Free Space: Black Prophecy First Impressions

Space stuff. In space!
The free-to-play space MMO Black Prophecy is out in the EU, and there’s a beta underway for North America. I decided to take a look over the past couple of days and have written up a little about my experience. Read on for sparkling wit and space-insight.

The initial pleasing thing about Black Prophecy is that it has a character creator almost the same as Eve’s old character creator. Stretch those cheekbones, select those facial tattoos, and you’re ready to meet the vacuum (of space). Yes, there’s actually a similar tone here between Eve and Black Prophecy, they’re both dramatic far-future “hard” science fiction scenarios that are taking themselves quite seriously. But that – and the fact that you fly your ship in third-person, as if it were a gun in an FPS – seems to be where the similarities end. The tutorial for Black Prophecy makes that quite clear, as your first job is to man the turret of a colony ship that is under attack by raiders. Black Prophecy is an MMO, but it’s an action MMO in a way that Eve is not, and you are in direct control of your ship (when you get one), where it flies, and what it shoots.

A little later in the tutorial you are indeed given the basic ship, and you whizz about shooting stuff, a theme which continues for pretty much as far as I’ve seen into the game. The combat looks great, but is actually a little wobbly. The enemy ships pretty much (so far at least) just turn around in circles, so although you will get shot up if you stay still, you will find yourself standing still precisely because that’s the easiest way to track the targeting reticules of your enemies. It’s an entirely lightweight combat game, at least for now, but there’s the promise of many different modules aboard your ship and some more sophisticated (and larger) enemies to come. Not that the game is particularly good about presenting all this. Like some other games I could mention, it simply slaps a fairly crap UI over everything and has you hope for the best. I’m not going to complain too much about that, because at least you can actually fly your ship, and at least someone is making an effort to make a space game that isn’t either based on Elite, or 2D.

Having browsed a bit of what is available from the game as I level up, I can see that there’s a bunch of group and combat missions awaiting me that will require some co-ordination to take down large enemy ships and so on. So that could be entertaining. Right now though, it’s a lot of shooting small, circling craft. They go bang in an okay way, I suppose, and the faux-Star Wars score is appropriate.

Two things are killing this for me right now, however. One is that it’s fairly laggy, especially in the evening. This doesn’t seem to do too much to interfere with killing enemy spaceships or interacting with things in space, but it does make the entire experience feel a weird and jerky. I want SMOOTH space interactions, not a ship that appears to have something wrong with its clutch control. The other issue is OH MY GOD IT’S AN MMO. How do I know this? Well, I’ve just taken on a mission, central to my progress with the first NPC, and it’s a “kill x of y mission”. I’ve flown out to nearby sectors and – whaddya know – there’s a queue of people waiting for x of y to spawn. I zoomed around some lovely shiny space rocks, waiting for some to spawn. Some other guy got there first. Sigh. It was at this point that I logged out to write some impressions.

Nevertheless I’m also inclined to return and face the grind for two reasons. Firstly, it’s free, and a pretty high quality game for a game that really doesn’t seem to be doing much to insist you look at its shop. In fact it’s beautifully presented and, if they can get some more server muscle behind the game, it could be an interesting space-based experience. Secondly, I am searching, always searching, for a PvP MMO that actually interests me. I am a bit numb to PvP experiences since the giddy heights of Eve fleet and skirmish combat, so I’ll be interested to see whether the Tyi vs Genides racial war of Black Prophecy provides anything worth sticking around for. And that’s going to require some levelling up.

Is anyone else having a look at this? Thoughts?


  1. Mashakosha says:

    I played it until them end of the tutorial and wasn’t impressed. Flashy trailers can sell a game, but you need to back up what you’re showing with in-game action and I don’t feel that was fulfilled. That and the turret shooting in the tutorial lasted waaay too long and that bored me to tears.

    • Shortwave says:

      I’m pretty sure a tutorial is mostly designed to teach a user how to play, not blow their minds.
      I was watching the chat while playing and like 90% of the people who were raging were LV1 and had been playing for like ten seconds.. HA, just made me laugh.. I dunno’ though, I suppose theres no middle ground.

  2. Gnoupi says:

    My big problem encountered in the beta was, well, the beginning, the intro.

    Because all I wanted right after launching the beta was to see how it feels to move the ship and shoot. I didn’t have that much time at this moment.

    And they didn’t let me.
    They forced me to watch an endless introduction sequence. Which led finally to some sloooow escort mission (in which I went too fast to the end, missing one waypoint in the way, forcing me to come back there).

