By Christopher Livingston on August 11th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, seamless solar system exploration in Rodina.
What’s space travel like? Enchanting and serene? Gazing at distant galaxies, skimming past slowly-spinning asteroids, watching beautiful and mysterious alien planets grow ever-larger as you draw closer? Or is space travel scary as hell, requiring you to fight your way through turbulent atmospheres as your ship burns inside and out while swarms of hostile alien ships fill your screen with homing missiles?
How about both? Rodina’s got you covered.
We seem to be orbiting an exciting new era of space games, though we’re not quite ready to land on most of them yet. No Man’s Sky sounds promising, but we’ll have to endure PS4 owners gloating over their “exclusive” ownership before we see it on PC. Elite: Dangerous looks beautiful, but has chosen the “it’s way more expensive to buy it early” route (editorial note: *fart noise*). Then there’s Star Citizen, which I will not comment on for fear of a comments section comprised of nothing but comments about Star Citizen.
How ’bout Rodina, then? It begins simply and without fanfare, with me standing on the surface of a small brown planetoid. I find my spaceship nearby, climb aboard, walk around inside it for a bit, examining its many rooms and chambers (which are fully customizable through an in-game ship editor) until I find the cockpit. After a quick flying lesson, I take off, visit a few similarly brown asteroids nearby, land on them, and collect a few items like missiles for my weapons system and communication fragments for my back-story database.
All of this traveling through space, finding planetoids, landing, and walking around (both inside my ship and on the asteroids themselves) is done completely seamlessly. Planetoids first appear as a dot, then a small sphere. Then they get bigger and bigger until they fill the screen. Then you can land, get out of your pilot’s seat, walk to your airlock, and stroll around on the planetoid, where the tiny ripples and ridges you saw earlier have become looming mountain ranges. All with nary a loading screen. It’s really neat.
After the fourth or fifth brown planetoid, however, I’m getting a bit restless for something else. I aim for a more distant space rock, hoping it’ll be a little different. It definitely is. It’s gray, for starters, and more importantly, it’s not alone. The music suddenly changes from peaceful, cosmic exploration mode to INCOMING ENEMY SHIP mode. An alien aggressor, his ship trailing green particles, speeds towards me.
We trade laser fire as it barrels past and then I swing around to get behind it, where I fire, in a panic, roughly every single missile I’ve collected. He blows up real good. On the new planetoid I find a crystal that I can use to power my ship’s Liminal Drive. My HUD now shows other objects my new hyperdrive has brought within reach, mysterious objects labeled with question marks. In the chaotic purple energy field of the Liminal Drive I shudder through space at incredible speeds. When I shift back down to cruising speed, I discover the question marks are planets.
I thought those earlier planetoids were big. Planets are huge. Huge! What’s more, they’re dotted with multiple points of interest and appear to be surrounded by enemy ships. I figure I’ll be fighting aliens for hours just to clear a spot to land, but I’ve already forgotten what I just said a moment ago: planets are huge. As I draw closer and the planet fills my screen, the enemy dots spread apart and I see that avoiding aliens will be pretty easy. I get ready to land.
Planets are not just huge, I discover, but far more complicated than the simple asteroids I’ve been parking on. Those things called atmospheres? They’re not too kind to objects rocketing through them at a bazillion miles per hour, and the game indicates this by shaking my ship like its in a blender. The intense friction immediately wreaths my ship in flames as warnings blare and flash on my screen. I’m coming in too fast, too steep, and I’m burning up, and even after plunging for a couple minutes I’m still miles from the surface. I decide to abort. I wrestle the ship around, point my nose up and rocket back out into space, having essentially bounced off the atmosphere. Back in space, I notice I’m still getting a fire warning. What’s that all about?
Oh. It’s a fire. Like, on the inside part of my ship. I didn’t even know that could even happen! I grab a nearby fire extinguisher and empty it, but the fire circles around behind me, cutting me off from my other extinguishers. I retreat back to my airlock, suddenly remembering that I can customize my ship with the computer! Ha ha! I’ll just add a bunch of fire extinguishers back here using the ship editor!
Or, not. Eventually (after a couple of deaths), I manage to quell the fire and I attempt another landing, a more careful one. Minutes later, after another white-knuckle plunge, I reach the safety of the planet’s lower atmosphere, only to discover it ain’t that safe down here, either. It’s so cold on this planet that frigid winds are literally eating through my ship’s hull. I get close — so close — to the icon I’m targeting, but my ship is bleeding damage. I can’t land here. I point my nose up and punch it, barely escaping back into space with my ship intact.
The next planet I visit is similarly inhospitable, and after another harrowing fight through the upper atmosphere I discover that my hull is again being eaten away, this time by burning acid winds. Stupid alien planets! Why aren’t they like planets in Star Trek, where everything has the same exact atmosphere as earth? Back in space, I finally decide to check all those radio messages I’ve been collecting, and find one telling me I should begin my exploration on planet Jarilo. Whoops! I guess I should check my space-radio more often, but then again, Han Solo probably didn’t spend a lot of time reading his mail, either.
I reach Jarilo and fight my way through its atmosphere, keeping my descent from getting too steep through the long, shuddering minutes, but then I’m through! I’m skimming over the planet’s surface, and the air isn’t chewing through my hull for a change. Also, again, planets are huge. The little icon I was aiming for has slipped below the horizon and I spend several peaceful minutes cruising over the planet, watching mountain ranges rise and fall, watching the sun set, and noticing that the sun actually appears a different color depending on which atmosphere you’re viewing it through. Cool.
I land, and pick up more messages and supplies for my ship, then take off and fly toward the next-nearest icon, which is quite some way away. Somewhere on Jarilo, I’m sure, I’ll find some sort of power-up or improvement for my ship that will allow me to survive on those other, more hostile planets. At the moment, though, it looks like some of the locals have finally noticed me skulking around. In fact, they swooped in while I was still walking around outside, and I had to scramble back and take off before they arrived. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding and soon we’ll all be friends. Right?
So. Rodina (I played verson 1.1.1) is really neat. The soundtrack is dynamic (exciting things happening means exciting music plays) and wonderful. I do wish there was some way to swing the view around the ship — at the moment, the only way to look left is to turn left. Combat is also really hard at the moment against multiple enemies, but you can play in peaceful mode without the hostiles. I’d recommend that.
Rodina is available from Steam for £11.