bad as the screenshots make it look. But it still looks bad.

    The gameplay is decent though. Not sure if I can get the cheap as chips presentation, shallow man that I am. Judging by the website this may be a deliberate choice rather than just a result of 3 blokes making it.

  19. Synesthesia says:

    it’s just a toon shader, and it looks like its at the defaultest settings they could find, so lets take that as a sign that they still havent worked on that?

  20. Sardaukar says:

    I haven’t fired up the demo of this yet, but in order for something to be “the next TIE Fighter” in my eyes, it needs to have four specific features.

    1.) Tons and tons of targetable subsystems, even on fighters.
    2.) Energy management between at least weaponry, engines, and shields.*
    3.)When something explodes, it does not absolutely and instantly vanish.**
    4.) Difficult damage effects. When you take hull damage, parts of your HUD MUST break, and at worst you should lose most or complete control of various functions until they repair.***

    * Will accept alternatives like managing heat instead of energy use.
    ** Half the thrill of killing some scummy Rebel fighter is blowing it up. The other half is not getting hit by engine blown off.
    *** Few things have matched the thrill of the time my TIE Bomber lost steering control while flying right at a MonCal cruiser, bombs not far ahead, and my radar displays were busted. Very tense hoping to regain control to get out of that mess effectively blind and hurtling towards a large hard object.

    • lamurt says:

      just one tiny addition to your list above which i wholeheartedly agree with all:

      dynamic star wars music.

      for me this is the ultimate mood setter.

  21. maktacular says:

    One of these days, somebody will make a space game as good as Freelancer. Good combat, silly story, fun trading, well modded, sliver of a sense of humour. Fantastic.

  22. Brian Rubin says:

    Thanks for this, Adam! I keep track of space games on my spacey game blog, and I’d never even heard of this one. :) I can’t wait to try it out!

  23. danimalkingdom says:

    I know plenty have already said it, but the art and ship design is atrocious. I don’t even want to single them out, since every space combat game in the last 15 years (apart from Colony Wars, Amiright?) has had incredibly uninspiring art direction.

    I guess get the gameplay nailed before the artwork, sure, but for GADS sakes don’t release the thing before you get someone on board who can do the aesthetic justice.

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  25. Bob says:

    Erm, the demo loads but when I hit W…..nada.

  26. Scandalon says:

    I, er, hmmm. I will not be giving them $10 to play the game if the demo is any indication of the final product. It feels like the beginnings of a nice project are there, but right now just that – the beginnings. It feels like the first couple revs of a mod project – interface has lots of issues, limited sound, everything just feels like placeholder. I like the general feel of the controls and the conserved momentum though.

    (As much as I like the idea of playing through Freespace 1/2, every time I dust off the old joystick and play through the demo and maybe the first couple missions, I end up overwhelmed with the sheer number of controls, never feeling like I know what’s going on. Xwing/Tie-fighter had the perfect level of complexity, esp. for my tired old-man brain.)

  27. tupperwarespoon says:

    Hey guys, I’m the lead coder from duct tape games, first of all thanks everyone for all the responses, positive and negative. We’ve sent the game out to 200+ reviewers, but the stuff from Adam and the comments are the most intelligent and honest stuff we’ve got, and we’ll definately be using it to inform our next title.

    Huge thanks to Adam for the write-up, I laughed at your line about TIE fighter cravings, because that is exactly what spawned this game.

    A couple of people have mentioned the shaders, we used an outline, rim lighting and yeah.. pretty rudimentary textures, but its not actually cel-shaded.

    The game uses WASD controls but also tacitly supports XBox 360 controllers, but no joysticks.

  28. Shadowcat says:

    I’m surprised to be the first person asking this, but… is it third-person all the time?! I can’t imagine playing a space sim that wasn’t a first-person looking-through-the-cockpit affair.

  29. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Needs more anti-aliasing and less toon shading.

  30. perfectheat says:

    Yes yes, art direction not so good, but I at least is going to get this anyway. Hopefully it can keep me warm for some of the time until Naumachia comes out!