    I had to leave before the end of this mission, and the next time I started, they… put me back at the beginning to watch the (obviously) neverending introduction.

    • Shortwave says:

      Well yea’ it made you start over.. You never finished the mission, ha!
      Also it’s your fault for missing the point! :P

      Intros can be a bother but just be happy it wasn’t like Dirt 2.. If you know/remember..
      It takes about a half hour before you can play if not longer.. Wasn’t fun at the LAN.
      We did have a big laugh though..

      But honestly the intro isn’t THAT long. A ten minute intro is nothing for a game of this type.
      Which one could expect to spend MANY MANY MANY hours playing if the person is into it.
      /me shrugs Just some retrospect.

  3. jealouspirate says:

    I gave this a go because you fly pretty ship through pretty space environments and shoot stuff, but ultimately gave up in frustration.

    Maybe I just sucked, but I found the controls to be bad. No matter how much I adjusted the mouse sensitivity it never seemed to be exactly where I wanted it, making targeting very annoying. This frustration was only compounded when I would get an enemy ship down to about 10% health only to have someone else swoop in and get the killing blow, getting me exactly nowhere with my quest.

  4. President Weasel says:

    That UI looks like the ArcHUD I used to use back when I was engrossed with WoW. Is that the default UI?

  5. Dominic White says:

    This sounds like a good one to try out in 3-6 months,once things have stabilized and the key issues have been beaten out. MMO experience has taught me that ‘beta’ doesn’t really end until about half a year after they say it did.

  6. D3xter says:

    Thanks for reporting on this… was looking forward to it among other things (Jumpgate Evolution – whatever happened to that?) and am going to try it sometime soon.

    • chelseascum says:

      I think it’s been canned. No official announcement but the last update of any kind on the website is December 2009.

    • frenz0rz says:

      As I understand it, publisher problems forced them to cease development and most of the dev team went elsewhere. I think they missed a few release deadlines, and following a decision by the devs to completely reinvent a large part of the game, Codemasters decided to sue them for lots of money because they werent getting anything out of it.

      And so, Jumpgate Evolution has become vapourware.

    • wcanyon says:

      At one point the publisher was suing the developer. It’s probably hosed at this point.

  7. Icarus says:

    I saw the headline and got my hopes up. I am disappoint :(

  8. CMaster says:

    @Jim – take the missions from the mission term after you dock at the station in question, rather than the missions to kill X of Y in the “open world” sectors – as you observe, these are shit for several reasons.

    The UI’s actually gone through several remakes since the first beta. I don’t think that it’s the UI itself that is the problem – the problem is the sheer lack of clarity, and bunch of stats always shown in isolation that makes up all the items making decisions really, really difficult to make ship-spec wise.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, I have been. Doesn’t really excuse the bad design though, eh?

    • CMaster says:

      Not really. It’s kinda sad that most of the “MMO Staples” that Neocron was largley missing and KK have now included in BP are the bad ones. You could level a similar accusation at Fallen Earth too though – it copied a lot of the bad MMO assumptions while discarding a lot of the others that didn’t matter so much.

  9. Small Ivory Knight says:

    You know, I kinda like what I’ve seen so far.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been having a heck of a time staying connected to the server. Seems to kick me every 5 minutes or so.

  10. runbmp says:

    I enjoyed it, has a very reminiscing feel to freelancer. I think it could perhaps forget the cheezy videos and annoying narrator which really discredits the game in the beginning.

    Once you start doing quest however its really has a nice feel to it. I didn’t mind the controls that much, again, might be different hardware/software config. (using a Razor mamba). Different view might also help.

    The tutorial isn’t awe inspiring, and takes about 10min if you skip the videos. Once you starting roaming around it gets interesting.

  11. Turin Turambar says:

    Is anyone else having a look at this? Thoughts?

    Yeah, me.

    My impressions are exactly the same.

    a)It goes from laggy to very laggy. Good luck having enjoyable ship combat with 2000 ms of lag. Of couse even with 0ms of it, the combat itself isn’t very good.
    b)It’s a MMO!. First missions: grind, people waiting for objective spawning, etc. Yawn.

  12. xGryfter says:

    I was in the EU Beta for about a year and now I’m in the US beta and it hasn’t changed all that much. The controls got a bit better though I still think they feel “off” and the UI has gotten a bit better. The problem with this game is it’s just not that fun. All the quests are pretty much exactly the same and unlike a traditional MMO you don’t have the “lets explore new lands” option keeping things at least mildly interesting. The ships suck until you get quite a ways into the game and I’m just not willing to put 20 or 30 hours into a game before it starts getting even slightly interesting. The voice acting is, as expected, atrocious which wouldn’t bug me as much if all the NPCs weren’t yelling out “frak this” and “Frak that” every thirty damn seconds.

