"A real-time strategy space game for people who don't have time to play real-time strategy space games" is how developers Flightless describe Element [official site]. I like real-time strategy space games for a number of reasons, not least what it demands of me: a shed load of time, patience and practice. A game that takes the opposite view of the RTS genre is unusual, then, so how does the fast food approach translate to Element? Very well, actually, and it's now landed on Steam Early Access.
In standard RTS protocol, survival is hinged on your ability to escape a crumbling solar system by mining and destroying enemy bases. Success allows you to progress to the next planet before starting the process from scratch. You'll generate energy in order to build resource units, mine elements to supplement your base, and protect yourself by building defense and attack units. There's a limit to what you can build, but no restrictions on how often you bomb.
What sets Element apart from generic fare, then, is how quickly all of this can unfold. Keen to test its bite-sized promised, I jumped into "Skirmish" mode wherein I quickly set up base and watched enemy strongholds sprout up around me. Within less than a minute, I'd bombed three of my neighbours into the ground, I'd launched two protection drones the circles the three-dimensional planet we resided on, and was mining land and sea resources perpendicular to my headquarters. A further two minutes later and my vindictive dictator-style approach to survival saw me all but blown to bits. A balanced strategy was advised - one where earth dominated water; air dominated earth; and water dominated air - but I fucked it. Rome was built, enjoyed, and decimated in 0.002 of a day. It was great and, even as I was wiped off the face of my earth, it looked lovely.
It's early days yet, but Element seems to understand what makes RTS games work, what makes them enjoyable, while adding a sense of urgency you might not have realised was missing in other games. It's accessible nature makes it feel like an evolved take on Missile Command, with depth to back it up, and could act as the perfect jumping off point for newcomers to the genre.
Element is out now on Steam Early Access for the discounted price of £7.19 until December 21. Flightless plan to properly launch a finished version in the first quarter of 2016. Here's a trailer: