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Impressions: The Wreckless

Star skirmishes

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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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Adam Smith

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