    Thankfully the graphics in Black Prophecy are pretty damn good… until you stop to look around and realize that most of the (incredibly tiny) zones use a static image for the backdrop sucking out the rest of what little life this game had. I almost wish it hadn’t gone free-to-play, then maybe they would have been able to sink a bit more cash into it and created a proper and fun space MMO.

    If I sound a bit harsh it’s because the “space sim” genre is probably my favorite genre of video games and it’s been so incredibly long since we’ve had a good one that I was really, really looking forward to this. Other than the all but announced cancellation of Jumpgate Evolution Black Prophecy is probably one of my biggest disappointments this generation.

  13. Cooper says:

    Just wait for planetside to be re-released, and hope they’ve made the server capable of handling more than 6 players in any small area?

  14. DrGonzo says:

    I tried this out, but constant problems made me uninstall. It’s worth mentioning that I will be going back to it in a few months to see if it works. What was there seemed great, it just didn’t work.

  15. FriendlyFire says:

    Jim, you didn’t encounter the dealbreaker yet: I’ve had people telling me that much of the good stuff comes from customizing/upgrading your gear… which necessitates a 20 minutes waiting period. You can’t play during that time. It’s a loading bar.

    And it can fail after those 20 minutes.

    Only way to bypass it? The store, of course. I’m sorry but that isn’t how free-to-play is going to work. As soon as people hit that point, they just say fuck it and move on.

    I’ve also been hit by a few bugs and horrid lag that made ships jump around the screen, including my own. Not really good first impressions I’d say, though being free I might add a few more hours into it if only to get inspiration for when I go back to Freelancer.

    Honestly, anybody disappointed by this game should go back to Freelancer. BP is such an obvious clone it’s not even funny. The first mission is an homage to FL’s first mission, if you didn’t notice.

  16. Moraven says:

    mmm Miss doing some Freelancer on custom servers.

    Also some Earth & Beyond.

  17. Wulf says:

    I’m intrigued by this and wouldn’t mind giving it a shot, but… is the PvP forced? As in, would I be in an environment where I couldn’t avoid PvP?

    My adrenaline gland barely functions, and I’m getting on a bit, so all PvP does for me is leave me feeling stressed and unhappy, even if I win, because I’m not a very competitive sport. For some reason I’m fine being competitive with an AI, but the moment another person becomes involved in competition, I lose interest. Competition with real people just tends to generate too much stress for me, it’s a lose-lose situation.

    If this has forced PvP then I’ll skip over it. Not because it’s a bad game or anything equally nonsensical, but simply because I’m not compatible with forced PvP as a person.

    Edit #1: Heh, reminds me of just yesterday when I was watching a group of level 40s duel in the Aegir submarine (Lemuria, Champions Online). One of them was feeling cocksure and challenged me, him being a level 40, and me being level 32. I told him at the start that I stank at PvP and probably wouldn’t be any good. Turns out that I managed to beat him in under a minute due to planning and clever alpha strikes. I didn’t feel good about it though because I ruined his winning streak.

    That’s… just the kind of person I am. I’m really not at all compatible with PvP.

    • CMaster says:

      I think, were you to stick to doing the hub-zone, instanced PvE mission cycle, then you could avoid PvP ever. Although death penalty is either tiny or non-existent, so being PKed doesn’t really matter that much.

    • Wulf says:

      I might look into it in that case. And it isn’t the death penalty that bothers me, it’s the inconvenience. I’ve played games like this in the past, and I tend to not fight back, then people take me as an easy target, and I get people crowding up to take a shot, and when I do fight back, on the off chance that I might win, I tend to get a lot of trash-talking for screwing with people. This happened to me in UO, and it’s not the sort of thing I’m eager to repeat.

      I’ll look into it… if the hub zone provides freedom from PvP, then I’ll give it a shot. I am a fan of space games, after all, with Freelancer being one of my all time faves.

  18. Antsy says:

    I spent a couple of hours on it. My first impressions were quite favorable: nice graphics, nice music etc. I had some fun flying around shooting stuff. Theres some stuff that doesn’t work. The UI isn’t good at all and the cut scenes made me wish I was seeing these things unfold from the cockpit rather than being wrenched out of it to watch a movie. The gameplay is familiar and it works well but once the lag finally sent me searching for the quit button I wasn’t tempted to go back.

