The List Of Space Combat Sims available is almost endless - Elite, Wing Commander I to V, Privateer I and 2, X-lMing, I-War... - yet Grolier believe they have something new to offer the genre. Ever sceptical about such outrageous claims, we nonetheless invited them into our luxurious offices (Yeah, tight - Ed) to demo some early code. At first glance it looked just like every other space shoot 'em tip we've ever seen. It has space ships. They fly in space. They shoot each other. Up. And SO it seemed that yet another hour of presentation tedium was on the cards.
Thankfully, however, as we delved further into the game, we discovered a world of political intrigue; a world of alliances broken as easily as they are forged; a world in which the future of mankind depends on your abilities to, er, keep the peace.
Strange though it may sound, your initial objective in Xenocrocy is to ensure that the four great powers in the game universe don't smash each other to a bloody pulp in their attempts to gain control of mining colonies in the solar system.
Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus are the main protagonists throughout the proceedings. You play the part of a WingToucher (yes, we know it sounds a bit camp, but they've still got time to change it - eh, Grolier?). WingTouchers are apparently elite members of the UPN peace-keeping force, and as such they are tasked with policing the area of conflict.
Your missions will depend on what's happening in the game universe at the time. For example, if Mars attacks Venus without provocation, you will be called upon to bring the blighters to justice. However, if Earth and Mercury decide to have a difference of opinion at the same time, you will then have to determine which planet you should defend, based on how much damage each of the protagonists is likely to cause.
The logic behind this is that you can't respond to every request for help, and since the general idea is to keep a balance of power between the warring factions, you will have to be clever when deciding whose hide you want to save. But fear not, the burden of decision will be shared with your commanding officers and the ambassadors of the planetary powers, so should you select the wrong mission you'll at least have someone else to point the finger at if everything goes pear-shaped. Fail too many missions, however, and the balance of power could shift to one or other of the factions, resulting in (shock horror) an all-out Solar War. The general upshot of this type of open-ended gameplay is that no two missions will ever be the same - which we know to be a very good thing. Provided the missions aren't incredibly boring, of course. Which brings us neatly to First Impressions Corner.
We were lucky enough to have a bash at some early preview code of Xcnoeracy, and we're happy to report that it does in fact look to be an enjoyable blast-fest of reasonable proportions. The visuals are suitably yummy, and the now almost obligatory 3D acceleration support is present and correct, giving way to shiny coloured lights bouncing off highly detailed polygon ships, gorgeous textures, and of course copious amounts of lens flare, The combat can best be described as an Elite/X-Wing hybrid inasmuch as the colourful polygon ships are reminiscent of Elite, and the full-on hectic combat will remind many of X-Wing's excellent galactic dogfights. Another gameplay element that Grolier have, er, borrowed from Elite - and indeed Wing Commander - is the constant appearance of space pirates who act as cannon fodder for bored gamers and generally confuse the issue at every opportunity.
For campaign fans there are two distinctly different ways to play the game: Arcade mode is. as you would expect, an instant action blast, with your ship and weapons pre-selected and all political decisions taken care of. Simulation mode is a far greater challenge. Not only will your decisions influence the political and economic balance of the warring planets, but you'll also get to manage a research and development allocation budget, choose your own wingmen and weapons, and generally become much more involved in the great scheme of things as events in the game unfold.
There is no obvious storyline to follow at the beginning of the game, but Grolier have hinted at an unexpected turn of events later in the campaign which changes gameplay significantly and finally reveals your real role in protecting the future of mankind.
From what we've seen so far, Xenocracy looks set to be a complex and challenging space combat sim. But, as always, you'll have to wait until next month when we review the full game before we deliver our final verdict.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP