“Pack a spare pair of spacepants for Space Beast Terror Fright!” writes whatever force of the ’90s has seized my fingers. “To the max!” SBTF, as I shall call it to save time I’ve now wasted explaining this acronym, is a roguelikelike FPS about a space marine venturing into alien-infested spacecraft to download data before setting them to self-destruct. It’s a tense, claustrophobic game about securing routes by locking doors and activating sentry turrets, knowing they’ll only hold so long, then falling back on blasting away with your giant spacegun. It’s still in development, but does have a free demo.
SBTF feels very ’90s in ways, with zippy movement, mazes of tight corridors, enemies who charge right at you, an overcrowded HUD, and a big gun spewing hundreds of bullets without ever reloading. It’s taken me ages to write this because I keep going back to play the demo more.
In short: you explore procedurally-generated spaceships, hacking (ie standing near) computers to recover data and sentry guns to cover your back. Hacking also gives XP, and each level-up brings a random bonus like infravision, quicker hacking, automap upgrades, more ammo, a better motion-tracker, or auto-targeting. Aliens are usually scarce at the start, but you’ll find and blast a few skittering across walls. While one swipe kills you, they’re not tough or clever. After a few perks and a couple of kills, I can feel dangerously cocky.
While I’ve been levelling up, they’ve been expanding. Aliens out of sight batter down doors, pop up new spawn points, and exhaust the ammo of those sentry guns I think are covering my retreat. Pushing forwards becomes increasingly dangerous, and I usually end up panicking and fleeing blindly in search of a sentry gun to befriend. I’ve only successfully completed one mission so far. Here, I recorded one failed attempt where I ended up between three alien spawns:
If you think it looks overcrowded and claustrophobic, hey, that’s after I turned off the view-limiting helmet. And besides, that’s the feel developers Nornware going for. The field of view, the darkness, the clutter, the giant muffleflash, and the clouds of gunsmoke all mean half the time you can barely see what’s right in front of you. Hold fire a little longer and it’ll probably be fine. I’m even quite fond of the wacky camera effects during dangerous moments.
Nornware are distributing the SBTF demo through their own client. I know, I know, but it is at least a tiny little program which looks and works like a DOS box. They’re trying to crack Steam Greenlight too, saying “given sufficient interest” they’d plan to add new things like new modes, multiplayer, new types of level, and perhaps even the option to play as an alien, the marine commander, or the controlling alien hive mind. I’m quite happy with this core mode for now, myself.