    My lasting impression of it is that I wish it was single player. I remember when I was young playing Elite and wishing I could play with my friends. This goes far beyond that but now it seems to me I’d rather get lost in this kind of space on my own, with perhaps the option to have a friend or two drop in now and again. I suppose what I’m saying is, I wish it was Freelancer. Ah well.

    • Wulf says:

      That’s what I find myself wishing about a lot of space games – I wish it was Freelancer. But I will admit that a lot of my love for Freelancer came from being able to fly around in a gigantic space whale. I absolutely refused to give that ship up even when better ones came along. That was the ship that cemented my character’s identity. That was my ship.

      Anyway, yeah, I’ve never wanted an MMORPG out of a space game, really. I just tend to think that space games are probably better suited to co-op games, 1-4 players, 4 being the max. So you have a squad leader and three wing-men as friends, and you set out to explore and have fun as a small group. You know, just to see what’s out there.

      That and I just want to say that I’d absolutely love to see a game with the handling of Freelancer that combines with the strange sorts of aliens one encountered in the likes of Sword of the Stars and Star Control II, coupled with the chance to find the sorts of peculiarities that we’d see in Weirder Worlds II: Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. That would probably be my ideal space game.

  19. blainestereo says:

    My first impression is that people who ban their game in your country on the basis that they haven’t signed a contract with a local publisher but jolly well intend to can’t be trusted.

    • mojo says:

      and the message on the site was black on black background.
      frustration squared.

  20. Baines says:

    Is there any such thing as a good PvP MMO?

    I’ve been messing with CrimeCraft because some friends like it, but the PvP part seems badly unbalanced. Through a combination of weapons, armor, and boosts, it takes me two or three shots to kill anyone who in turn can kill me in a single shot. The PvP matches I’ve messed with seemed to have one side run away with the score as well.

    APB:Reloaded looks like it could have decent PvP gameplay, but APB doesn’t seem that great itself. Dynasty Warriors never had an engine suited for PvP, which wasn’t changed with Dynasty Warriors Online.

    The humans vs monsters stage of LOTRO seems a decent battlefield from what I’ve seen of friends playing it, but it is separate from the rest of the game. It seems more like a bonus mode.

  21. wcanyon says:

    Much more interesting. Plus there’s no 2 minute sequence of making your centurion walk from point a to b. But the plot in BP is nonsense, far as I could tell. There’s a guy who talks a lot in the beginning and (even hearing it twice) it made no sense to me.

  22. matrices says:

    Good sir,

    You used the words “Free Space” in conjunction with a picture that vaguely looked like space combat, imparting the impression to eager onlookers that perhaps a new Freespace game had been born from the ashes.


  23. GHudston says:

    I’ve been playing Black Prophecy a bit for the same reasons (I really want a decent PvP experience that isn’t more of what I already have) and I can give the following conclusion:

    It is a very solid space action game, smothered under a vast heap of terrible design choices, wholly unnecessary MMO elements, a really, really bad user interface and the sheer weight of it’s own ambition. It’s like the game doesn’t really know what it’s trying to be.

    I doesn’t help that you have to play through an absolutely terrible 2 hour prologue before it will let you into the “real” game. Most people that I’ve shown the game to didn’t make it past that hurdle and, as a result, I haven’t been able to test the game out with any friends (they need to beat the prologue to choose a faction).

    There’s promise here, but it lost it’s way somewhere and I’m not sure it’s something they can manage without gutting the game and basically starting over. It’s a shame, because the bits that it got right are very good; but you really have to fight the game to get at them.

  24. Hunam says:

    Why isn’t there and X-Wing vs Tie Fighter Online yet? Have it like EVE in the way that you have the inner rims being all PVE and the outer rims being free for all with bases etc. Meaning you have to set up your own fleets with AI controlled capital ships (but under player orders) and obviously, the old X wing style controls and combat.

  25. Matt says:

    You can press ‘V’ to switch to a cockpit perspective.

  26. razorblade79 says:

    Hard scifi, space video game sounds pretty amazing in my book. It’s from gamigo, it’s a MMO and it probably has no story worth speaking of but I’ll give it shot. Not much else in that area you can do :(

  27. Redford says:

    I would enjoy BP about a million times more if their bug team would actually fix that crash that is breaking my video drivers.

  28. lunarplasma says:

    SECOND TIME NOW, the article title “Free Space” made me think this was for a Freespace mod. Oh my disappointment.

  29. fenriz says:

    damn quests.
    When will developers understand that players need to decide what to do in their game, not the devs.

    The game is players’, not theirs.